After tying 6-6 at classical time controls – including a short and incredibly dull final game that must have left on-site spectators feeling cheated – Carlsen and Karjakin played a tiebreak match of 4 rapid games (25 minutes with 10-second increment per move) early this morning (New York time 2pm).
And what an incredible series of games! It almost made the boring 12th non-game look like a good strategic outcome for the spectators. Because there is far less time for thinking in rapid games, the level of inaccuracy is higher, and the sporting elements (speculative play is less likely to be punished, while exerting a greater pressure on the opponent’s time) of the game are more prominent.
After a tense Ruy Lopez that led to a draw in the first game, Carlsen looked to be completely winning on the white side of an Italian in Game 2, but Karjakin pulled off a miracle save with a fortress setup while “living” on incremental time. The champion remained visibly fazed at the start of the third game, but his nerves are as good as anyone’s in the business, and he exerted tremendous pressure to crack Karjakin from the black side of yet another Ruy Lopez.
In a must-win final game as black, Karjakin finally assayed the Sicilian (after countless 1.e4 e5 games), slipped into a passive position which deteriorated as he was forced by the match situation to decline drawing moves, and succumbed to an incredible mating tactic (which Carlsen saw with less than 2 minutes on the clock) – a queen sacrifice that will have left an indelible memory in the spectators. An amazing and classy finish by the world champion!