24 November 2016

Magnus The Magnificent

Vladimir Barsky's New York blog is now fully translated.

Well done, Magnus!
November 30. Tie-break

How many were those who before the match seriously considered the option of it ever coming to tie-breaker games? Being an undisputed World Champion, Magnus the Terrible got us used to his unceasing victories. However, Sergey stood his ground in the regulation time, even taking over after game eight, although the World Champion levelled the score in game ten. 

Thus, November 30 was a day when Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin were to challenge each other in a four-game rapid match, featuring a 25 minutes + 10 second per move increment format. When it was over, Magnus admitted at the press conference that soon after game 11 (i.e. November 26) he had made up his mind in favor of not locking swords in the ultimate regulation encounter but shift the burden of fight onto the tie-break. It explains a swift draw in game 12 - rather than allegedly going through some mythical "psychological problems" the Norwegian camp was in fact at full speed preparing for the upcoming rapid games. Meanwhile, this is a completely different genre of chess, which, besides a different choice of openings, crucially requires an increased speed of thinking. The World Champion, as it became known later, had two more days to relax and readjust for the events to come: since Karjakin was unaware that he would be released as soon as after half an hour, he was strenuously preparing to defend as Black in game 12, going over countless lines to refresh his memory. This is how the Champion he outsmarted the Russian grandmaster, who ended up with a lack of ease and freshness. 

... On the tie-break day the "Fulton Market" building was absolutely packed with spectators. All those who purchased tickets for the "dummy" game 12, were voluntarily allowed free access by organizers into the final act. It goes without saying that individual tickets were available for the last day as well. It so happened that the legendary "VIP-zone of Merenzon" barely admitted all visitors who, among other things, had a large "landing troops" from Russia among its guests. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, came to root for Sergey either.  All in all, the excitement was paramount. 

Andrey Guryev, Phosagro CEO; Andrey Filatov, RCF President; Vitaly Churkin and Berik Balgabaev, Executive Assistant to FIDE President

In charge of the white pieces in the first tie-breaker game was Sergey Karjakin. The opponents resumed their debates in Ruy Lopez with d2-d3, which they have (with breaks) been carrying on for almost three weeks now. Carlsen was the first to leave the beaten path by routing his c6-knight to b8, rather than to a5. Sergey started playing slowly, even though the given time format does not favor it. In the middlegame White could have apparently got a slight edge, but slipped up on the critical opportunity. It resulted in Black’s confidently resolving his opening problems and the game ending in a draw.

The World Champion, sporting white socks and white shirt

 In game two the World Champion opted for Giuoco Piano and managed to confuse the opponent in a complex middlegame to win two minor pieces for a rook. Besides, having 10 times as much thinking time (something like 10 minutes versus one) at his disposal, Carlsen started playing indecisively, missing on a forced win more than once, squandering all his time superiority along the way, trading queens and parting with his f2-pawn for some unknown reason. Karjakin once again exhibited his fantastic tenacity in defence and salvaged half a point. In the end, with only a few seconds on his clock, Sergey found an elegant combination of sacrificing three pawns and a rook to have his king stalemated. This Russian grandmaster's spectacular "bailout" elicited applause from spectators.

78...h5! 79.gxh5 f5! 80.Bxf5 Rxe7+! 81.Kxe7 Kg8 82.Bd3 Kh8 83.Kf8 g5 84.hxg6, stalemate!

However, a football wisdom "you do not score - you get scored on" would come true on the chess match that day. Game three, in which Karjakin had the white pieces, proved decisive. With the challenger losing the thread of the game out of the opening (it was yet another Ruy Lopez encounter), the initiative was taken over by the Champion. Carlsen sacrificed a pawn to get a favorable balance of a good knight versus bad bishop and, on top of that, his knight infiltrated into the White's camp. Keeping his position together for Sergey was far from easy, especially in the time trouble. With mere seconds on the clock, Sergey committed a bad blunder to end up down a piece and immediately recognize his defeat.


Since the challenger needed nothing else but a victory in game four, he went for the Sicilian defense. Magnus did not back down and try to "dry out" the position, but instead took up the gauntlet of a lengthy war to come with as many pieces on the board as possible by opting for 5.f3, being quite a popular line nowadays to sidestep the Najdorf. White achieved a space advantage in a comfortable position with a slight edge. Sergey had to maintain tension on the board, refusing from the trade of pieces and going for a dubious sacrifice of exchange to reach a moment when he was forced to turn down the repetition of moves opportunity. The end of the game was a double-edged sharp struggle: although Black managed to create threats to the enemy king, White's attack was more powerful and he ended up delivering a nice checkmate. Certain experts quickly labelled the final move 50.Qh6+ (White sacrifices the queen to checkmate next move) as the most beautiful in the history of world championship matches, but this is emotions, of course, because a 130-year history of the world chess championship matches knows deeper and more spectacular combinations. 

49.Rc8+ Kh7 (49...Bf8 50.Rxf8+! Kxf8 51.Rxf7+, and Black is checkmated shortly after) 50.Qh6+! Black resigns. 

When the World Champion showed up at the final press conference, he was greeted with the song "Happy Birthday!" Indeed, that day Magnus was celebrating his 26th birthday, and the best gift was being delivered to him from himself. When given a microphone, Carlsen first of all thanked his opponent for having put up a good play, specifically highlighting how very difficult this match victory came his way. The champion also addressed many kind words to his coaches, seconds, friends and relatives, specifically noting his father's contribution as manifesting itself in sparing neither time nor energy to support his son. 

Sergey congratulated Magnus on his birthday and well-deserved match victory and classified his too strenuous preparation for the tie-breaker games as an error, "I have invested a lot of time to have myself prepared by repeating opening lines for both colors. However, it is crucial to have a fresh mind for the upcoming rapid games. It goes without saying that Karjakin regretted his having missed on a forced draw in game ten (20...Nxf2!). Nevertheless, he immediately added, "It would be unfair to talk about bad luck for that matter. After all, Magnus not only had a big advantage, but simply winning positions in games three and four..."

Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin

Both grandmasters assessed the match atmosphere as a friendly one and thanked organizers and sponsors for excellent playing conditions. The awarding ceremony took place shortly after. Although it dispensed with the traditional laurel wreath bestowing on the champion this time around, Magnus Carlsen received a huge trophy, which he kept raising and holding with delight above his head. 

Thus, Magnus Carlsen won the tie-break with a 3-1 score to retain the world champion's title. The overall score of the New York match is 9-7 in the Norwegian's grandmaster favor. 

Magnus Carlsen has retained his World Champion's title


Magnus is After Tie-Break
November 28. Game Twelve

Prior to game 12, the last regulation match encounter, all chess fans were busy enjoying their favorite business - reading tea leaves. There was no lack of forecasts, and your correspondent has also shared the effort by publishing one of his own on gazeta.ru:

"The majority of experts agree in that a tie-break probability is extremely high. It is clear that for this forecast to come true game 12 should end in a draw. What is the game scenario going to be anyway? Carlsen will not put too much at stake as he has something to lose. Since he lost the game as White already, he is unlikely to go to extremes. He probably plans to get a comfortable position with a slight edge, as in game ten, and then take it from there by gradually increasing pressure in the long fight to come. This being a high probability scenario, Sergey will undoubtedly succeed in defending his position, which he is very good at. Another scenario tells that Karjakin will correctly guess the opening line (there are not too many rare lines in Ruy Lopez after all), and then it will be "a book draw", with all moves reproduced entirely from a home analysis.

I believe the first scenario to be the most probable one with a slight edge for White, an accurate defence for Black and a draw around move 50."

Well, my guess only partially came true. Magnus indeed opted for a rare line of Ruy Lopez, for a rare line of the anti-Berlin system, to be more precise. The point is, however, that he has employed this line on several occasions; my database shows two games against Vishy Anand and as many against Vladimir Kramnik. He did succeed in putting his great crown predecessors up against minor problems, but then it was largely due to a surprise effect coupled with a certain relaxation by his opponents: this line is known to be "dead drawn" and they just did not expect Carlsen to be serious about using it to play for a win. Meanwhile, Sergey Karjakin proved well prepared for such a turn of events, whereas his seconds Vladimir Potkin and Alexander Motylev even mentioned his going over this line the morning of the game. Yes, you read me right, this is indeed "the isolato" Alexander Motylev, who is known to never let go of his computer, day or night, and who showed up at the "Fulton-market" on this pivotal day dressed up to kill! It would otherwise be Potkin to bear the brunt of the mass media's attention.

"The isolato" Alexander Motylev

On move 15 the World Champion came up with a new idea, which falls under the definition of improvement only with a very big stretch. White used to develop the knight via d2, whereas in this game it was directed via a3 to c2, which was absolutely harmless for Black. When Karjakin started trading pieces, Carlsen was fine about it. Although a minimum amount of accuracy was required of black on move 22, it would be an easy puzzle even for a first category player to solve, let alone for Sergey. Once the minimum regulation-required number of 30 moves was made on the board, the World Champion offered a draw. The game lasted only half an hour.

Ruy Lopez

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. 0-0 Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Be7 7. Bf1 Nxe5 8. Rxe5 0-0 9. d4 Bf6 10. Re1 Re8 11. Bf4 Rxe1 12. Qxe1 Ne8 13. c3 d5 14. Bd3 g6

15. Na3

This is how the above mentioned games of Carlsen versus Kramnik developed: 15. Nd2 Ng7 16. Nf3 (16. Nf1 Bf5 17. Bxf5 Nxf5 18. Ne3 Nxe3 19. Qxe3 Qd7 20. Re1 c6 21. Bh6 Bg7 22. Bxg7 Kxg7 23. Qe7 Rd8 24. h4 h5 25. Re3 and White has initiative, as in Carlsen - Kramnik, Leuven 2016, It "Grand Prix", blitz) 16... Bf5 17. Bxf5 Nxf5 18. Qe2 c6 19. Re1 Ng7 20. Be5 Bxe5 21. Nxe5 Qd6 22. Qf3 f6 23. Nd3 Re8 24. Rxe8+ Nxe8 25. Qe3 Ng7 26. h3 Kf7 27. Qh6 Kg8 28. Qe3 Kf7 29. Qh6 Kg8 30. Qe3 Kf7, draw, as in Carlsen - Kramnik, Doha 2015.

15... c6 16. Nc2 Ng7 17. Qd2 Bf5 18. Bxf5 Nxf5 19. Ne3 Nxe3 20. Qxe3 Qe7 21. Qxe7 Bxe7 22. Re1


However improbable, it was still not late to go wrong with 22...Kf8?? 23.Bh6+ Ke8 24.Bg5, and White wins. Slight pressure is with White after 22...Bf6 23. Bh6 since Black has problems bringing his king into play. Nevertheless, possible is 22... Re8 23. Bd6 Kf8 24. Rxe7 Rxe7 25. Kf1 Ke8, with equality. The text is easiest since Black has an easy plan of f7-f6 and Kf7.

23. Kf1

If 23. Bg5, then 23...Kg7 24. Be7 f6, and White's 25. Re6 fails to 25...Kf7.

23... f6 24. g4 Kf7 25. h3 Re8 26. Rxe8 Kxe8 27. Ke2 Kd7 28. Kd3 Ke6 29. a4 a6 30. f3 Be7 Draw.

Carlsen expressed his apologies to the audience later during the press conference, voicing his willingness to play tie-breaker games. "Why?" was asked by one of the journalists. "We'll see!" answered Magnus with a smile.

