I know chess is no ego-shooter, but still: “First blood”! In today’s game 8 we saw Magnus Carlsen with the white pieces trying very hard once again, but eventually overstepping the mark. After 7 draws in a row, Sergey Karjakin managed to bring home the full point this time.

Even before this game, most commentators and experts stated that Magnus is not on top of his game in this match. Certainly after this round, they feel affirmed. The desire to deliver a real fight on the board and to pressure your opponent is one thing (and a good one for the audience!). But doing it at all costs is another. I feel like the game slipped out of Carlsen’s hands pretty early, since he overestimated his position several times. Objectively still equal, the position was easier to play for Karjakin at least from move 24 onwards. But that’s up for discussion, feel free to comment below!

I’m sure it was not a planned match strategy for team Karjakin, but they figured out by now that Carlsen might be overambitious (see game 5) and too eager to win a game, which is giving Karjakin his chances. In the press conference, when Karjakin was asked about this, he responded “Of course I used his ambitions“. Or to put it differently: “Come at me, bro”:


It would have been interesting to know what Carlsen thought about this game, but the press had no chance to ask him. In the mixed zone he didn’t give an interview (which is not obligatory) and instead sat down directly in the press room in front of the audience. Meanwhile Karjakin gave a first interview. Apparently Carlsen got so upset, waiting for the press conference to begin, that he decided not to wait any longer and to leave the room. The press conference however is obligatory and usually players get fined for not attending. I guess Magnus couldn’t care less at the moment.

Karjakin on the other hand was obviously happy, but also very humble and objective – I liked it.

Act 1: The tension increases

It started with a rare opening line with Carlsen clearly indicating that he’s ready for a long fight.

a curious opening choice for a World Championship

a curious opening-line

I have to admit that I wasn’t really aware of this set-up until last year, when I encountered it in the 2nd Bundesliga. Of course I immediately played imprecisely by putting the bishop to d6, which encourages Nf3-e5 at some point. Earlier this year I had to prepare for it, since this line is also a favourite of Artur Yusupov’s. My conclusion was that – although not without venom – it’s really pretty harmless.

Karjakin had no trouble to equalize and I’ve already mentally prepared for another draw. Too soon as it turned out.
On move 24 Carlsen broke the symmetrical pawn structure and obtained weak pawns on a4 and c4 in return for dynamical play. Karjakin – as we know him – defended accurately and in most other top-level encounters, the game would have ended peacefully with a threefold repetition after 31.Rxd7, as Sergey pointed out afterwards.

Act 2: Mutual time trouble

Instead, they continued playing on and it got extremely tense. Judit Polgar pointed out a nice line leading to the following position, where our dear readers are welcome to find the killing blow:


Black to move. End of game 8 in a parallel universe.

Both of them saw these tactics within the blink of an eye, I’m sure, but it illustrates how dangerous the position was.
In an objectively equal position, Carlsen decided to complicate matters by the astonishing move 35.c4-c5??, which in fact is just a blunder. The idea was that after 37.Qd6, White threatens 38.Qe7.

Rumble in the jungle right before time control.

Rumble in the jungle right before time control.

But Karjakin could have sealed the deal here by bringing back his queen to defend via the square a4. Instead he chose the transferring square d3, when he admitted later that he missed 41.e3-e4 after 37….Qd3 38.Nxe6+ fxe6 39.Qe7+ Kg8 40.Qxf6 a4, cutting off the queen. After this tension, most viewers expected a draw by 44.Qg6+ and once again they got surprised by Carlsen pushing on. I suppose he wasn’t aware of his blunder 35.c4-c5, still running under the assumption that this had been an extraordinary way to continue. Probably he even thought he played a great game until that point. Otherwise he would have taken the draw here, don’t you think?

Act 3: Finale

While Carlsen tried to exploit Black’s weak king position, Sergey had his a-pawn running. It was that kind of position where you really want an engine beside you. The challenger played precisely and it got harder and harder for Magnus to hold the balance. Eventually, he slipped with 51.Qe6?? when Sergey found the precise 51….h6-h5 which secures a decisive advantage.

final position of game 8, Carlsen - Karjakin

final position of game 8, Carlsen – Karjakin

In the final position above it’s “all she wrote” for Magnus, as 53.Qxa2 runs into 53….Ng4+ with a mating attack.

Tough times for Magnus, but he still has 4 games to bounce back. Tomorrow is a rest day and we are looking forward to Wednesday, when Sergey has White.

As usual, check out the GM-analysis of Niclas here: