- Carlsen saves draw as Caruana falters – as it happened
- Best-of-12-games match knotted at 4-all after eight draws
Bryan Armen Graham– The Guardian
Magnus Carlsen admitted he was “happy to survive” after saving a draw in Monday’s eighth game of the world chess championship, which left the series deadlocked at 4-4 with four games remaining.
The 27-year-old reigning champion from Norway appeared as if he would be first to blink in the best-of-12-games showdown when he was down nearly an hour on the clock facing a dangerous position, but one false step by the American (24. h3?!) was all Carlsen needed to spring his latest escape and the players settled for a peaceful result, the eighth draw of the €1m ($1.14m) match, after three hours and 43 minutes.
“This was a tough game,” a clearly relieved Carlsen said afterward. “He was the one who had all the chances. So I am happy to have survived it for sure.”
World Chess Championship 2018
Said a disappointed Caruana: “I had some chances, it’s not like it’s always going to work out. Just because you put some pressure on Magnus doesn’t mean that he collapses or anything.”
The 26-year-old American challenger played into the Sicilian for the fourth time in four games as white (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4), veering into the Sveshnikov variation with (4. … Nf6 5. Nc3 e5). The players moved with pace early before the American delivered the first surprise with the rare 12. Bd2, which sent Carlsen into the first deep think of the day.
The champion exhaustively assessed Caruana’s preparation for any traps, expending more than 24 minutes over his next four moves (12. … f5 13. a5 a6 14. Na3 e4 15. Nc4 Ne5), a position which Russian grandmaster Peter Svidler called “by far the liveliest opening position we’ve had since Game 1”.
Caruana, moving with formidable speed owing to razor-sharp preparation, had more time than he started with after 15. Nc4 Ne5 16. Nb6 Rb8 17. f4 exf3 18. Bxf3 thanks to the 30 seconds added to his clock with each move.
Carlsen was already a half hour behind on time when he played the aggressive but risky 18. … g5, all the more audacious given his time deficit. That Caruana found the proper response (19. c4) in fewer than four minutes only redoubled the champion’s discomfort. One by one Caruana played all the right moves to turn the screw on his opponent: 20. Bc3 Bf5 21. c5 Nxf3+ 22. Qxf3 dxc5 23. Rad1.
But Caruana’s sluggish response (24. h3?!) to Carlsen’s 23. … Bd6 cost him a tempo, all but wiped out his advantage on the computer and allowed Carlsen back into the game.
“For sure this was the moment that I was most worried,” Carlsen said.
The champion answered with 24. … Qe8 and before long it was the American who appeared to show his nerves in the playing hall. Caruana’s advantage per the Stockfish evaluation engine, which had ballooned to +2.45 after 22. … dxc5 and was a still-formidable +1.95 after 23. … Bd6, was abruptly down to +0.09 following 24. h3?!.
What a difference a single move can make.
The game appeared bound for a draw after 25. Nc4 Qg6 26. Nxd6 Qxd6. The players opted to simplify with 27. h4 gxh4 28. Qxf4 and a queen exchange quickly followed (28. … Qxf4 29. Rxf4) followed by 29. … h5. Further simplification came as the players traded rooks: 31. Rf6 Rxf6 32. Bxf6 and the action petered out to a draw shortly after.
“Some minor disappointment,” Caruana said, when asked to assess his emotions. “I thought at some point I had a very promising position. I didn’t quite see exactly which moment I had something very good.”
The specter of a tie-breaker only loomed larger after Monday’s result, the eighth draw in as many contests, with four classical games to go. The Norwegian, the world’s No 1 rapid player and No 1 blitz player (compared to Caruana’s ratings of No 8 and No 16, respectively), would be a prohibitive favorite under the tie-break format, which consists of a series of matches under tighter time controls.
But Carlsen, who retained the title under an identical tie-break format against Sergey Karjakin two years ago in New York, refused to look ahead.
“If it gets to [the tie-breaker] I’m going to take it and try and make the most of it,” he said. “There’s a lot of chess to be played and before we may come to that time, I’m sure there will be twists and turns to come. We both have two white games each. But as for today I’m obviously happy with the draw with the black pieces and obviously kind of a dangerous position. That’s because it’s a good result in general, not because it gets me closer to a play-off.”
Both players will look forward to Tuesday’s rest day before the competition resumes on Wednesday with Carlsen playing as white in Game 9.