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Carlsen – Caruana, 2018: Lessons Revisited – Part Three

Carlsen and Caruana with King on presscon
The Rossolimo debate continues in Game 3 of the 2018 World Chess Championship match between Carlsen and Caruana. PLUS — a lesson or two on handling positional advantages.

The third game between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana in the 2018 World Chess Championship was another 49-move draw. However, Team Caruana clearly won the opening battle, and Carlsen was having the worse of it only 14 moves into the game.

When asked if he was satisfied with the outcome of the opening, the World Champion replied:

Nope. Clearly after Qa1 Black is nowhere near equality. It might not be so bad because the position is fairly solid but I am not going to equalise the game anytime soon and White’s going to have all the fun.”

– Magnus Carlsen

Let’s see how Carlsen got out of the opening mess… and let’s see if you can play better than the challenger Caruana.

Game 3: The Rossolimo Debate Continues

The question on everyone’s mind before the game was: “Are we going to get another Sicilian?”

Carlsen often starts his championship matches with openings he won’t play again for the rest of the contest… probably to waste the prep time and try to get into the head of the other camp.

But it turns out Carlsen’s strategy as Black for this match was to bring the fight to White from the get-go… and we got another Sicilian on the board.

Caruana had a close call in game one. But the challenger didn’t relent and played the Rossolimo Variation once more… and this time, he was successful.

On one hand, the e1-rook looks silly because the e-file isn’t going to open anytime soon. However…

The e-pawn now blocks the g7-bishop, which means…?

When Carlsen took only 35 seconds to play 9…O-O, chess historian Olimpiu Urcan was quick to notice the champion’s confident play and body language.

But only five moves later, three-time World Blitz Chess Champion Alexander Grischuk found Carlsen’s position alarming.

Here’s the position after 14…Rxa5:

White to move and stabilize his positional advantages. What would you play?

But instead of 15.Rxa5, Caruana played 15.Bd2?! This allowed Carlsen to pull the rook back with 15…Raa8 and keep fighting for the control of the a-file. Let’s see how the game continued.

Carlsen managed to exchange major pieces, and the worst has passed.

We now reach a Carlsen specialty: an equal endgame where he can press forward without risk because of the favorable queenside pawn structure. How would you start?

Caruana has covered all of his bases so far. Black’s centralized knight doesn’t have any immediate targets…

Or does it? The position is objectively equal… but equality hasn’t stopped Carlsen from turning up the pressure in earlier games. What would you play as Black?

Caruana has to make a major decision.

Should he capture the knight and accept that Carlsen has the better minor piece? Or should he preserve his bishop and allow the enemy knight to set up shop on his side of the board?

White is well on his way to a draw. BUT…

Can you find the easiest and most decisive way to split the point?

Key Takeaways

  • You only have one shot to secure the advantage, especially in high-level games. Now, games between us mere mortals may sway from one side to another more than once… but being decisive and accurate is a habit we all should try to develop anyway. One tip I picked up from Grandmaster Mauricio Flores Rios of Chile is to verbalize why you’re better. When you’re clear on the “why,” it’s easier to decide how you will play to your advantages.
  • Every move comes with consequences. Both sides always gain ‘something’ and lose ‘something’ with every move. Being aware of the squares and lines your opponent has given up can show you which area of the board to play for. When Carlsen blocked his own bishop with 7…e5 and lost sight of White’s queenside, breaking through with a2-a3 and b2-b4 became the most natural thing to do.

  • Know your endgames! This encounter is yet another example of basic endgame knowledge (i.e. exchanging as many pawns as possible and having the wrong-colored bishop) simplifying the defender’s task of saving the game.

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