The World Champion defended the title that he won in 2013 for the second time.
photo credit: Max Avdeev for World Chess by Agon Limited
It took everything he had against a gritty opponent — Sergey Karjakin, the Russian challenger — but Magnus Carlsen retained the World Championship by beating Karjakin in a series of tiebreaker games on Wednesday, Nov. 30.
The match, which was held in the South Street Seaport in New York City, had a prize fund of one million euros (about $1.1 million). Carlsen will receive 55 percent of the purse and Karjakin 45 percent.
It was the first World Chess Championship match in New York City since 1995, when Garry Kasparv defeated Viswanathan Anand atop the World Trade Center.
During the match, a global audience of nearly 10 million people tuned in to watch on World Chess, the official site of the match, while 10,000 spectators and VIPs watched the action live at the Fulton Market building in the South Street Seaport.
The match was sponsored by EG Capital Investors, an institutional money manager, and PhosAgro, a large Russian fertilizer company.
Andrey Guryev, chief executive of PhosAgro, said, “I am convinced we made the right choice when we decided to be the global partner for what was one of the most interesting World Championship matches in history, between two exceptionally talented young grandmasters.”
Michael Stanton, founder of EG Capital Advisors, said, “The World Chess Championship in New York City demonstrated that chess is becoming a unifying platform for the intellectual and business community. We are glad to be a part of it!”
The match between Carlsen, who is from Norway, and Karjakin began on Nov. 11 as a best-of-12 series. Carlsen, who turned 26 on Wednesday, became champion in 2013 by beating Anand. He was a heavy pre-match favorite based on his experience and that he is the No. 1 ranked player in the world. Karjakin, who is also 26 and is known as a defensive specialist, was ranked No. 9 before the match began.
Almost from the start, things did not go according to plan for Carlsen. He missed clear wins in Games 3 and 4 after brilliant defensive efforts by Karjakin. Then, in Game 5, Carlsen made a mistake that Karjakin failed to exploit.
Finally, after seven draws, it was Karjakin who took the lead in Game 8 after Carlsen, clearly frustrated by his inability to break through Karjakin’s defenses, overpressed.
Now on the ropes, Carlsen barely escaped in Game 9. But in Game 10, things finally went Carlsen’s way as Karjakin missed a sure-fire line that would have led to a draw. From there, Carlsen milked a small advantage to wear down Karjakin and finally beat him, levelling the score.
After a tussle in Game 11 ended in a draw, Carlsen had White in the last regulation game. Rather than press again, he seemed content to steer toward a quick draw and take his chances in a series of tiebreaker games. The tiebreakers began with a series of four rapid games, and as the two-time defending World Champion at that time control, Carlsen seemed sure to have an advantage.
In the first game, Karjakin had White but was unable to gain an edge and the game ended in a draw. In Game 2, Carlsen built up a large advantage, but missed a win in the endgame.
In Game 3, Karjakin’s luck finally ran out as he blundered in a difficult position, allowing Carlsen to immediately win a piece and seal the victory.
In the last game, needing a win, Karjakin played the Sicilian Defense as Black. But the opening is not consistent with Karjakin’s style and Carlsen had no trouble seizing control of the game. In the end, he finished up with a stylish queen sacrifice to checkmate Karjakin and retain the title.
In the press conference afterward, Carlsen was relieved and admitted that the match was the most difficult of his career and congratulated Karjakin on how well he played.
Karjakin, asked if he would try to win the Candidates tournament again so that he could again become the challenger for the title, laughed and said, “That’s the plan.”
Dylan Loeb McClain is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He was a staff editor for The New York Times for 18 years and wrote the paper’s chess column from 2006 to 2014. He is now editor-in-chief of WorldChess.com. He is a FIDE master as well.