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Carlsen – Caruana, 2018: Lessons Revisited – Part Two

Carlsen and Caruana handshake for game 2
Game 2 of the match might be a 49-move draw. But it's got its fair share of tense, instructive moments and missed opportunities. Can you find what Carlsen and Caruana didn't?

Journalists and commentators covering the match were quick to notice how game two wasn’t as thrilling as game one. That may be true, but…

Game two of the 2018 World Chess Championship match had its share of tense, instructive moments.

Unless you’re already a grandmaster yourself, there’s a lot you can learn from this encounter, especially on how top players approach opening play when the game’s most coveted title is on the line.

Game 2: White On The Backfoot…Again

Game two lasted 49 moves – 66 moves shorter than the first!

But like game one, the player with the white pieces found himself against the ropes.

The game stayed mostly within Caruana’s preparation, and Carlsen had to tread lightly to avoid nasty surprises.

Carlsen was down about an hour against Caruana’s clock at one point, and he had to blitz out his moves to make the time control.

Under immense time and over-the-board pressure, we can’t blame the World Champion for steering the game into calm waters.

You, however, have all the time world to enjoy the hidden tactics and finesses in this encounter.

Let’s take a look:

Black has already castled, while White needs two moves to evacuate his king from the center.

Carlsen-Caruana, 2018, Rd 2, after 6.e3

What’s the most principled and ambitious move for the second player?

In the game, White played 8.Qc2, vacating the d1-square for the rook. BUT…

Carlsen-Caruana, 2018, Rd 2, after 8.Be2

What if White played according to fundamental opening principles and developed his kingside with 8.Be2 or 8.Bd3 instead? What would you do?

On the other hand, not developing the f1-bishop means Black has a potential target on e1.

Let’s continue with the game…

After the game, the challenger commented:

I played this really rare move, 10.. . Rd8, which was actually played by some very strong players a long time ago, about 40 years ago and then completely forgotten about for some reason. I was kind of excited to try this out. Of course, it’s also very risky for Black, this whole line, but for White to figure all this out over the board…

– Fabiano Caruana


In the post-game interview, Carlsen was quick to point out the parallels between this game and the 21st round of the 1978 World Chess Championship Match between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi:

It’s kind of unpleasant to face a move that’s clearly based on some very complicated variations and to be unprepared. I think there’s a very clear parallel to one of the games between Korchnoi and Karpov from the World Championship in 1978 where instead of 10…Rd8, 10…Re8 was the move that Karpov invented.

And then Korchnoi actually thought for a long time and almost refuted the move over the board. Improvements have still been found for Black but he actually managed to find the solution there.

The difference now is that I am facing not only an analytical team of Fabiano, himself and his helpers, but also his computer help. That makes the situation quite a bit different.

– Magnus Carlsen

For the men and women of culture who’d love to know more about the said game, here it is:

Instead of 10…Re8, Black played 10…Rd8 to bolster the d5-pawn and prepare the equalizer …Nf6-e4.

Carlsen-Caruana, 2018, Rd 2, after 10...Rd8

What would you play as White?

I hope you didn’t choose 11.b4. 😁 But kudos if you chose 11.Nd2. That said…

Carlsen-Caruana, 2018, Rd 2, after 11.Bd3

Doesn’t 11.Bd3 also prevent …Nf6-e4, with the added benefit of developing the kingside? How would you respond to this seemingly logical, multi-purpose move?

Magnus played neither the challenging 11.Nd2 nor the careless 11.Bd3. He instead opted for 11.Be2, rushing the king to safety before the center bursts open.

Here’s how the game continued:

White’s queenside is busted.

Carlsen-Caruana, 2018, Rd 2, after 16...Nxd5

If the first player doesn’t act fast, Black will untangle and force White to defend his weaknesses on the queenside. How would you play?

When asked about the knight sacrifice, the World Champion jokingly replied:

I still have some instincts for attack although I don’t always show them, but I do consider such moves…I just couldn’t make it work and I thought he was still in preparation and that wasn’t the perfect combination.

– Magnus Carlsen

Hard to argue with that! Moving on…

The situation has improved for White, and his pieces are more active than their counterparts. BUT…

Carlsen-Caruana, 2018, Rd 2, after 20.fxe5

In this exact position, Black has a neat idea that brings his queenside pieces to life. Can you find it?

Unfortunately, Caruana didn’t play 20…Bd7 and opted for the safer 20…Qc7.

Let’s see how the game continued:

The d6-pawn will fall sooner rather than later.

Carlsen-Caruana, 2018, Rd 2, after 27...Ke8

White is on the backfoot. But can you find the move which virtually guarantees him a draw?

Key Takeaways

  • The objectively best move in the position isn’t always best for the game you’re playing. Here, we saw Carlsen avoid 11.Nd2 and 17.Nxf7, moves which could’ve put a lot of pressure on Caruana. But the World Champion eschewed them in favor of less theoretical and “quiter” moves… avoiding unpleasant surprises the challenger may have prepared.

  • A good move is different from a good-looking move. Many times in the game, we saw how seemingly natural moves — like 8.Be2 or 11.Bd3 — backfired due to concrete variations. So always check for tactics no matter how good-looking or positionally well-motivated a move is.

  • Good endgame technique can save you many half-points. If you’re at a disadvantage, moves like 28.a6 can save you a lot of time and energy by simplifying your defensive task. Knowing which endgames are drawn also tells you how to steady your ship and where to steer the game.

Digging Our Review Of The Carlsen-Caruana 2018 Match? Then…

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