It is remarkable that the match tie-break is scheduled on November 30, Carlsen's birthday - he turns 26 years to join Karjakin into sharing same age for one and a half months until January 12, when Sergey turns 27. In general, there are not a few players who do not enjoy playing on their birthdays. While subconsciously you have a festive spirit, you stern opponent is not going to lavish gifts on you. On the other hand, certain players perform with a special inspiration, and there are very few who do not care at all. I asked Magnus about his feelings on having to play on November 30 and whether he had had any experience of doing that before. The Norwegian grandmaster recalled playing twice that day in the World Cups in Khanty-Mansiysk, when in 2005 he scored a relatively easy victory against Farrukh Amonatov, while in 2007 he was toiling over his difficult position against Leinier Dominguez, but made a draw in the end. He said nothing about either liking or disliking having to play chess that day; everything will obviously depend on the outcome of the confrontation of November 30, 2016!

Thus, 12 classical time control games (in regulation time) ended in a 6:6 draw. November 29 is a scheduled rest day at the match. The tie-break will take place November 30 as follows: a four-game rapid match with 25 minutes + 10-second increment format. Prior to the press conference the chief arbiter Takis Nikolopoulos (Greece) carried out the drawing of lots. It was so brief that one of the match organizers Ilya Merenzon even jokingly compared it to the last game of the match. Nikolopoulos put two pawns into his jacket pockets, white and black, and offered the champion the choice between the two. Magnus pointed to the left pocket, which contained the black pawn, meaning that the first tie-breaker game gives him the black pieces. Magnus's face broke into a smile as he was seemingly happy with this turn of events. However, we have witnessed more than once already that colors do not matter much in this match.

Let us refresh the tie-break formula in our minds. If the score still be tied after this series of four additional rapid games, then the new drawing of lots procedure will be followed by another two games in a 5 minutes + 3 seconds increment per move format. If the winner is still undecided, the players may continue to the maximum of four such sets of blitz games.

Should all five blitz matches (10 games in total) prove insufficient, a decisive game (the so-called Armageddon) will be played, in which White features 5 minutes against Black’s 4 with a 3-second increment starting with move 61. White must win the game because a draw grants the champion’s title to the second player.

Both grandmasters are equally strong in rapid and blitz chess and both used to be world champions. If it comes to blitz, Carlsen's chances seem preferable as in the very least still fresh in many's memories should be Magnus' month ago crushing online victory over such a superb blitz player as Hikaru Nakamura at chess.com.

However, tie-break is a special genre of chess, not just a pure rapid or blitz, in which stakes are too high, the nerves are too tense. Sergey Karjakin will undoubtedly draw inspiration from his memories of the 2015 World Cup Final, when going down 0:2 to Peter Svidler he managed to level the score and then win a dramatic "exchange of blows" with not a single draw made along the way! However, Sergey said with a smile that any chance of this ever happening again is terribly small as, in fact, that final's course followed an absolutely incredible trajectory.

During the next day and a half we will undoubtedly have more than enough time to have the tie-break events viewed from all possible angles. In my opinion, an abstract view of people in general has been best expressed by the grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi: a tiebreaker favorite will be the one who has a better night's sleep on the eve.

Another plunge into the sea of lights...
November 27. Rest Day

The main task of the day - taking care of the nervous system of the future Norwegian Chess Federation President - has been successfully dealt with. Following a walk along the Central Park and a brief visit to the "Metropolitan" museum, we hit the road into the night New York. We tried not to think about tomorrow. Just could not bring ourselves to.

Reasonable Adventures
November 26. Game Eleven

Game eleven was the last of Sergey Karjakin’s regulation games with the white color. The truth is, however, that color does not matter much in this match as both times the score was unbalanced happened in the games opened by the World Champion. Meanwhile, in one of the English language press conferences the Russian grandmaster even came up with an aphorism, saying that it is better to play good than to play white.  Nevertheless, the notorious "right of first move" is vital not only from a psychological, but also from a purely chess point of view as whoever plays white shapes the direction of further struggle. 

Karjakin resorted to his habitual е2-е4. The opponents resumed their debates in the anti-Marshall system of Ruy Lopez, with the World Champion being the first one to sidestep into the line yet untested in the New York match. It should be noted, however, that this line has been tested in games of high caliber grandmaster to have earned the reputation of being risky for Black, although this risk is within reasonable bounds. Sergey Karjakin failed to uncover any shortcomings of Black's setup in this encounter. He expressed low opinion of his moves 17 and 18 at the press conference as the World Champion easily circumvented a minor trap set for him by White. 

In his turn, Carlsen launched an offensive by organizing a central breakthrough and creating a dangerous passed pawn, which he pushed as far as e2. It is quite curious that two elite grandmaster, present at the match as guests of honor, had diametrically opposed views of this champion's undertaking. The Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi passed an opinion that Magnus was asking for trouble, while the American Fabiano Caruana praised the champion's desire to play creative chess and hunt down even the slightest winning chance. 

Nevertheless, both Ian and Fabiano believed a draw to be the most likely outcome of the duel (our conversations took place approximately two and a half hours after the start of the game). Their forecasts came true since White had enough counterplay to maintain balance in the position, and a draw by perpetual was agreed on move 34. 

Ian Nepomniachtchi's simul

We asked Ian Nepomniachtchi to throw light on what was going on in the game opening. 

– The opponents opted for a well-established theoretical line in which Black has quite a choice of as many as six or seven roughly equivalent continuations. The Carlsen's plan with Black getting a double pawn structure on the e-file is considered less viable. This line features in an important game Dominguez – Svidler (Thessaloniki, 2013) won by the Cuban grandmaster. This line seems suspicious to me since Black should count on some counterplay at best, while in the worst-case scenario he has to patiently wait and see how White goes about the position. 

However, it so happened that Carlsen expertly launched the central play, while committing something to en prise with almost every move of his. It may be that Karjakin’s 16.f5 was premature, or he should have otherwise left his bishop on c1 after 16…Rae8 in favor of а3-а4 to immediately clear the way for his a1-rook. Black would have then had to refrain from с5-с4 and capture bxa4 at some moment. The game here is of a very complex nature. Instead, White developed his bishop 17.Bd2, where it is vulnerable to a tempo move с4-с3. 

Then I switched to giving a simul to guests and was not much into the game any longer, but in general I think it was a fairly reasonable play. Honestly speaking, it is a revelation to me why Carlsen would not go for 24...exd3; I thought it was time to trade and bail out to a draw. As for 24...e3, it seems that White is definitely no longer at any risk, while Black's getting into some unpleasant queen ending is not completely out of the question . However improbable this forecast is, it cannot be ruled out completely. I believe Carlsen played in a too sharp and somewhat untimely fashion. I do not know whether it can be described as a winning attempt, but he has definitely created problems for himself out of thin air. Nevertheless, the probability of a draw is still very high. 

– Ian, do you think the current score reflects the true balance of forces, or is someone just luckier than the other?
– The initial match games' initiative was clearly with Carlsen, but then the game levelled out. It was due to either Sergey catching up on his opponent with each new encounter, or otherwise Magnus losing his nerve. With Black having resources both in the endgame and middlegame, Karjakin was absolutely unobliged to go down in game 10. 

It is clear that the survive before thrive principle dominates the opponents now, just as in boxing, when the main thing is to somehow scrape into the last rounds for better or for worse. We cannot demand that grandmasters deliver mathematically impeccable performance. In general, the performance level is quite high, but there is hardly anyone capable of not committing errors at this stage of a match. 

– Do you think it will come to tie-breaker games?  If it does, who is the favorite?
– Should game 11 end in a draw, we will definitely see the tie-breaker games. However, this is like a joke about a 50-percent probability of meeting a live dinosaur, it is either yes or no. There will be a marked difference between games 10 and 12 as Magnus has something to lose now. I think that he will in general stick to the same strategy as in game 10. It is up to Sergey if he choses not to hunker down into defensive mode. However, regardless of the color, a probability of any individual game between these grandmasters ending in a draw is very high. 

A tiebreaker favorite will be the one who has a better night's sleep on the eve. As for the opening theory, both are quite well prepared. As for nobody getting anything with White is not because of the preparation, but on the contrary because both are quite well prepared! 

Fabiano Caruana and a fan from Russia

This is Fabiano Caruana's view of the match course:

– I think that in general Magnus keeps pressurizing. Indeed, he was in great danger, perhaps due to his being in bad shape, but I still believe him the only one attempting to create something. As for the game that he lost, he did too much pressing, in my opinion; he made too many committal moves and suffered because of that. Karjakin demonstrated high level of execution and control of the game, fighting well along the way. 

It goes without saying that this is a struggle between two great players, and a very tight one at that. It would be perhaps not entirely correct to give such unequivocal statements, but I still believe that only Magnus tries to create something, sometimes going over the top with it. He is perhaps out of shape to try so hard to win certain games, this is why he finds himself in a match situation as we see it now. 

This is an interesting match. I am sure that today's game will be a draw, but Magnus seems to be trying to fish up some winning opportunities even now. Although I still think that it is definitely a draw, it looks as if he is trying to win. I also believe that he is going try hard to prevail the day after tomorrow, after the rest day. He is perhaps less confident in the tiebreaker games than in the regulation ones. Who knows? This is an equal match, which is about to finish.

– If it comes to tie-breaks, who will be the favorite?
– I would say that Magnus is still a favorite. However, with the tie-break lasting only one day, the element of chance is very high. A great deal will depends on a particular player's form on that very day, which can be affected by many factors. In fact, you never know the outcome of a tie-breaker. 

The VIP area was crowded and very lively that day. Somewhere in the depth a genuine clatter was heard as blitz games were being played: hands pirouetted over the board, and the grandmaster Max Dlugi was exchanging jokes with some local amateur. The amateur suddenly pointed to the clock and said, "Oh, sorry!" I thought that Dlugi was perhaps giving a head start of something like two versus five minutes and lost on time - well, it happens. When the opponents rearranged pieces and shifted the clock onto the other side of the board, I saw the clock set to equal amount of time for both opponents - two versus two. Well, this is a lot more interesting already! In the beginning, the struggle was absolutely level, while the amateur was not only succeeding in saying something humorous to Dlugi, but also sharing his views with the Norwegian TV people. However, with the grandmaster's class taking its toll, the grandmaster ended up victorious. 

When the mini-match ended, I asked Max Dlugi to let me in the know of his opponent. 

– His name is Jonathan Corrblah, he often performs as a commentator at entertaining chess events. He is also a many-time winner of the "Game show" trivia on TV. Jonathan travels across America to play different games and is in general known to know everything about everything; he is a sort of local Anatoly Wasserman. He is a cheerful "Anatoly" at that! 

Jonathan Corrblah  

– And he wears no vest, does he?
– He wears no vests nor does he carry knives. In fact, he is a quite decent blitz player and his classical chess rating is somewhere in the region of 2200-2300. He is a very good and pleasant man and teaches chess at schools. 

– What is your opinion of game 11?
– This is a very interesting and tough duel and the players clearly demonstrate their readiness to challenge and being challenged. This is a tough battle with each move posing concrete questions. None of them backs down and shows fear... Kudos to Sergey for putting up a fight on equal terms. He is out for blood and keeps his footing quite well. Carlsen does a nice job as well! In my opinion, the match fight is equal and the score is true to the game. 

– What is your prediction for this and the following game?
– I think both games will end in draws and we will see a tie-break. These games will be a definite pleasure to watch!

