We live in strange times: worsening weather, Brexit, President Trump. In the not-too-distant past, I would have estimated Russian ex-prodigy and super-grandmaster Sergey Karjakin’s chance of toppling world champion Magnus Carlsen as being close to zero. The former is ranked number 9 in terms of chess ratings (Carlsen has been number 1 for the past 6 years), has strong nerves and defends very well, but does not outclass Carlsen in any single aspect of the game.
After the US presidential election, I revised my estimates (although this is a classical “false association” – Brexit and Trump have nothing to do with chessplaying strength).
Indeed, after 7 draws in which the world champion missed wins uncharacteristically in Games 3 and 4 (and to be fair, escaped Game 5 by the skin of his teeth), Carlsen lost in Game 8. And what a loss – he overpressed to reach a lost position during the blitz phase of the game although Karjakin (understandably) failed to capitalize, reached a drawn position, but appeared to lose all objectivity as he rejected the draw, played a series of bad moves he would not normally have made, and lost.
The score now stands at 4.5-3.5 in favour of the challenger, with only 4 more games to go. It will be difficult for Carlsen to recover (he had never been behind in his earlier world championship matches against Anand), but I guess this situation is one of those where champions have the opportunity to show their mettle. We all remember Kasparov-Karpov 1987, Kramnik-Leko 2004, or even Lasker-Schlecter 1910, where each time the respective world champion had to win the final game against opponents known for tough uncompromising defense.