Last weekend in New York, the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, narrowly beat his challenger, the Russian Sergei Karjakin.
The match was over 12 games, at the end of which both players had one win, the rest being drawn. Many on-line observers around the world thought these games were pretty thin gruel, as neither player wished to take risks.
Then came a tie-break match of 4 rapidplay games, with approx 30 minutes thinking time for each player for all moves. After 3 of the 4 games, Carlsen led 2-1 and the Russian had to win the next in order to stay in the match and take it to the final tie-break stage of games played at 5 minutes per player, although viewed by many as an unsatisfactory way of deciding such a prestigious title.
This is that final rapidplay game that Carlsen only needed to draw.
White: Magnus Carlsen. Black: Sergei Karjakin.
Sicilian Defence – Maroczy Bind. [B55]
1.e4 c5 Karjakin is 2–1 down and needs to win this last Rapidplay tie-break game in order to stay in the match, so, for the first time, he adopts Black’s most potent weapon against 1.e4 – a Sicilian Defence. 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3 e5 6.Nb3 Be7 7.c4 The Maroczy Bind, named after the Hungarian master, Géza Maróczy (1870- 1951), aimed at preventing Black from playing an early …d5 which usually frees up Black’s position, and preventing it often secures a lasting positional edge for White. 7…a5 8.Be3 a4 9.Nc1 0–0 10.Nc3 Qa5 11.Qd2 Na6 12.Be2 Nc5 13.0–0 Bd7 14.Rb1 Rfc8 15.b4 axb3 16.axb3 Qd8 17.Nd3 Ne6 18.Nb4 Bc6 19.Rfd1 h5 20.Bf1 h4 21.Qf2 Nd7 22.g3 Ra3 23.Bh3 Rca8 24.Nc2 R3a6 25.Nb4 Ra5 26.Nc2 Black is stuck for any good move and time is ticking by. 26…b6 27.Rd2 Qc7 28.Rbd1 Bf8 29.gxh4 White is taking a bit of a gamble by weakening his kingside pawn structure, though Black has no immediate threats. 29…Nf4 30.Bxf4 exf4 31.Bxd7 Qxd7 32.Nb4 Ra3 33.Nxc6 Qxc6 34.Nb5 Forcing further simplification. 34…Rxb3 Losing the exchange, but it’s the least worst option. 35.Nd4 Qxc4 36.Nxb3 Qxb3 37.Qe2 Be7 38.Kg2 Qe6 39.h5 Ra3 40.Rd3 Ra2 41.R3d2 White would like to simplify at this stage in order to increase the possibly of getting the draw he requires to win the match, but Black must try and avoid this. 41…Ra3 42.Rd3 Ra7 43.Rd5 Rc7 44.Qd2 winning either the d- or f-pawn. 44…Qf6 45.Rf5 Qh4 46.Rc1 Ra7 47.Qxf4 Ra2+ 48.Kh1 Qf2 Threatening mate on g2, which Carlsen blithely ignores, because he’s seen something special. 49.Rc8+ Kh7 which brings us to this week’s position.
Carlsen (W) is about to be mated on g2, and his world championship title is on the line. Should he now defend or continue to attack? You may have seen it elsewhere during the week, but enjoy the moment again anyway. The move had spectators purring and forgiving the Norwegian for all the earlier dross. Not only that, but it was Carlsen’s birthday that day, and this was his gift to the whole chess world.