– If it comes to tie-breaks, who will be the favorite?
– I believe Magnus to be a favorite. But again, the most important thing in this situation is nerves. Although Magnus has experience playing tie-breaker games, it was not in the world championship matches. Therefore, it is going to be new experience for him. Not only that, but it promises to be especially unpleasant since too much is at stake. If the opponents are equal, why should not Sergey have his fair share of chances after all? He is very good at both rapid and blitz chess. I think if they offered him an immediate transition into a tie-breaker stage of the match, he would have accepted this offer. 

– How extensive is the match coverage with the mass media?
– Well, I have been interviewed by "New York Times" today. They were interested in the attitude towards this match in Russia.

– Was it a politically biased interest?
– New York is a special American city where chess is taught in many schools and stirs up a great deal of interest among children and their parents. So, this interest is rather related to chess. As for outside of New York - I cannot say for sure. My opinion is that it is more political than chess-related. 

Like New York being different from the rest of America, Moscow is different from the rest of Russia, is it so?
– Indeed, this is exactly so!


Thus, with one regulation game to go, the score remains equal - 5.5-5.5. November 27 is a scheduled rest day at the match. The next twelfth game is scheduled on Monday, November 28 with Magnus Carlsen in charge of the white pieces.

If the regulation time ends in a 6-6 tie, then on November 30 a tie-break will take place as follows: a four-game rapid match with 25 minutes + 10-second increment. If the score is still equal, then two blitz games at 5 minutes + 3-second increment will be played, with as many as four blitz matches of two games each to follow, if need arises. Should those 10 games prove insufficient, a decisive game will be played, in which White features 5 minutes against Black’s 4, but a draw will make the second player the World Champion.   

Black Friday
November 25. Rest Day

 A short walk in space and time - having survived up to this day is a building in New York, where they staged the very first world championship match between Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort. 

This match is known to have taken place precisely 130 years ago in three cities of the USA - New York, St. Louis and New Orleans, the latter being Morphy's hometown. As long as the American genius was alive (even though he had long since abandoned chess and was suffering from a severe illness), contesting the crown other than with him was considered inappropriate since no one was forgetting how Paul Morphy had been crushing the strongest world players; however, he died in 1884. Steinitz and Zukertort played up to 10 wins, draws not counting. However, what I did not know (first heard about it from the RCF president Andrey Filatov) was that the very title "the World Champion" came into existence in connection with this match and found its way into the modern sport afterwards. That is, this title has been put into circulation by no other than chess players.

The building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street


Steinitz and Zukertort played with $2,000 at stake from each side. It is curious how the stake money was collected: fans of each player were making bets and half the prize fund was intended for a match winner. The time control was 30 moves in 2 hours, followed by a 2-hour break and then 15 moves in 1 hour. A famous maestro Mackenzie served as a demonstrator, whereas the game moves were immediately relayed to London by telegraph. Such was the sort of the then online broadcasting, the first one in chess history. 
The match was taking place in the building number 80 located at the corner of the aristocratic Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, while the maestros were playing on the chess table that belonged to Paul Morphy. According to contemporary eyewitnesses, a spacious sports hall barely admitted a large crowd gathered for the event. The former match venue now accommodates a fitness center. 

It is here that Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort played their match


"One of the contestants is a small, stocky, thickset man with a large face encased in foxy-red whiskers; he is sitting on a chair, sucking on a cigar, being calm and dead impassive, without ever changing his pose for hours and persistent in staring at the board with his small, insistent eyes; he only occasionally gets up to slowly walk across the hall with his hands behind his back and his mind's eye oblivious to the existence of an outer world, quietly humming in the synagogue motives branded in memory from childhood, being deaf and blind to other peoples' conversations and prying eyes. His opponent is a fragile, thin, scrawny, almost blond man, with a short beard, small tired eyes and wrinkled face. His movements are nervous, it seems as if he is constantly shifting in his chair, his hands are in constant motion; he often jumps from his chair, exchanges words with the audience, his eyes are half-closed, as if filmy, the process of thinking for him is something of a physical strain, which he is seemingly willing to get rid of by making his moves as quickly as he does. Zukertort performed with inconceivable rapidity, spending on average a minute per move, while it took Steinitz four times as much as that".

In New York Steinitz played poorly, winning only one game and losing four, but in St. Louis he equalized, while in New Orleans he finally tipped the scales in his favor. The final score is: +10 -5 =5. Steinitz became the first World Champion title bearer in the history of both chess and modern sport!

Andrey Filatov answered the questions of "Russia" and "Match TV" reporters, upon which we ascended the 17th floor of a historic building to see beautiful views that open on the New York City. Steinitz with Zukertort were likely to admire them as well, but the match itself was being played not there, but on the second or third floor. 





After that, I headed for the Museum of Modern Art to enjoy a couple of hours' wandering around its halls. I saw a huge queue standing outside when I got out because that evening the access was free, or so they told me. That was the so-called "Black Friday", the day of huge discounts in all stores. Both locals and tourists gladly went shopping to buy a branded item at half a price or even cheaper. The central streets were absolutely packed with many people walking along with enlightened faces and shopping bags in hands. 

Thanksgiving Day Torments
November 24. Game Ten

On Thursday the Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving Day. A cheerful parade in Manhattan in the afternoon was continued in the evening by city families getting together at homes with the traditional roast turkey on their festive tables. With many shops and cafes not working and only few people on the streets that day, game 10 of the Carlsen - Karjakin match was visited by a considerably fewer amount of people than on usual rest days. However, the "Fulton Market" was by no means deserted: all tables in the cafe were occupied, so that playing chess required children unfolding their plastic chess boards right on the floor. 

This plump turkey was pardoned by Barack Obama

Thanksgiving parade

Playing with turkeys rather than turkey turbans on their heads

Being behind in the score, Magnus Carlen had two white colors left for him (in the "regulation time") in games 10 and 12. His future game strategy was quite obvious beforehand: steering clear of testing his opponent's theoretical knowledge in mainlines and trying to drag him into sustained maneuvering instead, even if a position out of the opening would be approximately equal. With each participant playing his own game, the first to err is would matter most. Those being rough outlines of this duel scenario, many experts still failed to correctly predict the first champion's move. Even though it might seem that this purpose is best served by closed-type structures of the Reti or English openings, Magnus just up and played e2-e4. 

Sergey quite expectedly opted for the Ruy Lopez, angling for a well-known endgame, which, frankly speaking, has already become typical and boring to death. The World Champion, however, sidestepped into one of the anti-Berlin lines that saw him employing a relatively rare plan with early development of his queenside bishop. It is not unusual for this bishop to remain dormant on c1, while White is busy finding employment for his other pieces, such as putting the rook to e1, rerouting the knight from b1 to f1, etc. In this game, however, the bishop just up and showed up on g5. 

Karjakin is highly unlikely to have double checked this very sideline on the eve of the game. He began burning up his time in massive amounts - "because the opponent played brilliantly!" the Russian grandmaster said with a smile at the press conference. It was a joke, however, because other than demonstrating something special in the opening, Carlsen simply made the standard developing moves. It is just that owing to his classical chess education, with an emphasis on the opening part of the game, Sergey is unused to making the opening moves "out of general considerations", aiming at finding out the best continuation by all means. This said, he seems to have discovered the best way to lighten things up by first forcing the exchange of the dark-squared bishops, then offering to trade the light-squared ones. Magnus would have fared better by holding back from this second trade (although his obtaining any sort of advantage in this case is out of the question), because after the exchanges on e6 Sergey created pressure along the f-file and could have forced  a draw by perpetual as soon as move 20.

Why did the Russian grandmaster not seize this opportunity? As was explained at the press conference, he misjudged a key position with White getting a pair of knights for Black's rook and two pawns. As soon as Sergey gave this position a fresh look at the press conference, he instantly realized his misapprehension because the edge there would be clearly with Black and a significant one at that. Magnus confirmed his willingness to stay clear of it by all means. Well, it was not one of Karjakin’s days: he followed it by committing multiple errors, while Carlsen's understanding of the position and calculation of lines were somewhat superior to those of his opponent. 

Leading to a draw was 20...Nxf2+!! 21.Kg2 (in the case of 21.Kg1 Nh3+ 22.Kg2? Nhf4+ 23.gxf4 Nxf4+ 24.Rxf4 exf4 25.Nc2 e5 the edge is with Black) 21... Nh4+! 22.Kg1 (bad is 22.gxh4? Qg6+) 22... Nh3+ 23. Kh1 Nf2+, etc.

The game saw 20...d5 21.Qh5, although even here Black could make a draw, even if not so straightforwardly as before: 21...Nxf2+ 22.Kg2 (22.Kg1 Qg5! 23.Qxg5 Nh3+ etc.) 22...Qf7! 23.Kg1 Qf6! - all these moves were demonstrated by Carlsen during the press conference. 

Having let go of a forced draw, Black handed the initiative over to the opponent. A rook and knight ending soon appeared on the board with a slight edge for White; Internet was flooded with cracks like, "Well, everyone will now start doing what he does best! Magnus will set about nursing his minimum advantage, while Sergey will hunker down in resolute defence of his slightly worse position. "Black was solid indeed, but way too passive as e6 and e5 pawns needed constant protection, while both flanks had some vulnerabilities for White to hook to. 

The World Champion got down to systematic undermining of enemy's defenses all over the board. He started by undertaking a sortie on the kingside via infiltrating into f6 with his rook, forcing Karjakin to spend some tempi to get rid of it. Meanwhile, white advanced his pawns as far as a5 and b4 and created a strong outpost on c5 for his knight. At the same time Black had no constructive ideas as he had to resign himself to thwarting opponent’s threats, both imaginary and real. As was taught by Dr. Tarrasch, a cramped position contains a germ of defeat; and he proved right, as usual. 

Endless and seemingly incoherent manoeuvres of the white rooks had a lulling effect on the challenger, who committed a bad blunder on move 56. However, we must pay tribute to Carlsen as he caught the challenger not only into a chess trap, but also into a psychological one. What is the purpose of White's dropping his rook from b3 to b1? It turns out that Magnus was waiting for his opponent to commit both his rooks to the seventh rank, where they interfered with each other, and only then immediately carried out a breakthrough on the b-file, his rook supporting it perfectly well no matter from b3 or b1. With White winning a pawn, Black's defenses caved in. 

In the case of immediate 56.b5 cxb5 57.Rxb5 Rc8 Black would be in time to get at the c5-knight and prevent Rb5-b6. Magnus played trickier - 56.Rb1!? and only in response to the "automatic" 56...Rhh7? did he carry out 57.b5! After 57...cxb5 58.Rxb5 d4 59.Rb6 White finally piled up against the е6-pawn. 

Magnus Carlsen


However, after some five moves a hope stirred up that Karjakin would once again get away with it as one of the websites' computer claimed that White committed a serious inaccuracy and afforded the opponent an opportunity to make the winning path significantly more complex. The Norwegian journalists, sitting in the press center, took alarm and, having checked the evaluation with a supercomputer on a website of their own, started happily reassuring each other: the computer displayed a "+8" evaluation, which meant that White was absolutely winning.

Sergey Karjakin recognized his defeat on move 75. He behaved with dignity, as usual answering all questions posed by journalists not only at the press conference, but also before and after it. 

Sergey Karjakin


With ten out of 12 classical time control games already behind, the score is now level – 5-5. Friday, November 25, is a scheduled rest day at the match. The next tenth game is scheduled on Saturday, November 26 with Sergey Karjakin in charge of the white pieces.

