The 4th game of the World Championship Match between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin ended in another draw after almost 7 hours and 94 moves. For the most part of it the reigning champion, who had the black pieces, was pressing very hard while Karjakin, once again, hat to defend quite a bad endgame very tenaciously in order to save half a point. In that regard, it was very similar to game 3, which was labelled in the official newsletter as “a draw for the ages”. The officials have to be careful not to use this expression inflationary, as I boldly predict that there will be some more draws in the match…
The Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi is rumoured to be on team Karjakin, but right now he is also the “chat expert” on the official website. When the game was about to end, he commented on rounds 3 and 4:

“[…] These two games are amazing, I mean no one could expect Magnus to waste two HUGE chances in a row. And speaking of Sergey’s performance – well, he obviously should fix something in his play, because he can’t rely on luck and his defensive skills only.”

As an objective observer and chess fan, of course I prefer decisive games. But as I mentioned here, I assume it would be very hard for our Russian challenger to come back from a minus score. Hence, regarding the excitement of the match, those two lost opportunities for Carlsen in rounds 3 and 4 are quite a good thing for the spectators!

What happened in the game?

At first the game followed the opening from game 2, the classical Ruy Lopez. So once again, Carlsen did not play the Berlin Defence, which certainly had been studied in great detail by the seconds of Karjakin. I have to say I quite like this decision. Magnus probably thought to himself already in March: “Well, let’s just avoid the Berlin, even if it’s the safest option, just in order to directly make 30% of Karjakin’s time-devotion over the next months completely irrelevant.” Or maybe he just prefered more entertaining positions, who knows. While that wasn’t the case in game 2, it surely was today!

Sergey deviated first by playing the main line with 6.Re1 and they got an Anti-Marshall, when both parties followed the game Anand – Navara, Wijk aan Zee 2007 until move 13. The novelty came with Karjakin’s 14.N3h2, which foreshadowed a kingside attack and thus an interesting game. Very thematically, Carlsen countered in the centre with 14….d6-d5 and soon we got fire on board. GM Susan Polgar called it very nicely:

Karjakin enthusiastically grabbed the pawn on h6, explaining later that he thought to have a very nice position after the move 18….Nxe4. But instead, Magnus played the calm 18….Qc6! and totally caught Sergey off guard. Psychologically, this is a tough moment for every chess player – apparently even for the best. This became clear with Karjakin’s next move, 19.Bxc4?!, when the remorseful 19.Bc1 would have kept the balance. At that time, I was watching the commentary by GM Peter Svidler and GM Eric Hansen on chess24, who couldn’t believe that this move really occurred.

“Is that a transmission error?”
– Eric Hansen on 19.Bxc4

The game continued with 19….bxc4 20.Be3 Nxe4

Something has gone awfully wrong for White.

Something has gone awfully wrong for White.

and even if Black’s pawn structure is scattered, he’s definitely better thanks to the bishop-pair, space advantage and Karjakin’s weak white squares on the queenside. What looked like potentially a very intense middlegame at this point, became an endgame with 2 Bishops vs. Knight + Bishop only 15 moves later. The engines showed a steady, but not decisive advantage for Carlsen while (quite frankly) I was pretty sure that he would bring home the full point with his famous technique. I’m highlighting this because later on in the game, Karjakin managed to construct an unbreakable fortress, when the engines were still screaming “Black is winning”. So watch out, kids, and don’t always trust the machine!

Anyways… Carlsen’s technique was a little bit off today, as he missed for example the somehow unintuitive 42….Bd5 43.g3 g4!, restricting severely Karjakin’s knight. Also, Karjakin pointed out at the board, right after the game finished, that 45….Be6 might have been a better try, since it avoided the fortress that occured after the inaccuracy 45….f5-f4.

45...f5-f4 probably spoiled the game for Carlsen

45…f5-f4 probably spoiled the game for Carlsen

By the way, the fact that the online-audience can actually hear what the players are talking about is awesome! Even if Carlsen was not in a particularly chatty mood right after the game, as you can imagine. But then, in the press conference he told the spectators up-front:

“In general, I’m not a big believer in fortresses in chess. […] There are some people like Anand, for instance, who tries to build a fortress every time he’s worse, but […] I have an experience of breaking these fortresses down. […] In this case I just thought that I was easily winning with 45….f4.”

After 61 moves Carlsen improved his position as much as he could, even bringing his king to b3. But still, there is no winning plan for Black, even though he fought on for more than 30 moves in mutual time trouble.


White basically has a fortress.

It would be very interesting to analyze the impact of the last two games on the state of mind of the two contenders and how this will influence their further approach to the match. When asked how he feels, Karjakin answered in the press conference: “Fantastic!“. Granted, he defended really well, but isn’t it worrisome to get such a bad position like today with White right out of the opening? On the other hand, this attitude might be the healthiest for him in order to perform with self-confidence, which is obviously a must.

If you like a detailed analysis, check out the video by Niclas: