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The first World Championship match of two 2800+ players is just a week away!

by Srikanth Govindaseshan - 03/11/2018

We are just a week away from witnessing one of the greatest duels in the history of the chess World Championship! It was last time in 1990 between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov when the world championship was a battle between the highest ranked chess players. Caruana's rating is now just 2 points lesser then Carlsen in the live rating list and that makes it the first match in chess history where both the contenders are above the magical 2800 elo rating. This is the strongest match ever. In this article Srikanth Govindaseshan, an experienced former chess player and a current chess trainer of top players, takes us through the preview of the match from the perspective of the challenger.

This article was originally published on the author's personal blog - Just Love Chess


"He would never give up, even if the victory seemed impossible" - James Allen on Michael Schumacher

The above quote fits Magnus Carlsen...every bit. And if Fabiano Caruana lives up to that... we are in for a great match!

Carlsen vs Caruana at the Sinqufield Cup 2014 | Photo: Harry Benson

"The very top, like the summit of Everest is weird territory, impossible to understand unless you have actually been there..." said John McEnroe on becoming No.1 in World ranking! YES! It is a weird territory because the one who reaches the top is alone! There is no place for anybody other than the No.1 person, on top! That requires some getting, prerequisites certain qualities.


Greg Norman, the great golfer said, "I tend to believe that I'm right until proven wrong...and I had learnt early about DIN and DIP...'do-it-now' and ' matter what the task on hand was!" What does he mean? ...and what it means to us in chess?


Well, before getting to that, here is the progress chart of Fabi, which has a striking similarity to Magnus' chart. Both show a proclivity to keep pushing higher, however great or minuscule the rise may be!

Caruana from a rating of 2000 to 2575 in seven years!

From 2575 to 2800 in another six years!

...and from 2014 to 2018, he maintained his rating in 2800 plus steadily and currently stand at 2832.

Coming to what Greg Norman said about DIN and DIP. It means staying in the present, forgetting the previous shot the "bogey" or a "birdie", or expecting anything. Just stay in the current and hit the shot on hand! Gerald Abrahams rightly said, "Chess act is essentially a fresh application of mind to data!"


Michael Johnson, the great athlete, said in his 'Slaying the Dragon":

"Most of the time I don't even think about losing. The confidence that comes from knowing I am the best prepared, most disciplined person in the race. That translates into the belief that if I am in the race, I am going to win. After all, this is competition. The very point of competition is winning. Why go after something and ignore its very nature? If I'm going to run, I'm going to try to win. I'm going to do everything I can to win, and I'm going to expect to win. Every time!"


We know Magnus' approach to chess is similar. Though, chess is a lot different from 'track & field', but in spirit, a champion is supposed to feel that way always and the challenger should begin to feel like what Johnson said, which is the least required to outclass such a monster called Magnus!


Let us peep into Fabi's world of creation. I shall not deal about Magnus in this article as we know about him very well. And it is not only from his longevity at the top, but already one gets a feeling that he is a "match-veteran!"


I will not get into the mythical world of "openings" as neither I know anything about it, nor believe it in the sense it is considered now. Neither will deal with other aspects like technique in various phases and other such chessical aspects, which every top player possess at varying degrees and for me that doesn't affect or determine the outcome. I shall deal with the following four abstract features which tacitly act at high level competitions and therefore remain veiled. And as far as I can observe in Caruana's games, studying his games played in 2017 and 2018, I classify his pros and cons as follows and substantiate them with a few examples.


- Patience - that great art of "being"

- The tendency to allow himself to get surprised, suddenly


- Fearlessness and a great Will to win

- Willingness to thrive in chaos and unclear situation 


Caruana is not an extravagant player. His pieces move around with freedom, but are not insurgent. Perhaps, he has a very different feel for space and makes his pieces move around them. This is a very good trait when he encounters Carlsen who too has a very different feel for space. But the difference is that Carlsen has a very plain perception of the function of his pieces too and until he gets a clarity he will not decide on anything that will transform the position.