Not Feeling Euphorious Yet
November 23. Game Nine

In the morning my hotel Internet went haywire again. It feels like putting it down into some gusto statement along the lines of, "Hey, good people, what is going on? The financial (in the least) capital of the world has weaker internet than my native village Chernaya!" but this gusto will be anything but sincere. In general, the hotel internet works fine, and my colleagues from MATCH TV experience no problems whatsoever uploading huge video files to Moscow. I am just out of luck with the Wi-Fi access point malfunctioning from time to time. Its location has already been shifted once, and in one of the evenings I detected another type of router mounted on the wall next to my door.

Well, this morning's poorish Internet cleared my conscience to put off my work until later in favor of ascending the tower, which has a sightseeing platform on its top with a beautiful name "One World Observatory". Despite cold weather and highly-priced ticket (37 dollars for adults), the queue was not a small one so that it took a 15-minute standing in the wind. However, it was worth it! It starts to be interesting as soon as you find yourself in the elevator: during a one-minute ride the screens, built into the elevator walls, display a video clip of the city growing and changing from decade to decade, skyscrapers rising in Manhattan in the ever increasing numbers. It goes without saying that the windows open to absolutely stunning views. Watching the helicopters fly in front of you, slightly above or even slightly below you as if some big size flies, is a special sort of fun. 


However, let us step down from the clouds and come back to earth. The situation here on the eve of game nine reminds of a recent 2012 crown match, staged in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Back then, a series of draws, some of them relatively short ones, were followed by Boris Gelfand confidently defeating Vishy Anand in game seven. The goal, which Boris had been aiming at for decades, seemed so close then, but alas, he failed to cope with emotions in the next game by committing a bad blunder and allowing the score to become even. Will Sergey Karjakin, fresh into the lead, manage to avoid mistakes committed by his senior companion a while ago?

In an interview given to Natalia Maryanchik of "Sport Express" Boris Gelfand highlighted a significant difference between the two matches:

- It’s of huge significance that Sergey has a rest day ahead, which back then I didn’t have. It’s very important to survive your victory, to come to terms with it. For the challenger, particularly if he’s playing a match at such a level for the first time, there’s a wealth of emotions after a win. No doubt I was unable to 100% put that behind me in the next game, but Karjakin has one and a half days and a very good team who should help him. I’d like to warn them all against considering the match won. It’s all just getting started - Carlsen will play with redoubled strength and Sergey needs to be prepared for that. Although I’m sure he understands that perfectly well himself. 

Sergey Karjakin


The course of game nine demonstrated that Sergey was far from feeling dizzy with success. He braced for the upcoming battle, which saw him delivering a very dynamic performance and putting the champion up against substantial problems. On the other hand, Magnus Carlsen seems to have overcome the crisis as well by displaying his best qualities and salvaging a half point in a difficult situation.

Magnus Carlsen


... So, on Wednesday, November 23, the match was resumed following a rest day with the challenger in charge of the white pieces. As we remember, he tried 1.d4 in game seven, but got nothing out of the opening. This time he switched back to his favorite 1.е2-е4 and moved it with his own hand at that since no guest of honor was there for the first move ceremony.  Although Carlsen remained true to Ruy Lopez, he was the first to sidestep from the Marshall system in favor of the Arkhangelsk variation. It should be noted, however, that this opening line has no well-established "historical" name yet as it is called both the new Archangelsk variation and the Yurtaev system, after a famous Kyrgyzstan grandmaster and theoretician Leonid Yurtaev (1959-2011). When this system was introduced into the tournament practice, it was considered very sharp and would bring Black great dividends; nowadays, however, it has been analyzed in depth. Thus, the speed with which the opponents made their initial 20 moves is not surprising at all. Then Carlsen uncorked a novelty, although it was a shallow one and, therefore, is unlikely to have had any profound surprising effect on Karjakin. 

A typical for this line position appeared on the board with an extra pawn and a pair of bishops for White on the one hand, but with a compromised pawn structure on the other hand; Black's drawing chances were evaluated as being very high. Nevertheless, it was nothing more than a struggle for a draw since the champion had no chances of taking over the initiative, whereas the challenger could put down the show at any moment by forcing a peace agreement to be signed. Meanwhile, this is not what Sergey was angling for. Grandmasters started big maneuvers, attempting to as much as possible improve the deployment of own pieces while preventing his opponent from achieving the same or even bringing disharmony into the enemy's ranks. Having employed this line on several occasions before, Karjakin performed very resourcefully: thus, very successful was his rook's transfer to h4, where it helped defend two vulnerable squares in own camp while eyeballing the black king’s position. 

Carlsen got in time trouble and on move 38, shortly prior to the end of time control, recklessly dismounted his knight from the center, affording Karjakin a choice between several attacking continuations. Upon giving it a serious thinking, Sergey opted for the most solid line, which completely ruled out any risk of White's going down. It is not impossible, however, that the alternative continuation was a more promising one, in which White was winning a second pawn, but allowing his opponent to develop dangerous counterplay. Getting at the truth requires an additional analysis to be carried out; at the press conference Sergey also admitted to having missed an important move in his advanced calculations in the alternative line, which would have disrupted Black's coordination. This is why he went along with a more reliable continuation.

White opted for 39.Bxf7+. Probably stronger is 39.Qb3 Nf5 40.Bxf7+ Kg7 41.Rh3 Qe7 42.Bg8! - this is the move which Karjakin missed in his advanced calculations. Now bad is 42... Nh4+? in view of 43.Rxh4 Qxh4 44.Qf7+ Kh8 45.Qxc7 Kxg8 46.d5, whereas 42...h5 runs into 43.d5! with a sharp play in which White's chances are still higher. 

When the opponents made their time control moves, the game was a queen and bishop ending with an extra pawn for White. After a while, it became clear that White would stand to profit nothing from trading queens, even if it resulted in having his pawn structure improved: with queens off the board Black's position would be unassailable. In his turn, White would profit from trade the bishops off, but Carlsen had no problems avoiding it. Sergey Karjakin was essaying to make progress for nearly thirty moves to come, but Magnus Carlsen was careful in defending his position and the game petered out to a draw. 

Magnus to Agdestein, "White had a smidgen advantage only!"


This time both grandmasters attended the press conference. Carlsen came slightly earlier (as Sergey was being interviewed by Match TV) and was sitting in patient anticipation of his opponent’s arrival while talking to his manager Espen Agdestein. Among others questions the champion was also asked about game eight, to which he replied briefly, "I played badly, Sergey did better, so he won." He did not want to talk as to whether or not they were justified in having fined him, saying only that his team had filed an appeal. 

Anastasiya Karlovich, Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen


Meanwhile, with 9 classical time control games already behind, the score is now 5:4 in Sergey Karjakin’s favor. The next tenth game is scheduled on Thursday, November 24 with the World Champion being in charge of the white pieces.

Beasts on the Chess Board
November 22. Rest Day

During the rest day the FIDE World Champion Alexander Khalifman held a presentation of the beta version of "Tensor" chess or «Tensor Chess» for the journalists working at the match. A while ago this original strategy game, featuring a 8x10-size board and, most importantly, introducing a completely new chessman called "beast" or "werewolf" (two for each side), was subject of our review on the RCF website. 

FIDE World Champion Alexander Khalifman


Beasts can be captured only by beasts and are otherwise invincible to pawns and pieces. They move one square at a time, like a king, or jump over other pieces, like in checkers. The interesting thing is, however, that the new piece originates such tricks as "propelling" and "ricocheting". It resulted in an absolutely original type of dynamic game without any body of theory yet, but with kings getting under attacks from as early as move 5-6. 

Gennadij Nesis and Alexander Khalifman


Tens of grandmasters, who have tested this game, have voiced their high opinions of it. Thus, Anatoly Karpov, the 12th World Champion, wrote as follows: "The enhanced coordination and integration of pieces intensively engages the mind and is very exciting. Tensor Chess deserves an honored status among intellectual games and the family of classical chess.” Levon Aronian's opinion, however, is expressed in a more brief and aphoristic manner, "Tensor Chess is a truly remarkable achievement!" 


Olga Dolzhikova and Randy Wright


I have had certain ideas of this game since the latest 2014 world match in Sochi between Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand because I attended the presentation of "Tensor" chess conducted back then. Game rules are only seemingly complex - getting used to beasts on the board is no more challenging than in real life. Within the past two years the developers have achieved serious progress in promoting their project. The most significant is that there has been created an online portal http://tensorchess.com/, as well as the "engine", which is Internet accessible to anyone willing to challenge it. Alexander Khalifman noted with a smile.

"I think many of those attending the presentation are capable of defeating the program as is because it does not perform as strong as "Stockfish" or "Houdini." However, the situation will definitely change in a short while!



In short, benefit from catching up in the moment! Besides, there has been collected a body of puzzles to help better master the rules and improve on your spatial, analytic and combinatorial way of thinking. The Android version of "Tensor Chess" will soon find its way into Google Play and App Store. This serious and meticulous approach of the "Tensor" chess developers will surely gain them its share of audience both on the web and well beyond it. 

Following the end of presentation your correspondent headed for the "Metropolitan" museum to take great pleasure from wandering its halls for as long as up to closing time. These exciting events have made my rest day very busy indeed!


Lost and Fined
November 21. Game Eight

It is long since I have brought up the name of our dear Andrew Murray-Watson, PR director of "Agon." Being a cordial and considerate man as he is, his detailed letters, sharing not only some dry pieces of information but also his thoughts and feeling, are a source of constant joy to the match journalists. Thus, a couple of hours prior to the start of game eight, Andrew sent us his "informational bulletin" It might seem as if an organizing company representative should remain neutral, but our Andrew had curious associations which, complete with lyrical mood, turned a simple letter into a true artistic sketch. 

"I will try to punch him until he finally knocks over."

This is what Magnus Carlsen told journalists gathered at the press conference preceding game one of the World Championship match. 

George Foreman, the box world champion, promised to treat Muhammad Ali in a similar way back in 1974. 

A 25-year old Foreman was a clear favorite, having crushed the only two people who had defeated Ali before - Kenneth Norton and John Fraizer. 

This epic battle, known to all as "The Rumble in the Jungle", showed Foreman throwing strikes at Ali nearly all the time. 

Leaning on the ropes, Ali was superb in defense, never missing an opportunity to shoot straight punches to Foreman's face. However, despite his aggressive attitude and hitting power, Foreman was unable to finish off a treacherous opponent. 

Ali's fierce counterattack came like a bolt from the sky at a moment when the annoyed Foreman started missing wild punches in a desperate attempt to deal the final blow to his rival. 

As Foreman fell to the canvas, the battle was over.

A decisive blow was delivered by Ali in round eight...

Muhammad Ali delivering a knockout blow to George Foreman


This famous boxing event was dubbed as "The Rumble in the Jungle" because it was staged in Kinshasa, the former Zaire and nowadays the Republic of Kongo. In keeping with the topic of boxing, Andrew notified that the first move in game eight would be made by Tyson. Not the one you immediately though about, but rather Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and writer, popularizer of science.

A celebrity astrophysics scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson


In game eight the white pieces belonged to George Foreman... I beg your pardon, to Magnus Carlsen. At his request Tyson moved the pawn from d2 to d4, similar to game one. This time the World Champion refrained from the Trompovsky attack in favor of yet another quite rare opening, the so-called Zukertort system, named after the chess player of the XIX century, who was participant of the first official match for the world champion's title. This event took place in 1886 in several cities in the United States and Canada, and Johann Zukertort's opponent was Wilhelm Steinitz, who eventually became the first world champion.

