World Chess Match Game 8: A Draw, Carlsen Keeps Lead
“Surprised Carlsen is playing such a risky variation. No doubt he analyzed it, but it's hard to account for all White's options”, tweeted Fabiano Caruana. And Nigel Short confessed that he doesn't know 9...Re8, despite 30+ years of experience in this variation. He also enriched the chess literature with a new term – “a typical condom variation: to be used once and thrown away”.
For the fourth time in Sochi the former World Champion started the game with the queen's pawn push. Each time Carlsen responded differently – first with the Gruenfeld, then with the Queen's Gambit, then – with the Queen's Indian. Today Magnus, when it was his turn to make the third move, covered his face with a palm and sat motionless for about five seconds. Then he moved a pawn to d5, pressed the clock, fell down in the chair and closed the eyes, as if being totally exhausted by the effort. After the game the champion explained that his physical shape was not very good in the beginning, but he slowly gained strength over the course of the game. Maybe he just didn't want to repeat the Queen's Gambit, in which he lost the third game? But his coaches convinced him and even gave him a secret weapon!
Anand started to consume time, and when a first critical moment occurred, rejected the most principled but highly risky continuation. Soon a symmetrical ending with two minor pieces for both sides arose, and White had only a symbolic advantage, if anything at all. The position was too simple – no room for traps or errors. On the move 41 Anand offered a draw, and Magnus accepted.
The seven-time Russian champion Peter Svidler presents his view on the eighth game:
“Maybe it was a bit boring for the spectators, but this game is extremely important for the theory of the variation and therefore is highly interesting for professionals. For a regular viewer, the players exchanged three quarters of their pieces by the move 24. For a professional player, the idea of 9…Rе8 and 10…Bе7 gives a new life for the variation that was considered unpromising for Black. That's why everybody switched to 6…Nbd7 – because 6…с5 was very risky. It seems Vishy wasn't surprised by 9…Re8, as he replied by 10.Bg5 fairly quickly, however, 10…Be7 was a real surprise. A disclaimer: I am not an expert in this variation and merely repeat what tweeted other people who have an access to a database.
It is also a very important game in the context of the match. After losing the third game Magnus had to repair the Queen's Gambit, so he went for the Queen's Indian in the fifth game and didn't have any opening problems. However, it was a line for a single use, because it is quite risky and White has many different attacking options. Vishy just wasn't ready to go for broke in the fifth game, however he would certainly do that in the eighth or tenth game. And now Carlsen repaired the Queen's Gambit.
As far as I understand, if White castled longside, Black would probably have to sacrifice a central pawn, obtaining powerful pressure in return. I can see why Anand did not go for it today, but I am not sure White has anything real in that position at all, even with an extensive home analysis.
A critical moment occurred on the move 17, when instead of 17.Bb1 White could play 17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.Ne4 Be7 19.Rd7 Qb6 20.Bb1, created a mate-in-three threat. Looks like it forces20…f5. We analyzed it with Sopiko during the live commentary and decided that Black can hold, but it is a very concrete line and must be double-checked. To be honest, I am surprised how quickly Vishy discarded that option, as it looked more promising for White compared to what happened in the game. Anand selected a bullet-proof plan – White never has any problems, but his winning chances are slim, and when we consider the match score... Maybe the clocks were a factor – Vishy wasn't comfortable to spend another 20-25 minutes on the move 17, with the entire game ahead, only to find out there is no checkmate and the time trouble is approaching. In this sense it was a nuclear novelty – White had to spend a lot of time on the first couple of moves. Even if he had a chance for an advantage, it was not easy to find under such circumstances.
The team Anand has two days to digest everything and prepare for the tenth game. It is also clear that Vishy is not going to have a walk in the park in the ninth game. He had some practical problems in the Berlin, and the idea of spending another six hours on the ropes is not particularly pleasing. He needs all his energy for playing White in order to utilize every chance, but when you suffer in every game as Black...
The opening initiative now belongs to the team Carlsen. Anand and his coaches will have to do a lot of work. Obviously they started working on the Berlin immediately after the position appeared on the board, and might already have the answers. However, Anand's problems with White are indeed serious.”
From Alexandra Kosteniuk's
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