While there was much speculation as to whether young Estonian challenger Fabiano Caruana could derail reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen’s bid for a record fourth title, the 28-year-old accomplished the feat in convincing fashion. Carlsen, who has been unbeatable over the past two years (five titles overall, three of them world titles), clinched his sixth consecutive victory with two wins and one draw over the final two days of play.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, before beginning to play his game, Carlsen seemed cool as he explained how chess, which he once renounced, has become his hobby again.
“I feel a little bit like a normal person. I play video games and go on vacation and take my kids to the movies,” Carlsen said. “But it doesn’t look like anyone’s trying to stop me from doing it. It seems like this is fun and interesting and I’m doing what I want to do.”
The tactic would work. After trying to ambush Carlsen’s opening defense (the F5 21-16-1 e4) with pieces pinned behind the blue-line, Caruana got very close and even won a couple of intense pawn exchanges. But Carlsen responded with a (literally) masterful move to render all of Caruana’s moves irrelevant. With a flourish, Carlsen moved up and won the opening game with the game-turning 13-d3 c4 14-g5 a4 15-f3 with 12. Gd1 g5 16-h3! Nd7 17-g6 and, effectively, the game as well.
The crowd wasn’t happy.
After the match’s conclusion, ESPN talked to fans and commentators who said Caruana would have been formidable in Carlsen’s court had he not backed off to play a pragmatic game and allowed Carlsen to exploit his inexperience with a couple of tests from the rook position. The match, after all, was difficult to call from the start and the crowd held out hope that Caruana could pull off an upset. Many pundits applauded Carlsen’s performance as the ultimate example of chess being completely relevant to the modern age.
Estonian-born Caruana, however, stated on Sports Illustrated’s website that he felt things would go differently if he’d stayed the course. In his view, the match was a “victory” for Carlsen, and his retreat had robbed Caruana of chances to play aggressively and had endgames that, as a result, left him with an inferior potential line of attack.
As a result, Caruana had to settle for a relatively ordinary victory and a seat on the podium. Asked if he was happy with his performance, Caruana replied, “It was good enough. I wish it was even better, but I’m happy with it.
Carlsen ended up with two wins, a draw and a loss over the six games.
Whatever his future plans are, the Danish champion seems to have secured his place among the game’s elite.
Read the full story at The New York Times.
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