However, let us return to the XXIst century. Meanwhile, the Zukertort is a decent system not neglected in the modern tournament practice. Other than staking claims for an opening advantage, White develops his pieces harmoniously in anticipation of a lengthy fight to come. This is exactly how the game Carlsen - Karjakin started off, which had the position of dynamic equilibrium around move 15, when all pieces were still on the board and only the central pawns exchanged.

What was the World Champion's idea, after all?


Willing so much to get out of the quagmire of draws, Carlsen voluntarily agreed to the deterioration of his pawn structure in order to step up pressure in the center and on the queenside. As opposed to this, Karjakin was aiming at simplifications by trading pieces. Towards the start of the time trouble period the World Champion surrendered his queenside pawns to the mercy of his opponent to enable infiltrating into the opponent's camp, getting closer and closer to the black king. With this in mind, White sacrificed a pawn (in a more or less correct way), and then a second one (which was one too many, however). Meanwhile, being pressed for time, Karjakin failed to choose the best continuation, allowing Carlsen destroying black king's pawn cover and obtaining substantial counterplay.

According to Sergey Karjakin, he was aware of 37...Qa4, but was apprehensive that after 38.Qxb6 his edge would not be enough to secure a victory.  Therefore, he opted for 37...Qd3, missing that after 38.Nxe6+ fxe6 39.Qe7+ Kg8 40.Qxf6 a4 White had a strong rejoinder 41.е4!

When the time control move was over, the World Champion could force a draw, but went after the pawn instead. Judging by all appearances, he underestimated the strength of the Black's a-passer, as well as the fact that his own g2-bishop was very passive.

Thus, after 44.Qg6+ Kh8 45.e5 a3 46.Qc2 White would have been out of harm's way, but Carlsen chose 44.Qc6. 

While Karjakin regrouped his pieces to secure his king's safety, Carlsen went on committing errors. In the end the Norwegian even allowed his opponent weaving a mating net around his king. The World Champion recognized his defeat on move 53.

The match regulations require that following the end of a game both grandmasters show up to report to the Norwegian TV channel, while Karjakin then gives his brief interview to the Match TV, followed by both players visiting the press conference hall. This time, however, the annoyed Carlsen simply ignored his compatriot journalists, heading straight for the press conference hall. Meanwhile, Sergey was about to finish telling his story of events to the correspondent Elmira Mirzoeva to also head for the conference hall. He has more than once found himself  in a similar situation here in New York, sitting quietly and waiting for the champion. As for Magnus, after about a two-minute wait he finally lost his temper, jumping from his seat, waving hands at his manager Espen Agdestein and storming out of the room. Karjakin remained the only player to share his version of the game events and answer the public's question. 

Following a 95-second waiting Magnus Carlsen abandons the press conference hall
Sergey Karjakin narrating about the game just finished (photo credit: Maria Emeljanova)



The world championship match regulations stipulate that if a player fails to appear for the press conference he gets a 10% prize money fine. With the match prize fund being one million dollars, a winner gets 600 thousands and a losing side 400. Thus, if going down in the match Magnus will be bound to pay 40 thousand dollars and if winning - 60 thousands. 

Meanwhile, with 8 classical time control games already behind, the score is now 4.5-3.5 in Sergey Karjakin’s favor. The next ninth game is scheduled on Wednesday, November 23 with the challenger being in charge of the white pieces.

Opposite-colored Draws
November 20. Game Seven

Game seven, played on Sunday, November 20, gave start to the second half of the World Championship match between the champion Magnus Carlsen (Norway) and the challenger Sergey Karjakin (Russia). As in game six the white pieces were with the Russian grandmaster. It is not so long since FIDE has come up with a tricky rule, according to which the alternation of white and black colors is reversed at the event midpoint, resulting in both opponents playing twice in a row with same color. They claim that it should enhance the spectators appeal and add to unpredictability of a match. What is done cannot be undone: while grandmasters have no particular objections to this  (which is probably explained by the fact that only few of them ever manage to get so far as a crown match), and the officials are happy, too, as they have shined offering something new and immortalizing their names in the annals of chess history. 

Final preparations for the upcoming battle

With the New York match being hugely popular with the audience, all Sunday tickets were sold out (there is something about 400 for daily sale, not including individual tickets, special invitations, etc.). All premises were filled to capacity, including the café, conference hall, press center and VIP zone. That day the Fulton-market was visited by world no.2 and a New York resident Fabiano Caruana. It is he who used to be Sergey Karjakin’s main rival in the Moscow Candidates Tournament held this spring; it is him that Sergey defeated in the decisive game of the final round after having come up with an effective rook sacrifice. The party was also joined by other famous grandmasters, such as Boris Gulko, the USSR and USA champion, Alexander Khalifman, the FIDE world champion, the USA champions of different years Lev Alburt, Max Dlugy, Irina Krush... The backstage saw Caruana playing blitz with Dlugi; two games, played with cameras trained on them, ended in draws, upon which both grandmasters had to answer the questions of the TV people.

The backstage fights are as serious as the world championship ones

Organizers keep introducing Hollywood stars of different caliber to the chess public. The symbolic move one in game seven was made by an actor and film producer Gbenga Akinnagbe, who is said to be extremely popular in the USA. My first impressions tell me he is a cheerful and genuine man: a few remarks of his managed to move Sergey and Magnus into laughter so that they embarked on a new battle with smiles on their faces. Karjakin asked the guest of honor to move the pawn from d2 to d4, showing his willingness to change the type of opening "serve." On three prior occasions Sergey opened his white games with the king's pawn advance, although without achieving much of anything since Magnus was successful in solving his opening problems, even taking over the initiative and being within a striking distance of victory in game four. 

Make sure you remember this name: Gbenga Akinnagbe

The World Champion met 1.d4 with the so-called Chabanenko system of the Slav Defence, invented by a famous Moldavian chess coach and theoretician Vyacheslav Chabanenko back in the 70-80s of the previous century. Nowadays this flexible and reliable system has found its way into almost every elite grandmaster's opening repertoire, including the World Champion. However, this being not one of Carlsen's principled weapons of choice, we are unlikely to get it largely wrong in supposing that Karjakin has not spent much of his time preparing for this line. This resulted in Sergey sidestepping the most principled continuations to cause massive trades in the center, whereas his move 11 came as a complete surprise to both spectators and commentators who failed to grasp the meaning of Sergey's knight maneuver from off the center. 

The game witnessed 11.Nd2?!

Later at the press conference the Russian grandmaster admitted that he had confused between two lines, saying that he should have traded queens first, although it is hard to believe that this is a way to vie for an endgame advantage. With White lagging behind in development, it is not by chance that the audience called to memory the famous game 21 of the Capablanca - Alekhine match, in which the Russian grandmaster capitalized on his actively deployed pieces to subtly outplay the Cuban genius in a similar pawn structure setup. 

As opposed to this, Magnus Carlsen failed to live up to Alekhine's example. The Norwegian was content to be able to effortlessly equalize as Black without looking out for more. However, the analysis shows that 15…f5! would have put White up against a challenging task of having to fight for a draw in this game. Mistakes are known to never come alone, which manifested itself in the World Champion reacting not in the best way (in lieu of 16...Rc8?! worthy of attention was  16...Bd5 or 16...Rb8), upon which the challenger ended up winning a pawn as a result of a simple exchange operation.

On the other hand, the margin of safety for Black was rather substantial. In a short while, there arose a rook ending with opposite-colored bishops, which defied any easy attempts at creating a passed pawn. If it were Carlsen playing the white pieces, he would have perhaps continued looking for something to work on (it is highly unlikely, however, but it is not by accident that he is called a magician!). Meanwhile, it did not take Karjakin long to become convinced in the strength of Black's defenses, and a draw was agreed on move 33.  It is the seventh draw in the match, while in the last three games the principal role of "peacekeepers" was performed by opposite-colored bishops. 


Thus, after 7 of 12 games to be played with the classical time control the score remains equal - 3.5-3.5. The next eighth game is scheduled on Monday, November 21 with Magnus Carlsen in charge of the white pieces.

Saturday in the Washington Square Park
November 19. A Rest Day

The previous time that New York hosted the World Championship match was 21 years ago when Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand played each other from September 11 to October 10, 1995 at the 107th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, destroyed in 2001 as a result of the loudest act of terrorism in the history of mankind. Nowadays the place of the ruined the towers has a memorial erected in the memory of 3000 tragedy victims, a museum, which gathered a long queue on Saturday, two pools that collect water running down the walls, and a shopping center built in the shape of a giant white bird. 

Interestingly enough, this memorial is situated at the opposite end of Fulton Street, which is a venue of the current matchup between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin. Equally interesting is the fact that the prize fund of their great predecessors' contest used to be one and a half times as much - a million and a half dollars - with a million going to the winner and five hundred thousands to the defeated side. Besides, back in the mid-90s the dollar's purchasing power used to be a lot higher than nowadays.

On the rest day I kept my friends and colleagues company in our promenade towards the Washington Square Park, which was very lively on Saturday.   Meanwhile, they ran at least two public rallies simultaneously - one against Trump and another for peace in Jerusalem. Different parts of the square saw musicians and actors, parents strolling about with their children, groups of people picnicking on the lawn grass. Meanwhile, the south-eastern corner of the square hosted people playing chess with own chessmen and clocks on fixed stone tables and wooden benches. 

The "street professionals" urge you to accept their challenge for stakes of three or five dollars per game, while the most daring individuals would raise stakes to even as much as a hundred. Sometimes they ask you to give them several dollars no matter the game result. These professionals are about first category players and seem to be other than rich people at that. However, those willing to play and help them out financially turn up nonetheless. It should be noted that standard stationary chess tables can be found at other New York streets and squares as well.

The Challenger is Willing to Fly
November 18. Game six

Games with similar scenario tend to happen more and more often at the highest level of modern chess. With both players coming out with serious intentions, making an easy draw is something completely out of the question. One is determined to try to prove the famous maxim of Vsevolod Rauzer "White starts and wins", for which purpose he adopts a principled approach to the opening with an invariable e2-e4 (what else??). Meanwhile, his opponent is well-prepared for it after having uncorked an important improvement, found and double checked at home with the help of a computer and his seconds, causing massive trades and a draw without even as much as making a single move of his own over the board. 

This is exactly what has occurred in game six, which had Sergey Karjakin in charge of the white pieces. The game lasted only an hour and a half, during which the opponents made 32 moves, although they could have signed scoresheets earlier but for the 30-move rule. In his pre-match interviews the challenger has highlighted more than once that the world champion's home preparation should not to be underestimated, game six being a perfect example of this. Nevertheless, I do want to believe that Sergey and his assistants have something in store as well, especially since the Norwegian journalists have bombarded Internet with questions related to the so much-acclaimed home preparation of the Karjakin’s team. 

However, multiple spectators that visited the Fulton Market on Friday were not disappointed with such turn of events. They played chess themselves, listened to the grandmasters and even asked them a few questions. It was a lot of fun to hear a little boy addressing both players with the following question, "When do you plan to start winning?" Answering the question about his rest day plans, Sergey Karjakin said that he wanted to fly on a helicopter, whereas Magnus Carlsen smiled and said that helicopter flights were definitely out of his agenda. Perhaps, he feels like having had enough flights so far. 

All in all, Saturday is a rest day that everyone is free to spend to his/her liking. Meanwhile, let me offer you a few pictures by Maria Emeljanova. She knows to capture nice chess moments in a vivid manner!

Professor and grandmaster Kenneth Rogoff makes the honorary first move
Magnus Carlsen is clarifying something with chief arbiter Takis Nikolopoulos

Zangalis, Filatov, Potkin

Anna Burtasova holds a slice of a tangerine

I would like to wrap up this review with a small announcement. Sergei Karjakin will return to New York on February 1, 2017 to give a charity simul. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.reach2stars.com/sk_nyc
All funds will be submitted to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Magnus Is Irritated
November 17. Game Five

I have known Magnus Carlsen for more than 10 years and met him at various individual and team competitions. If my memory serves me right, we first met at the 2003 Aeroflot Open in Moscow. The famous picture taken by Boris Georgievich Dolmatovsky shows as many as four World Champions together.

Anatoly Karpov, Magnus Carlsen, Boris Spassky and Vasily Smyslov

Initially, he used to be a relaxed and straightforward teenager, then a bit shy and taciturn youngster, while recent years have turned him into a confident man and leader of the chess world. I saw him in a variety of situations and not only in the days of triumph. However, I have never seen him so unhappy and out of balance as after game five of the World Championship match! 

The New York contract commits grandmasters to sharing the details of games played with the Norwegian TV. It is only logical that countrymen of feather should flock together, therefore Magnus has always been answering the Norwegians' questions in an unhurried and meticulous fashion, sometimes even in more details than at subsequent press conferences. However, it was not to be, not this day! An attractive newswoman posed the World Champion just three questions. He replied "Yes" to the first, "OK" to the second, shrugged his shoulders in response to the third and headed for the exit. And then, at the press conference, he would make faces, much in the style of Garry Kimovich as we saw him back in years past. As a matter of fact, what was it that went so terribly wrong for Carlsen? 

Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin

As the previous day was a rest day on the match, the World Champion spent it playing his favorite basketball. The internet has pictures and videos with Magnus scoring a three-pointer. Two years ago the Sochi match against Anand was initially shaping other than trouble-free for Carlsen as well. Back then he played basketball and went on to pull himself together and win confidently. However, "an athletic warm-up" has so far failed in terms of producing a similar effect this time. 

Game five had the World Champion playing the white pieces. The symbolic first move was made by a film director Bennett Miller, known to the general public for his films "Foxcatcher," "Capote," "Moneyball" and others. At Carlsen's request he moved the pawn fro e2 to e4 and headed for the VIP zone, where he played some chess games with the FIDE press-attache Anastasia Karlovich. While Miller plays very decently, on a master's level, he tried at first to deceive the girl by pretending to barely know how the pieces move at all. Not only is he a film director by profession, but also an actor by vocation! 

Bennett Miller attempts to hustle a girl in (photo credit: Maria Emeljanova)

Judging by this picture, taken by A. Karlovich, the e2-e4 move in game five was made by... Sergey Karjakin!

However, let us go back to the room with the black walls of glass, where the world championship match is underway. As in game three Sergey Karjakin moved up his king's pawn two squares forward: е7-е5. Is it going to be yet another Ruy Lopez game? No, Magnus has shifted gears by resorting to the Giuoco Piano, which has not been employed in the world championship matches for as long 35 years since the 1981 Merano match Karpov - Korchnoi. This old-fashioned opening (it dates back to more than three hundred years, same as Ruy Lopez, for that matter) has lately gained quite a popularity at the highest level, especially in connection with the 6.a4 line put into practice recently. White uses this pawn advance to grab space on the queenside and limit the opponent's dark-squared bishop's scope.

Sergey was quick and confident with his opening moves as he was apparently not taken by surprise by his opponent's plan. The first key moment happened on move 12 when Carlsen left his bishop on c4 to allow simplifications in the center. Karjakin reacted in the most principled way so that a complex middlegame appeared on the board in a short while, in which Black's bishop pair was opposed by White's bishop and knight, with the latter posted very actively and blunting the a7-bishop. The challenger soon traded off this knight for his bishop since he failed to find out how to retain his bishop pair despite his willingness to do so.

Sergey Karjakin

With the opposite-colored bishops, queens and rooks on the board, the initiative initially belonged to White, but Carlsen hesitated somewhat and also needlessly locked up the queenside with 32.a5. Karjakin immediately took advantage of this circumstance by transferring his king to the locked flank and launching a pawn offensive on the opposite side of the board, where the white king was still residing. Although Carlsen's position remained rather safe and sound, immediately after passing the time control move the World Champion committed a serious inaccuracy by blocking the way of his rook to the newly opened h-file. Sergey could have taken control of this file to infiltrate into the opponent's camp with his heavy pieces, creating unpleasant threats to the exposed white king. On the other hand this would have generated sharp positions that defy easy calculation.

Sergey opted for a different plan, also a logical one: he sacrificed a central pawn to make his bishop active. All fine and dandy, but Carlsen reminded that he, too, knows to defend well: he immediately returned the extra pawn, having thus secured his king against any visits of uninvited guests. With queens and rooks off the board soon, the grandmasters signed peace in a dead draw ending with opposite-colored bishops. It would be unbecoming to say that Karjakin missed a penalty shot, he rather executed a dangerous free kick from the middle distance somewhat over the crossbar.

Vladimir Barsky and RCF President Andrey Filatov (photo credit: Anastasiya Karlovich)

He Who Comes to Us with a Ball
November 16 - A Rest Day

Game five is just several hours ahead with the World Champion playing the white pieces. The internet is bursting with the forecasts, ranging from Carlsen destroying Black's defenses to Karjakin successfully solving his opening problems (a comprehensive preparation of his team should snap into action, after all!) without creating problems for himself this time around. It needs no saying that grandmasters were intensely preparing for the upcoming two-round rendezvous, but were also not on a particular hiding from the mass media. Magnus was playing his favorite basketball in the company of his assistants and even scored at least one three-pointer (a picture of which was posted on Twitter by the Norwegian journalist Mads Stostad), while Sergey and his second Vladimir Potkin were walking about the Central Park, feeding the ducks and giving a short interview the MATCH TV correspondent Elmira Mirzoeva. Thanks to Maria Emeljanova for the wonderful pictures!

Magnus is playing basketball

Meanwhile, Sergey and Vladimir are going about the park

Feeding the ducks

Sergey Karjakin is answering questions of Elmira Mirzoeva

On the rest day your correspondent was writing and editing notes, familiarizing himself with the New York subway (it is noteworthy that ticket vending machines have a four-language menu in English, Spanish, Chinese and Russian) and having a short walk in the center. I even took a picture of a chess fan - Benjamin Franklin. I take this opportunity to remind those who do not know or have perhaps forgotten that the first chess-related book published in the Russian language was his essay "The Morals of Chess." The section of Fifth Avenue across Trump Tower is now open to pedestrians, although the police officers and journalists are on a constant vigil there. There is a horde of idle observers and a dark-skinned girl walking back and forth carrying a banner "Not my president", urging the latter to quickly depart in a certain direction. Meanwhile, Trump Tower is very beautiful and stylish in and of itself, with the nearby Tiffany's shop is sparkling and iridescent in the sunlight.

When I reached the Central Park it was already getting dark. There were not many people in it. Beautiful music was being played, and a ballerina was dancing by the water...

Benjamin Franklin
Times Square
Familiar characters

Familiar characters-2

Trump Tower

In anticipation of a sensation

A one-man protest near Prada


The Central Park

An American Dream

An autumn romance

It was getting dark...

Me, Myself & My Blockade!
November 15. Game four

"Fantastic!" answered Sergey plainly to the question about his feelings after having hung on for so long in game four. Meanwhile, when an American journalist Peter Doggers jokingly asked if he would agree to take up the defense minister post if received such an offer from Vladimir Putin, Sergey smiled and nodded happily as he answered:

– That would be great!

Sergey Karjakin is not against becoming a man in a uniform

Thus, the Russian finished game four on a positive note, although it was, as before, the joy of bailing out from a difficult position. Meanwhile, with Karjakin playing White in game four, his multiple fans hoped that gaming initiative would be on his side this time around. As in a famous Russian anecdote: perhaps he will kill, perhaps not, but will surely give you a lot of hard time. However, the reality defied these optimistic expectations.

Move one of the game was made by Nikita Kim, Vice-President of the Moscow Chess Federation. All Hollywood stars are probably busy at shooting sites at the moment...

As in his first game with the white pieces, the Russian grandmaster started with the king's pawn advance. Even though the World Champion opted for Ruy Lopez once again, it was not a boring to death Berlin, but rather 3... a6, leading to a much more complex positions with intense struggle. Karjakin was the first to sidestep from the track trodden earlier in their match, but it was not some uncharted territory, as such have long since ceased to exist in the Ruy Lopez. There soon arose a very popular tabiya of the anti-Marshall system that has been repeatedly tested at the highest level.

Magnus Carlsen is breaking through a wall of journalists

We can only guess as to whether the World Champion outclassed his opponent in the home preparation or in a better understanding of the position arising directly in the game, but there is no escaping the fact that the first player, Sergey Karjakin, got nothing out of the opening. It should be mentioned, however, that he meant business without being overly cautious, aiming at a big battle all the time. The challenger tried to organize a piece play on the kingside without committing himself to any fixed pawn structure in the center, for the purpose of which he redeployed his queen to this part of the board and embarked on a subtle rearrangement of his knights. These maneuvers were too slow, however, giving Carlsen enough time to break up the center with d6-d5 and create pressure against the e4-pawn. Black's moves 17 and 18 were especially strong, thanks to which the World Champion not only managed to equalize, but took over the initiative altogether.

While White counted exclusively on 18...Nxe4 19.Rxe4 Bxe4 20.Qxe4 gxh6 21.Ng3, there followed 18...Qc6! instead

As was admitted by Karjakin at the press conference, he simply overlooked 18...Qc6! in hoping that the Norwegian grandmaster would instead go for the above line winning the exchange, in which case White would have obtained a great compensation owing to his excellent control over the light squares. However, Magnus would not be lured into it, preferring to go on fighting with equal material but without weaknesses in his own camp.

Sergey immediately followed it up by committing a bad positional blunder by trading his light-squared bishop for the opponent's knight via 19.Bxc4? Not only is this exchange unanimously condemned by each and every expert, but Peter Svidler even claims that the move goes against everything he knows about how to play the Ruy Lopez with White (and he is sure to know a lot since he has been playing this opening for a lifetime and for both colors at that). Meanwhile, after the correct 19.Bc1 the position would have remained roughly equal. While Karjakin considered it unpleasant for White, it seems to be a purely emotional evaluation as Sergey was in a state of utter annoyance at his blunder, as well as because of having to switch to thinking about equalizing in lieu of a passionate attack that he initially planned. Mistakes are known to never come alone.

The exchange on c4 gifted Black with a bishop pair advantage, crystallizing the b2-pawn into an eternal weakness (which is not so easy to get at, however). The game soon transposed into a complex ending with a stable plus for Black. Besides, Carlsen came up with a powerful plan and managed to set his central pawns in motion, landing Sergey into an emergency, much like in the preceding game.


One of the world's strongest grandmasters Fabiano Caruana tweeted jokingly at this moment, "It's gonna be a rough match for Karjakin if he gets bad positions every day, but maybe he's showing off how well he defends." There's a grain of joke in every joke: once on the edge of defeat (and his position was even more desperate than in game three), Sergey pulled himself together to demonstrate an incredible resourcefulness and tenacity, having proved yet another time his enormous capabilities of a defender. The truth is, however, that his efforts were unlikely to result in a success but for Magnus' committing a couple of inaccuracies. Thus, he should not have traded his d6- for the opponent's h4-pawn because it boosted the activity of the white pieces to a certain degree, allowing White bringing his knight into the game upon a lengthy period of wretched existence on the edge of the board. The World Champion also condemned his 45...f4 as, contrary to his expectation, there happened no deadly zugzwang to play into his hands after all. Karjakin was deft in building up a barrier of pawns and pieces in the center of the board, which defied all Norwegian's efforts to infiltrate through.