It is here that Fabi got caught in some of his games that he lost in the recent past, perhaps he is not as patient as Magnus and at times Caruana tends to "do" something rather than "remain" with a plain acceptance that nothing is clear or understandable at the moment! Perhaps we can assume that he tends to provoke his opponent at times.


Anand vs Caruana, Tata Steel, 2018

White just played 11.Ne5


They might have analysed it and may have arrived at a "conclusion" whether this is ok or ...Be5 is ok...which for me it is irrelevant. The game happens over-the-board and the decisions too happen in the heat of the moment. Post-mortem serves the same purpose as an autopsy does...inconclusive on most occasions!

12.b4 Nc7 13.f3 Bg6!?

Surely there must have been a buzz around across the globe and sadly, it would have been only be for a fleeting moment as the AI would have shown the flip side of this little trick! 14.fxe4? dxe4 15.Be4 Be5! and if that Bishop is taken, a check on d4 puts things in perspective! Of course, Vishy - the grand veteran at the helm - is a great trickster himself and sees things in a flash!

14.c5! Bxe5 15.dxe5 Ng5 16.Bg2 d4 17.f4 Nd5 18.fxg5 Ne3 19.Qd2 Bxd3 20.Qxd3 Nxf1 21.Kxf1 Qxg5 22.Nd2 Qxe5 23.Nf3 Qh5 24.Qxd4!

and White's pieces became too active, especially the minor pieces and Black Rooks weren't a match to them...Anand concluded the game brilliantly!


Replay the above analysis on the ChessBase India replayer:

Karjakin - Caruana, Candidates - 2018

Black just played 16...Bg4

Here again, White pieces after the following exchange sacrifice by Karjakin, became very active

17.Bxd5! Bxd1 18.Rxd1 Qc7 19.c4! Rge8 20.Qf2 b6 21.g4!

...and commanded more space, pushing Caruana into passivity. (1-0 on move 48)

Karjakin vs Caruana:

Mamedyarov vs Caruana, Tata Steel - 2018

Position after 23.Ne4

Once White got the Black's most active Bishop...the Bishop on b7 exchanged, Caruana tried for some pseudo activity with his Knight and after Shakhriyar got that Knight too promptly off the board, the resultant position held no joy for Caruana and he succumbed on the 43rd move.

Mamedyarov vs Caruana:

"When the mind is not revealing as effectively as is required by the situation, then one is omitting to take into account appearances from a field of apparent irrelevancy. The unexpected emerges from the dark; yet it was always there" observed Gerald Abrahams in the Chess Mind!


This probably is another chink in the armoury of the Challenger! And what can be a better example than the following game!


Anand - Caruana, St Louis - 2017

The position is in a state of equilibrium, and perhaps Black was searching for more with some geometrical theme by giving up the e-pawn and opening up the route for the e8 Rook to e2! But, he was in for a nasty surprise. A glaring omission of what was already there! Anand unleashed a much beautiful and subtler side of the same geometrical motif!

19...Bg4 20.Bxc6! bxc6 21.fxe5 f6?! 22.exf6!! Rxe2 

This was what Caruana had in his mind when he played ...Bg4

23.f7 Kf8 24.Bxg7+!! Kxg7 25.Qc3+ Re5?

Anand pointed out that Black could have played 25...Qe5 and the resulting exchange down position remained still unclear. But Caruana felt otherwise!  This could be another crucial factor in the match! Carlsen perhaps might blindly head for the ending after 25...Qe5 whilst Caruana is unable to decide on it and lands in greater mess!

White just played the spectacular 26.Qd4!!

a Spectacular move by Vishy which concludes the game effectively  1 - 0 as Black cannot meet both f8=Q as well as Rc5!

Anand vs Caruana:

What does the Challenger bring to the table, to stake his claim!?

First of all, he is a fearless fighter and has greater will to win, unlike Carlsen's earlier challengers! Hence, Carlsen cannot afford to play on autopilot mode - though I do not claim that he did it with Karjakin or Vishy but it was obvious that he was not stretched a bit. Like Carlsen, Caruana too has very strong nerves and remains unperturbed - at least visibly and can reset his attention to focus on what he has, rather than what he missed!


