Game nine of the FIDE World Chess Championship 2018, was played on Wednesday 21st November, in London, United Kingdom. Reigning World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, got what is now a four game match underway. Facing him across the board, his American Challenger, Fabiano Caruana.
Of course, the day before had been a rest day, but in a touch of irony, it had arguably seen more action and drama than the match has so far. Magnus Carlsen had once again been playing football, and this had left him with a black eye.
Carlsen himself was very eager to make this known, posting it on social media. As it turned out, he had had an accidental coming together with a Norwegian reporter.
This sparked fears for the round today and indeed for the rest of Carlsen’s tournament. The last thing that the World Champion needs, is concussion. And, should he be unable to play … well, that does not bear thinking about — especially as the rules don’t seem to cover it.
Ultimately, this was a moot point, as Carlsen’s own doctor stated that there was no concussion and that the injury would not affect his ability to play. Bring on game nine then.
Magnus Unleashes Some Preparation, But His Frustration Decides The Day
Magnus again brought out 1.c4 for his penultimate White game in the tournament. The game turned into a reversed Sicilian in which Magnus seemed extremely well prepared. He was certainly moving quickly.
By contrast, Fabiano sank into a few deep thinks, using around thirty-minutes for his twelfth and thirteenth moves. Magnus had 1:43.00 left on 17.Qd1, compared to Fabiano’s 49:51 at 17…Bxf3. And at 22…Rad8, it was 1:30.00 vs 45:00. This was no small issue for the Challenger.
Steadily, he found himself under pressure and began a campaign of damage limitation. Gone was the idea of playing with any kind of intention in this game for Fabiano, it was merely a matter of survival.
And, astoundingly, survive he did. I say astoundingly not because there was any clear win, but because I feel that Magnus could have (and should have) done more with the position he had made for himself. And I feel that the Magnus Carlsen that we all know, would have.
The position at Caruana’s 23…Qe7, for example, is where the Magnus of old would have settled down, for the long haul. And let’s face it, he had plenty of time to do so in this game. He would have looked for the best way to improve his position, while making his opponent suffer. Moves like Bc6, for example, which not only hits the Re8 but also gives Caruana a problem if he wants to try to advance his c-pawn.
However, the Magnus Carlsen of this game, lunged with 24.h4 and he was critical of this afterwards. Then came 25.h5 and at 27.Bf3, his edge was small if any. Slowly but surely, Fabiano Caruana managed to simplify and there was nothing better than a draw.
Magnus Begins To Threaten … Himself
For the first time in this match, I have to admit that I feel that there is real concern around Magnus Carlsen now. It is not so much his uninspiring (muted?) play, or that Fabiano Caruana is threatening him to any huge extent. However, I feel that Magnus may now be becoming the danger to himself that we saw in his World Championship match of 2016 against Sergey Karjakin.
After today’s game, Magnus reportedly admitted to Norwegian television that he is frustrated, as reliably reported by Tarjei J. Svenson:
Carlsen to Norwegian TV, says he is frustrated: “It was a very promising position, but it’s not so easy to improve my position even though it looks very nice. Then I made a ridiculous move that led to a draw. I don’t know what else I could’ve done. “#CarlsenCaruana https://t.co/jPL4aGIEfM
— Tarjei J. Svensen (@TarjeiJS) November 21, 2018
To be honest, the admission is really unnecessary — the frustration is clear to see.
h5 by Carlsen shows that his one greatest asset- his incredible patience, has now gone #CarlsenCaruana
— Daniel Gormally (@elgransenor1) November 21, 2018
It has been said before that the only player capable of beating Magnus is Magnus. While that is obviously incorrect, the point itself is valid. He is sometimes his own worst enemy and this game shows just one example. Luckily for him, the position was not going to turn against him very easily. However, this wont be the case all the time and he may not get away with something like this again.
As for Fabiano Caruana, I think it very possible that he expected Magnus to come out with blazing guns today, especially after the American’s missed chance in the previous game. It was a natural moment for the Champion to try to seize some momentum. As such, the Challenger may well feel that he has weathered a storm and be strengthened by it.
In the next game, Fabiano will have White and will be able to control things to a certain extent. He now has a decision to make — try to strike, or not. Personally, I think that if he wants to win this match, then that is what he should be trying to do. Then again, the most reliable way to do that may well be to sit and play good moves, and let Magnus Carlsen shoot himself in the foot.