45...Be6! was offered by Magnus Carlen during the press conference instead of 45...f4?

Carlsen resorted to an unusually long tirade to explain his decision:

– In general I'm not a very big believer in fortresses in chess. There are people like Anand, who tries to build a fortress every time he’s worse, but I have experience in breaking these fortresses down. I thought I was easily winning with 45…f4 (meanwhile, it took the World Champion some twenty minutes or more to contemplate this move - Vladimir Barsky's note). As long as I have a path on the queenside it has to be winning. I didn’t even think about whether it’s still a fortress if I get the king to b3. That was very, very sloppy. Kudos to him for finding this, but I think that was just a very weak moment.

As usual, the World Champion did not stop fighting as long as Black had at least a ghostly chance of winning, but his efforts failed. With all fighting potential exhausted, a draw was agreed on move 94. The game lasted for almost six and a half hours.

"My opponent was good, but I'm not too much upset. I really believe it’s better to be attacking than defending when it comes to defending the title," was Magnus Carlsen's sumup of a many-hour battle.

Best defense (of a title) is offense!

Karjakin’s Territory
November 14. Game three of the match

Here they are introducing yet another novelty: the organizers have decided to reduce to eight the number of photographers allowed into the playroom for taking pictures of the match participants. Andrew Murray-Watson, the sweetest of men, PR director of "Agon", mails out detailed letters every morning on how much time he spent contemplating about improving the working conditions of the match journalists, on how he stayed up late before going to bed on the rest day, and so on and so forth. I have to admit that I feel something is terribly wrong when not receiving his morning letters. Thus, Andrew reported that photographers blocked the view of the spectators, who expressed their dissatisfaction by... applauding: "The main reason for this is that photographers for the 1st move block the view for spectators in the spectator hall. Some of you who took 1st move images on Saturday may have heard a round of applause that went up when we all left the players arena. The only solution is to reduce the number of photographers down to a total of 8 so we don't have a wall of photographers blocking the view for spectators". 

Needless to say, this is quite a weighty argument, taking into account that a photo session with Carlsen and Karjakin is limited to 10 minutes, while watching them play from across the glass can last even as long as seven hours, exactly the amount of time it took game three to finish. On the other hand, spectators are willing to pay hefty money for their tickets, at least $75 per game, so that game two sold 400 tickets and game three - 310. This is why with people coming in droves for the match game of Monday it generated absolutely no impression of it being the first day of the workweek. Only the VIP zone looked unusually underpopulated: Dmitry Peskov and his escort left, as well as a number of the Russian journalists. 

As I was not part of the selected pool this time around, I was watching the start of game three from the main auditorium in which press conferences take place and where the large screens display the game moves and a one-of-a-kind Judit Polgar as the main commentator. 

Peter Doggers and Judit Polgar (photo credit: A. Karlovich)

A couple of minutes before the game start the best female chess player ever made an assumption that that day Magnus was unlikely to open the game with the king's pawn move and that we were most likely in for yet another lengthy struggle in some closed opening. As opposed to that, what the spectators saw on screen was the opponents shaking hands and the world champion advancing his pawn from e2 to e4 with his own hand (no guests of honor this time around). It was immediately met by applauses. In general, the New York public is very appreciative. You should have heard and seen them giving the players a standing ovation before and after the press conference! While it was already 9 pm local time, no one was going home as everyone was eager to hear grandmasters' story first hand. 

As expected, Sergey Karjakin headed for the Berlin, but did not reach it as Magnus Carlsen opted for one of the sidelines, which saw him employing a rare continuation 10.Re2 in lieu of 10.Re1. 

Black to move

Kirill Zangalis and I asked grandmaster Vladimir Potkin, Karjakin’s second, to explain the subtleties of this awkward-looking move. It turns out that with the white rook on е1 Black answers 10...Re8, threatening to trade rooks because after 11...Rxe1 12.Qxe1 the d4-pawn is hanging. If White were to trade himself with 11.Rxe8+, then after 11...Nxe8 Black improves the deployment of his previously awkward d6-knight to carry out d7-d5 and equalize the game. Since the e2-rook is also defended by the bishop, White is able to meet 10...Re8 by continuing his development with 11.Bf4 since the d4-pawn is safe for the moment. 

Vladimir Potkin is sharing the Ruy Lopez secrets with Kirill Zangalis

This petite surprise tactics is typical not only of Magnus Carlsen, but of the entire modern chess in general: to catch your opponent off guard and to put him up against mini-problems. During his match against Kramnik Kasparov tried to break through, smash, destroy the Berlin wall without leaving a stone unturned. Although he failed in London-2000, you can imagine Garry's extent of happiness when he unleashed a mighty e5-e6 blow in Astana-2001 in yet another clash with Vladimir Borisovich. However, since then the wall has been restored, fortified and even given a plaster treatment, so that Carlsen would not even embark on assaulting it, but rather attempted to discover some sort of a loophole, of a crack. 

10.Re2 plunged Sergey Karjakin into lengthy contemplations (Photo credit: A. Karlovich)

Karjakin’s lengthy contemplations resulted in 10...b6, which was immediately answered by 11.Re1 - White forced b7-b6 at the cost of a tempo, which plays into his hands in certain lines. Press-attache of FIDE Anastasiya Karlovich, close to who I was seated at the press center, was long working up her courage before asking Carlsen a facetious question, saying that the impression was such that Carlsen was carrying his rook to e1, but dropped it along the way - sort of a mouse-slip not infrequent in online games. World champion played along:

- Indeed, I intended to put my rook on e1, but dropped it while doing so, and corrected my mishap next move. 

However, he said this phrase so icily and with such a stony expression on his face that had there not been hundreds of other people in the press conference hall I would rather start worrying on account of girl's further fate at that moment. 

Pleased Sergey Karjakin, focused Magnus Carlsen, and brave Anastasiya Karlovich

A plot of the game, which lasted almost seven hours, is briefly described in the news ribbon of our website, while a thorough analysis of the game subtleties will be given by Dmitry Kryakvin in one of the upcoming reviews. Sergey Karjakin’s fans had a lot of worries that day as it seemed on more than one occasion that he was not going to get out of it safe and sound. A cautious optimism was coming only from Peter Svidler commenting on the Chess24 website, "If it were any other chess player I would definitely say that he is on Carlsen's territory, but Karjakin shines in lengthy battles." Peter knows it firsthand since he himself had a very lengthy faceoff with Sergey a year ago at the World Cup in Baku. All in all, Sergey survived the ordeal and told the Norwegian television with a happy smile on his face, "It would be very disappointing to eventually go down in a game like this after having played for almost seven hours!" 

Sergey Karjakin answers the questions of the Russian journalists

It is well known that all is well that ends well. It is only that all problems were initially created by Sergey himself as otherwise his out-of-the-opening position rang no particular alarms...

Dispensing with the Rush
November 13 - rest day

Sunday is a scheduled rest day on the match. While Carlsen said it was too early for him yet and that he would rather play on, other people might feel differently. With an excellent sunny weather holding out there, why not take a walk around New York?

As Peter Veniaminovich Svidler used to teach us, each walk has to have some purpose, otherwise the promenade turns into a pointless waste of time. Not only was the goal set well in advance, it were actually as many as two goals: visiting the Marshall chess club, which Bobby Fischer used to play at, and the Central Park, which used to be Garry Kasparov's preference when choosing site for his jogging. 

By way of a change, I decided to set off in the direction across the Manhattan Bridge. It does not feel so comfortable as walking the Brooklyn bridge since the subway trains speed past you time and again. However, the view of the island, in my opinion, is even more beautiful.

The Brooklyn Bridge adds up to the landscape flavor

Stepping down the bridge you immediately find yourself in Chinatown. The buildings are same as everywhere, but all signs are in the Chinese language. There are a lot of different-sized shops and vendor stalls right there on the streets. It is cheep and cheerful, as they say!

This Panda surely advertises something delicious

A graffiti rather unusual for Chinatown

Wandering around the island, I crossed it to find myself in a beautiful park situated on the banks of the Hudson River. People were jogging, walking their pets, playing football. That is, they play soccer, which is said to stand no comparison with a real American football played in the United States. I am no judge of it. However, my hotel window opens on two "soccer" fields, which are never empty. I saw they watching the European football match in a sports bar.

Meanwhile, not far from it on the riverbank they had a picnic to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the "Ranger" club. Different type of games are in high esteem here. 

A lady with the dog. On the run somewhere (or from someone?

Too many balls for a quad of players. However, this is just a warm-up

I left the coastal park for the central one and along the way I caught a glimpse of some familiar faces looking at me from a garage wall. How about that! As I was taking a long walk that day I later ran into yet another garage with the same poster. Judging by the fact that people came in packs for game two, the "garage" advertising was quite an effective one. Or, may it be so that the subway is plastered with the posters too? I need to look into it during the next rest day.

The girl lures you into the mountains, while the young people - into Fulton Street 11

I will publish my numerous cityscape pictures from the series "Skyscrapers, skyscrapers, and I'm so small" in the following newsblog about the match as they will be much easier to view inside the viewer. I proceeded into the Central Park along the Fifth Avenue, looking into the windows of expensive shops every now and then. I came across a Russian store with stacked dolls "Matreshka" placed at its entrance, a huge NBA store and even, I beg your pardon, a "Sex-Museum" - also quite a dimensionless facility. I was well into my walk and enjoying it when the approaches to the park were blocked to me by the policemen that would let no one in. Located here is Trump Tower, which witnessed the mass protests of the newly elected president's opposition a few days ago. When the authorities became sick and tired of it, they closed access from both sides of the avenue. Nevertheless, certain individuals were still allowed in for they allegedly knew some magic word that made things right. I also decided to try my luck. It was probably necessary to say something solid like, "I have a reservation with Tiffany's to urgently pick up my tiara - they have been waiting for me all morning!" Instead, I just told them I was a sightseeing tourist and they would not let me in.

The Central Park is so incredibly beautiful in the golden autumn and with people basking in the sunshine on a green lawn, but neither is the artificial ice rink located nearby stands empty. People enjoy life as best they can. Situated not far from the entrance is the "Chess & Checkers House", with some dozen people playing there at the moment of my visit.

"Reclining on a lawn makes it for a resting zone!"

The dashers have "Trump" painted on them. However, no protests are seen taking place

The Chess & Checkers House is a likable place situated on a hill with tables both in- and outdoors

I found the Marshall club - many thanks to Dmitry Oleynikov for his detailed explanations of how to get there. Frankly speaking, I was disappointed with the club. It must have something to do with my pre-expectations, though. I had no clear picture, of course, although I believed it would be a spacious accommodation with a mandatory fireplace in it. Such as we have in the Chigorin Chess Club, only a functioning one.  Some players should be sitting there puffing at their smoking pipes... In general, I realized that I imagined the club to be same as shown in the Soviet films about Sherlock Holmes!

