During the first hour and a half of today’s game 5 between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin I was quite enthusiastic to see an eventful game. The position that arose out of the opening was strategically rich and very much non-standard. Both players seemed well rested (Carlsen played basketball on his free day, while Karjakin visited the Central Park) and ready for another fight. The game followed the usual pattern at first: Carlsen tried to make something happen and Karjakin defended (this time flawlessly). Near the end, the Russian even had some chances of his own. It was not enough to prevent the 5th draw in the 5th game, though. In case you were wondering who was in a better mood afterwards:

In the official commentary team, Judit Polgar was replaced by the American Grandmaster Sam Shankland. I really liked his efforts, since he gave a more detailed analysis and plenty of sample lines. But of course, it’s always the question of which audience you want to address. Beginners will prefer a different kind of chess entertainment, since they’re not yet able to follow the analysis of a GM. Stronger chess players most likely prefer  commentary by Peter Svidler on chess24, for example.
When being asked about the consequences of game 5 for the rest of the match, Shankland responded

“This game really opens up a lot. Until now, […] Magnus was the boss.”

How the game started

Today, it was Magnus’ turn again to mix it up in the opening. He played the Italian game instead of the Ruy Lopez from game 3, that is to say he deviated as early as on move 3 by playing 3.Bc4. This way, the World Champion could basically bet on the line that was going to be played and prepare accordingly, whereas Sergey probably expected another Ruy Lopez. Of course the Russian was generally prepared for the Italian Game as well, but his time consumption clearly indicated that he had to recall his analysis. Apparently he succeeded, as he did not go astray in the opening phase. After some tactical skirmish, the position got very rich from a positional point of view. If I had to play it (with either colour), I would certainly get into time-trouble soon!

Game 5 between Carlsen and Karjakin. Black to move.

Game 5 between Carlsen and Karjakin. Black to move.

Black’s obvious trumps are the bishop pair, the better pawn structure, and the potential outpost on d5. In an ideal world, there could be the knight or a bishop or even the queen on d5. Also, conceptually, just imagine the a8 rook being on f8, with the bishop a7 coming to b8 and d6-d5 opening all lines for a crushing attack on the white king. This could have been a game by Paul Morphy 150 years ago. On the other hand Black’s king is vulnerable along the a2-g8 diagonal and there are overall some weak squares in Black’s camp, especially on g5 and e6.
Still, I was really surprised by the speed that Karjakin responded with 15….d6-d5 in the diagram above. It fixes the pawn structure (which is usually a good thing for knights, and a bad thing for bishops), takes away the outpost d5 and weakens even more squares (c5 and e5), which soon got infiltrated by the white knights. But of course, chess is a concrete game and maybe Karjakin was a little bit worried about the b4-b5 idea by White; check out a sample line in the pgn-viewer here:

Yet another fortress by Karjakin?

Soon White’s f3-knight got exchanged on e5 and Karjakin showed no big ambitions (first!) by even trading off his a7 bishop for the second white knight, which landed on c5. It did not look particularly appealing, but the designated Russian Minister of Defense rightly judged that his position is passive, but extremely solid, just as the fortress in game 4.

Karjakin is blocking the white squares on e6 and f5 after move 32.

Karjakin is blocking the white squares on e6 and f5 after move 32.

A general rule says that opposite-coloured bishops tend to be a great attacking factor in the middlegame, but here White’s own pawn on e5 is Black’s best defender.
There followed some manoeuvering until they reached the time-control on move 40 and Carlsen seemed to be ready to consent to a draw. He made two careless king moves 40.Kg3 and 41.Kg2?! back and most of us humans – after defending for 40 moves and several hours – would have made equally non-committing moves that would have led to a draw offer. But not Sergey! He smelled blood and rightly seized the initiative by 42….d4!?

Karjakin just played 42....d5-d4!? to free some lines for his rook and bishop.

Karjakin just played 42….d5-d4!? in order to free lines for his rook and bishop.

Granted, there was a somewhat trivial and self-evident statement in the pre-report here

“Actually I would say that [Karjakin] is quite pragmatic and will try to seize opportunities, if given.”

but I’m repeating it anyways, since it is as fitting as it can get at this moment in game 5!
Even though starting with 42….Qh6 might have been more precise, I was really impressed. It is not easy at all to change his defensive mindset to an offensive one. And vice versa, too! Carlsen clearly underestimated Black’s chances – otherwise he would have chosen a safer 41st move.
After this, the position was objectively slightly better for Black, but it remained very complex and hard to play. Consequently, both players did not find all the critical lines and agreed to a draw soon.

What comes next?

As we approach the middle of the classical match, Karjakin will have two games with White in a row. Plus, unlike Magnus, he was in a really good mood after the game. Will game 5 go down in chess history as a turning point? It might be. But I am still betting on two draws on Friday and Sunday and a pretty close score until the last round.

As usual, check out the Grandmaster analysis of game 5 by Niclas, as well: