Playing a World Championship match seemingly twist perceptions and reduce outside sense impressions to the point that I felt I was experiencing a different city this time. The utter joy and relief of match victory will always make the thought of New York bring back fond memories. Nevertheless, I already look forward to be back in the city in a more normal setting as a visitor.
My opponent Sergey Karjakin proved extremely resilient, and I would also like to praise his sportsmanship and that of his trainer Potkin and manager Zangalis.
There where tense and critical moments in the first half of both the Chennai and Sochi matches against Anand. What made New York so much harder was experiencing highly critical and difficult moments late in the match. Losing game 8 after having overpressed and made some seriously dubious decisions, left me trailing in a World Championship match for the first time. It reminded me of the loss against Ivanchuk in round 12 of the London Candidates. It was difficult not to panic. Game 9 was also critical. Having gotten a promising position from the opening, Karjakin improved his position to the point that I might be lost before the first time control. Fortunately I calculated the remaining complications slightly better and escaped with a draw. Under the gun I really needed to win game 10. I obtained a lasting positional advantage in the opening and was horrified to discover his Nxf2 resource after having taken on e6 with my bishop. Karjakin played d5 instead and shortly after I gambled on the assumption that he would not see the more challenging Nxf2 resource after Qh5. When he didn’t, I got an overwhelming positional advantage. Again Karjakin defended well for a long time accepting total passivity. Defending his pawn weaknesses on b7 and e6 is possible, but when he tried to prevent my not so promising g4-break as well, his defense fell apart, and the extra pawn was enough to win and equal the match.
Having struggled immensely in the middle of the match, I felt better towards the end. Deciding to accept tie-break despite white in game 12 was maybe the decision I’m most satisfied with in this match. Suddenly I would have four (rapid) games instead of one classical to decide the match and three full days to prepare while my opponent would be occupied preparing for game 12.
I felt slightly uneasy on the last rest day, but after a good nights sleep I was in great shape and eager to play rapid chess on the 30th. Even the missed win in the second rapid game didn’t brake my stride or diminish the joy of playing rapid chess, and game three was probably quite good. I exploited my terrain on the kingside and his weaknesses on the queenside, and after the e4 pawn sacrifice it was very difficult for black to hold. Rc7 lost on the spot, and for the first time in the match I was ahead. As white in the last game I got a positional advantage against his Najdorf and just had to avoid his counterplay. It was not a perfect game, but I managed to calculate the final lines correctly and finished Qh6! with mate in one!
My team in New York was the same as in Sochi; Thank you Peter, Espen, Magnus F., Brede, Bjørn and my family as well as sponsor representatives, friends and all the others that came over to support me. The openings went generally very well in New York thanks to all the great work by Laurent Fressinet, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Nils Grandelius, Samuel Shankland and others, and thanks to Kragerø resort for hosting camps both in September and during the match.
My heartfelt thanks to Doug and Holly Hirsch for accommodating me and my family at their beautiful place in Southampton before the match; to Charles Stonehill and Maria and Peter Hancock for opening their homes during the match, and to Yuri Milner for organizing a fantastic celebration party.
I´m grateful to my long time main sponsors Simonsen Vogt Wiig, Arctic Securities, Nordic Semiconductor and VG, as well as water partner Isklar who’s also a sponsor of the event.
I think the organizer Agon / World Chess did a good job, and I know they put in lots of efforts and significant resources to make the match a successful event. Many thanks to Ilya, Stas, Alvina and all the others involved for doing their utmost to make me and my team comfortable.
Last but not least, I’d like to express my gratitude to all the others, not spesifically mentioned above, who has helped me or my team one way or the other. Thank you!
An important result of the match is that the significant international media coverage contributes to make chess popular worldwide.
My next event is the World Rapid and Blitz World Championship in Doha, and I look forward to be back in Doha a year after the Open event last year!