He has a very different approach to chess as the following kaleidoscope of positions suggests...

Aronian - Caruana, Candidates - 2018

Black to play

Caruana continued...21...g6 22.h5 Kh8! and went on to win in a clinical fashion.

Aronian vs Caruana:

The following game is a very bizarre one. It is so unclear till some point and suddenly something emerges. Black could not succeed in breaking the loose pawn cover of White King, Whilst, his king remained in open, but looked ok with pieces around. The White Knight on f5 looked far more formidable along with the dark squared Bishop - which both defended the White King and had an eye on e5 point. The position suddenly transformed and only a machine could have maintained the equilibrium!


Caruana - Anand, London Classic - 2017

White played 28.c4. Black to move.

28...axb3 29.axb3 Qc6 30.Rg3 Kh8 31.Rd1! b5 32.c5 b4 33.Bb2 Bg6 34.Rd5!

and won in few more moves.


Caruana vs Anand:

Caruana - Karjakin, St Louis - 2018

White played 15.Qb4

In this game, Caruana just expended minimum effort and infact, the Knight on d2 did not have to move any further...except one move towards the end...and utilised the poor positioning of Black pieces...mercilessly.

Caruana vs Karjakin:

Caruana - Anand, Olympiad - 2018

White played 20.f4, how should Black continue? VIshy went wrong and was burnt!

Analysis by GM Surya Sekhar Ganguly:

Like Carlsen, Caruana has more conviction on what he does and it has nothing to do with "correctness" - a machine like precision, but that uncanny ability to go with the tide and play out a sequence of moves which suddenly transforms the position!


Abrahams wrote about these transformation in Chess thus......"In chess, awareness is not a simple and isolable mental process. The end product is the open plain of clearly seen. But the attainment of that grasp of the complete and continuous is as much the product of effort, training, experience, and the variables of natural equipment as is the capacity of a man to recognise in the distance a hill or a river, or to discriminate these things in a crowded foreground.

Any departures from the normal configuration, any feature of the geometry of the piece movements sufficiently individual to escape expectation, and therefore observation, is called an 'idea'. Ideas inhabit the Chessboard, to be seen or missed, as animals inhabit the forest. One fails to see them because one is looking at the tree, or because the play of light on other objects constitutes a camouflage."


The game of chess happens in this seeing - either plain and clear or chaos and confused. What one sees or misses is known only on hindsight once the smoke clears. Till then both the parties, however great and experienced they may be, and however 'great' their purported calculating abilities may be, they get to see only hazy blur pictures, and one has to have that mental toughness to continue the fight through and through.

The greatest battle of the modern era is just a week away now!

Caruana matches Carlsen in this aspect and I hope to see a great clash and I am inclined to give only a marginal edge to the reining Champion - 55:45.

I remain...!

About the Author:

Govindaseshan Srikanth is a native of Chennai, with Tamil as his mother tongue and English as his favourite language of expression. He works with strong grandmasters like Sundararajan Kidambi, Vishnu Prasanna and helps them uncover their full chess potential. A keen reader of varied subjects as philosophy, science, literature, neurology and Hindu spiritualism, Srikanth – Sri to his friends – is a connoisseur of Karnataka Samgita or Indian Carnatic music, one of the richest and most ancient classic music forms in the world. You can contact Srikanth on his mail id.

New In Chess Special:

Fabiano Caruana will be the first American to play for the World Chess Championship since Bobby Fischer in 1972. Will he beat Magnus Carlsen in London in November? New In Chess has published a 50-page FREE Match Special.

You will get:

1. an exclusive preview by former World #3 Jan Timman

2. Fabiano Caruana interview

3. Key encounters between Carlsen and Caruana, annotated by Carlsen and Caruana, or by Peter Heine Nielsen and Simen Agdestein

4. Sergey Karjakin interview: Lessons from my match with Carlsen Caruana's

5. Secret Opening Surprise in the Queen's Gambit

Get your free copy now!

50 pages of high quality content! Don't miss it.

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