... However, the Marshall Club takes up a relatively small apartment in two levels in a standard residential building. Had I not been looking for a specific signboard, I would have passed by without ever taking notice of it. The children were playing chess on the second floor within two rooms, the size of which is clearly less than that of our Big hall. They used roll-up chess boards and plastic chessmen for their games. According to the coach they ran a tournament, but I my arrival coincided with a lunch time. Parents were feeding their children with sandwiches and gave the juices to drink. One of the corners has the table which Capablanca used to play at. The table has a warning sign kindly asking to put no food or drinks on it. The opposite wall has a bust of Frank Marshall mounted on a stand nearby. We use "Marshall" and "anti-Marshall" on a daily basis, and it was he, the famous US champion, who championed his secret weapon for the first time against Jose Raul Capablanca a hundred years ago. Even though he is remembered by losing that battle, it went down into the history of chess as one of the most famous games.

Pictures on the walls and a bust of Frank Marshall

The Capablanca table is more than one hundred years old

The Bobby Fischer corner

The club folks are aware of the city hosting the world championship match

On the way back to my hotel, while such sad thoughts as "Sic transit gloria mundi" were turning over in my head, I came across yet another chess spot featuring a very pleasant and cozy atmosphere. Its name is "Chess Forum" shop, where one can both play chess and purchase nice chess sets as well as chess books, clocks and some souvenirs. I need to revisit this place by all means! 

A combination of shop and mini-club

From Reshevsky to Kasparov

One of my talented pupils' debut will take place the following weekend here

Ice it! Shoot!
November 12. Game two of the match

  "The stadium is crammed to capacity!" An hour before the start of game two in New York there gathered a queue of chess fans exceeding that that would usually gather in front of the Moscow mausoleum of the main fighter against the US imperialism! Opposite the entrance they were assembling a board to play an outdoor chess, and once the board was put together the chess clock appeared out of thin air and the battles broke out. You find yourself immersed in a very pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. Being part of a chess match is like a holiday for people, for the sake of which they are willing to say farewell to a tidy sum of money (from 75 to 900 dollars). 

A queue for the chess match

That day the symbolic first move was made by Andrey Guryev, Phosagro CEO, member of the RCF Board of Trustees. At the request of Karjakin he moved a pawn from e2 to e4. Well, there will be no Trompovsky today. Same is true for the Berlin too, thanks God, since the opponents embarked on a lengthy struggle in one of the anti-Marshall sidelines.

Andrey Guryev, Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen

1.е2-е4! (photo credit: Anastasia Karlovich)

The first game scenario has been repeated in many ways as White was pressurizing and Black was defending with precise moves. At the end of the opening part of the game Karjakin’s position looked very attractive, but Carlsen came up with a subtle defensive arrangement: he transferred the knight from a5 to b6 and committed the rook on c8, angling for c7-c6 and Qd8-c7. Sergey went into prolonged thinking about whether or not it was worth preventing this setup?

Have a look at the picturesque fans visiting today's chess event. They were pictured by the photographer Jason Kempin. People have put in a lot of effort manufacturing the hockey jerseys with numbers corresponding to participants' standings in the rating list.
Ice it! Shoot!

I wonder, who is an offensive and who is a defensive player among the two?

There have occurred new developments in the VIP area: now the players are separated from spectators not only by a sheet of glass and a five-meter “right of way”, but also by a black curtain, such as we see in a drama/tragedy theater. The nearest approaches to the curtain are guarded by a volunteer bearing a sign with an abstract man holding a finger over his lips. Magnus allegedly complained about it being somewhat noisy during game one, to which organizers responded by coming up with appropriate countermeasures. The volunteer warns against taking pictures of the players with the flash on. 

The volunteer also wears black

A beautiful weather, warm and sunny, has been holding out in New York for three days now. That is, it is not very warm, something around 10 degrees, but it feels like Africa after Moscow and Novosibirsk. When walking the streets during the day you meet not a few people wearing short-sleeved shirts or just T-shirts only. It is all the more surprising to see them decorating the Christmas tree on the street next to the “Fulton-market” even now. Indeed, Christmas is soon - just a little over a month from now. Meanwhile, the match started selling chess-themed New Year balls. 

“The New Year is coming fast! Your dreams are about to come true - forget the past...”

Nothing special was going to come in game two, though. Following a period of deep thinking Karjakin relieved tension in the center. He then followed it up by exchanging queens. Carlsen came back by getting rid of his not overly active bishop. So, White's intended torture of his opponent in a slightly better endgame failed as the world champion carried out a liberating break c6-c5 and brought about a second series of mass trades. With no material left to play with, a draw was agreed on move 33. 

When the grandmasters reached the press conference room, they were amazed to see the multitude of spectators turned up for their game. Moreover, many chess fans stayed up even after grandmasters finished the story of their game. They stayed up for more games and communication with their pals.

There was no getting any closer to the press conference participants

Grischuk had a similar hairstyle some 15 years ago

Is it Chinese chess? No, the European one!

The narrator is a former Belorussian, and nowadays an American grandmaster Gennadij Sagalchik

A sudden encounter: Ilya Levitov with his wife, Evgeny Bareev, and Anna Zakharova, accompanied by Kirill Zangalis

VIP Zone from Merenzon
November 11. Game one of the match

The morning started with a “good luck letter”. Andrew Murray-Watson, Communications Director WORLD CHESS by AGON Limited was informing that I belonged to the photographers accredited to take pictures of the first move ceremony. We were offered to show up at 12.45, an hour and a quarted prior to setting the clock in motion, to pass additional briefing. The welcome part was followed by a stern warning: latecomers will not be admitted into the holy of holies!

Being fully aware of all the solemnity of the moment, I arrived at the Fulton Market at midday. A small queue gathered in front of the closed door, and the security guard was patient in repeating to everyone approaching him that entrance would open only at 13.00. What an inconvenience as a lucky ticket was being wrested right out of my hands! When I get through to Andrew by phone, he explained the situation verbally at first and then in writing: «Sorry it should have read 1.45 meeting, not 12.45 meeting». The HR Director put the wrong hour, it happens...

The MATCH TV Reporter Elmira Mirzoeva at the entrance to “Fulton Market” (photo credit: the official match website http://worldchess.com/nyc2016/)

To avoid losing time in the queue, I headed for the nearest cafe to take lunch, and when I came back to the press center at about one thirty, it was crammed to capacity. Even though there was a large bowl of apples on the table with drinks and snacks, no apple would ever hit the floor if allowed a free fall! It was a double miracle of my finding a chair and then a small piece of free area to squeeze it into. My luck persisted as I ended up sandwiched between two journalist girls, not to mention being within reach of food!

Turning on my computer, I made sure the Wi-Fi worked, even if not especially fast, and then headed for a meeting with Andrew. I was briefed as to what was and was not permitted. The playhall feels small for a multitude of photographers and cameramen gathered for the event. Priority is placed on the Norwegian TV channel that has bought out the rights to broadcast: their crew is afforded a separate room, their operators occupy best seats, their questions are first to answer by grandmasters after the end of match games. That is, the first thing to happen is an interview for the Norwegian TV, then a press-conference and then a “voluntary program”: if you manage to talk the champion or challenger into it, they will answer a couple of your exclusive tricky questions.

Press conference after game one

In the playhall the photographers were lined up in a solid wall along a small elevation, which we may qualify as something of a stage. I succeeded in getting into the second row almost directly opposite the game table; standing in front and below was a tiny girl holding a tiny, fortunately, camera. Sergey Karjakin was sitting at the table already, tuning up for the upcoming game. Then he got up, took a walk, and sat back in his chair. Magnus Carlsen stepped out of the recreation room and stood there in hesitation when seeing a lot of people turned to him with their backs. The Norwegian journalists noticed their countryman and stepped aside to allow the champion onto the stage.

This Norwegian girl is the first to see Carlsen and Karjakin after the game

Until the last moment it was unclear as to whom should befall the honor of making the symbolic first move in the World Chess Championship Match. On the eve of game one rumors had it that it would be the Mayor of New York city, but they were never materialized. Accompanied by the chief arbiter, the playhall is entered by a middle-aged man in a dark suit and pink shirt with no tie. His face looked way too familiar as if he were an actor. Indeed, he is an actor, I have seen him in the movies so many times; if only I could remember exactly which films they were... He is well-known, of course, but neither De Niro, nor DiCaprio nor Bezrukov, for that matter. With the help of my moviegoing fellows and Wikipedia I could find out the actor’s name is Woody Harrelson, who has starred in dozens of good various movies and TV shows. As it turned out at the press conference, Carlsen and Karjakin also failed to recognize him; the World Champion said that in the actor’s performance he liked... the first move d2-d4, which he himself asked him to make! 

A new role of Woody Harrelson (photo credit: the official match website http://worldchess.com/nyc2016/)

For the duration of five minutes we are allowed to take pictures with the flash on and same time with the flash off, nothing out of the ordinary. Having finished his cameo role on the scene, Woody Harrelson headed for the VIP area, where he enjoyed a few hours of light games with everyone willing to challenge him. Judging by the fact that the RCF PR Director Kirill Zangalis defeated him, the Hollywood star should be close to a first category player, and he is definitely fond of chess. Woody Harrelson also faced the RCF President Andrey Filatov in a couple of games. All in all, head coach of the Russian men’s team is more often seen at the board - what is the drift of all this?

The duel of Andrey Filatov and Woody Harrelson was watched by the editor of the “64” chess magazine Igor Burshtein (photo credit: M. Emeljanova)

Just as it used to be with the Candidates Tournament in Moscow, the VIP-zone from Merenzon is the most important and best place of the chess competition provided by “Agon”. It is cozy, spacious and is a lot of fun. They treat you to “Beluga” and lighter drinks, while there is a non-stop of hot and cold appetizers served to you on food-trays. Even if there are tables for you to play chess, the feeling is such that they are still inferior to soft sofas and armchairs in terms of gravity force. Installed here and there are large screens displaying the current position from game one, with certain enthusiasts discussing it. Deep behind the glass, transparent in one direction, one can see players bending over a chess-board. Or, rather, one would be bending while another one would be walking around. However, very few people cast their glances in that direction. The Moscow experience has been taken into consideration: the glass cannot be approached directly as a warning tape is stretched five meters of its edge. According to the grandmasters, they heard a distant hum, but were not particularly bothered by it.

Dmitry Peskov, trying on special glasses to watch the match in 3D

Game one was unfolding in a rather tranquil manner. Since Carlsen opted for the Trompowsky opening, he was several times forced to answer the topical question of whether or not he did it in honor of Trump? The champion laughed it off, saying that had he known it to cause such a commotion, he would have opted for something else instead. A little later, when talking about the upcoming game two, he expressed confidence that it would see some other opening. It was then Sergey Karjakin’s turn to laugh, “We will see about that!

The challenger plunged into deep thinking as soon as the opening as it took him over 20 minutes to meditate his move 6. He found (or rather, remembered) an opportune rejoinder. Magnus could have tried to hold back the extra pawn that Black had sacrificed to him, but it would then have given rise to a sharp position with any result possible. The Norwegian grandmaster chose a different path: he agreed to massive trades resulting in an ending with a small “plus” for White. After that each would get down to doing what he knows best: the champion was pressurizing a little while the challenger was carefully defending his position. The position never deviated far from equality so that on move 42 the opponents agreed to a draw. It seems to me that both were satisfied with the result: Sergey played as Black and, besides, it was his first game in the title match, while Magnus, as we know him, does not always immediately “fit” into the competition as he needs time to adapt to new environment.

Anastasiya Karlovich, Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin

However, both grandmasters were of the opinion that White could have posed more practical problems to the opponent. Whether or not he had any real chances to claim the edge will be made known to us from the review of grandmaster Alexei Korotylev, planned for publishing on our website later this month.