"Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."- Mark Twain
I feel like this saying fits perfectly as the theme of many chess games. How many chess players are romantics at heart and go after a dream (and possibly incorrect) combination instead of a boring but safe move? Or how many chess players out there took unjustified risk and somehow ended up winning? One cannot win a close game without taking a measure of a risk but where is the boundary between accepted risk and a risk that leads to a disaster? Watching numerous games of Carlsen I observed that he is a player who walks this thin line often but more often than not gets out of trouble and ends up with a point more than his opponent. Today's game is an outlier - it is Caruana who took a significant practical risk and gave more than one chance for Carlsen to go wrong. Having the initiative for the past 50 moves Carlsen took only small measures of risk that kept his position promising for a win. However, things got really messy when Caruana, who did not produce many active moves over the last 50 moves, which it was the right strategy came up with a blow that a few moves later secured him a winning position. We looked at the first three parts of this game a week ago and they can be found here. The reason to break the game into segments is to outline the critical moments and the shift of plans. As a reminder this article is part of the series on initiative in endgames.
Part 4: Tying white pieces to the queenside Carlsen gets his king to the center.
Next stage of the game is pretty straight-forward. Carlsen keeps white king on the queenside by attacking the a3-pawn - tying the white king to its defense and moves with the king to the centre. Caruana prevents Ke4 with Re1, so Carlsen threatens a pawn-break on the queenside to keep the white rook away from e1. This cost him the price of not being able to attack the a3-weakness and freed the white king from its defense. The plan that Carlsen chose seems to be the only one that promises some chances for a win. And one can only admire Carlsen's determination.
Part 5: Breakthrough on the queenside, sacrifice e6-pawn but achieve a clear target on c2.
In the next part of the game black finally breaks through on the queenside, however, at a cost of giving an extra pawn back and letting the white rook to become active. Carlsen takes a small risk again but he is correct in choosing this path because this was the only way to capitalize on his initiative. Although no longer a pawn up, the c2-pawn is a real weakness and under normal circumstances should fall soon.
Part 6: Creative exchange sac from Caruana!
The last part of the game is dramatic and heartbreaking as our protagonist missteps and ends up in a losing position. But first things first, Caruana comes up with an interesting exchange sacrifice that allows white to have two passed pawns and to keep the c2-pawn for a move or two at the board. If Carlsen played correctly Caruana's position would be losing in a few moves. One has to realize that giving up an exchange was a drastic decision and one had to have a measure of risk. The situation is from a real game with a clock ticking and probably both opponents being very low on time. Considering the time pressure it is extremely hard to find the right sequence of moves for black. On the other hand white's plan is clear: block the e-pawn and push the f and the d-pawns. Did Caruana calculate all these nuances? Probably not, my guess is that he took an intuitive decision and it payed off. After all, Carlsen did not choose the right move order: Rb2 - pinning the king to the defense of the c2-pawn and only then Kg2 and not vice versa. The combination of Kg2 and Rb2 is losing for black because white's pawns are faster. This is not by no means easy to see at the board and even in the home analysis.
Next week we will continue with the topic of initiative in endgames.