The champ earned his triumph, but let’s give it up here for the loser.
The just-completed world title match won by Norway’s Magnus Carlsen over Russian Sergey Karjakin in New York City has inspired much postmortem grumbling over the high number of draws — 10 — in the 12 games played at traditional time limits. Virtually all of the drama was crammed into last Wednesday’s one-day four-game rapid playoff, with Carlsen finally breaking through with dramatic wins in the final two games to retain his crown.
Several of the games, as we noted here last week, were a bit insipid — cautious openings, an unwillingness to take risks, a bumper crop of opposite-colored bishop endings. But give the underdog Karjakin his due — he displayed an inspired defensive tenacity, slipping Carlsen’s trademark anaconda positional squeezes again and again during the match. (After the 6-6 tie in the classical match, Karjakin actually gained rating points from his loss.)
His stalemate trick to save the second rapid game with virtually no time on his clock was a masterpiece of fighting chess, even it is only earned him a half-point. Had the next two games gone the Russian’s way, Game 2 would be a candidate for the anthologies.
Still, Carlsen’s win, notched on his 26th birthday, was both deserved and popular. He is by far the world’s most charismatic chess star, and his time at the top is a boon for those trying to popularize the game.
And Carlsen can play chess. The fourth and final rapid game, with the desperate Karjakin needing a win at all costs, was handled brilliantly by the champ, exploiting his opponent’s need to take risks, keeping a clamp on the position, and finishing things off with the queen sacrifice heard ‘round the world. Black does get an unbalanced position after 34. Nb5 Rxb3 35. Nd4 Qxc4 36. Nxb3 Qxb3, but White’s careful play never allows his opponent any kingside attack.
With Karjakin forced to take even more risks, White finds a brilliant way to end the match: 47. Qxf4! Ra2+ 48. Kh1 Qh2 (Black’s attack finally seems to be getting some serious traction, but Carlsen has things in hand) 49. Rc8+ Kh7 50. Qh6+!, when both 50…Kxh6 51. Rh8 and 50…gxh6 51. Rxf7 mate the Black king; Karjakin resigned almost instantly.
For such a talented, well-rounded, and much-liked player, Russian Grandmaster Mark Taimanov was bit unlucky. For all his greatness, he is best remembered for the famous 6-0 shellacking he took at the hands of Bobby Fischer in 1971 in their candidates match, and then he had the bad timing to pass away last week as the chess world was focused on Carlsen-Karjakin, at the age of 90.
But Taimanov was the Soviet national champion in 1956, won numerous big tournaments and beat every world champion except for Fischer from the 1940s to the 1980s. Today’s diagram shows Taimanov defeating world champ Anatoly Karpov in 1977, when Karpov was at the height of his powers. Karpov as White has an extra pawn, but Taimanov’s pieces dominate, and an inspired combination fells the champ.
Black first paralyzes his opponent with 36…Qd4! 37. b6? (missing Black’s idea; 37. Rb1 or 37. Rc3 had to be played) Ra1 38. Rb1 Ng3+!!, when it’s curtains after 39. hxg3 (Qxg3 Rxb1) Ra8!, with 40…Rh8 mate up next; Karpov resigned.
Carlsen-Karjakin, Rapid Playoff Game 4, FIDE World Championship, New York, November 2016
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. f3 e5 6. Nb3 Be7 7. c4 a5 8. Be3 a4 9. Nc1 O-O 10. Nc3 Qa5 11. Qd2 Na6 12. Be2 Nc5 13. O-O 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 b6 27. Rd2 Qc7 28. Rbd1 Bf8 29. gxh4 Nf4 30. Bxf4 exf4 31. Bxd7 Qxd7 32. Nb4 Ra3 33. Nxc6 Qxc6 34. Nb5 Rxb3 35. Nd4 Qxc4 36. Nxb3 Qxb3 37. Qe2 Be7 38. Kg2 Qe6 39. h5 Ra3 40. Rd3 Ra2 41. R3d2 Ra3 42. Rd3 Ra7 43. Rd5 Rc7 44. Qd2 Qf6 45. Rf5 Qh4 46. Rc1 Ra7 47. Qxf4 Ra2+ 48. Kh1 Qf2 49. Rc8+ Kh7 50. Qh6+ Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at email@example.com.