World Championship openings

Last week’s question was “Does Agon have the right to prohibit anyone from broadcasting the moves as they were made?” We saw a strong vote in favour of ‘No’. The courts (firstly in Moscow) will give their more binding verdicts in due course. Agon are trying to change the way chess broadcasts have been done in recent years, and I believe our vote does illustrate that resistance to that change is likely, for a start from chess fans.


This week I will stay with the World Championship in New York, but move on to the board and some real chess moves. We have over two weeks to go, so I will save score predictions for next week, but for now I want to guess/predict the openings that will feature in the match.

As a starting point, consider what the players have played in recent years (let’s say 2013-2016). Both can play any of the ‘Big Four’ first moves (1.e4, 1.d4, 1.Nf3 and 1.c4) but I would say Karjakin is a 1.e4 player who often switches to 1.Nf3, while Carlsen plays 1.e4 and 1.d4 about equally. Let’s see that in pictures…


So what does Carlsen play against 1.e4? Usually 1…e5, meeting the Spanish with Berlins, Breyers or Marshalls. And what does Karjakin play against 1.e4? Usually 1…e5, meeting the Spanish with Berlins or… Oh well. 12 Berlins in a row it is.

Except Magnus will throw in a few 1.d4’s and likely face the Nimzo/QID complex or maybe a QGA. And no doubt both players and their seconds have been working for months, trying to find effective new moves to surprise the enemy and make their own opening choices unpredictable.

So what are your opening predictions for the Carlsen – Karjakin World Championship match? Berlins all the way? Sidestepping the Berlin with the Italian or the Scotch!? Karjakin is also a Najdorf man, so one of Carlsen’s offbeat anti-Sicilians may appear? Or will it be a 1.d4 match?
What will be the most frequently played opening in the Carlsen – Karjakin World Championship match?

13 thoughts on “World Championship openings”

  1. Carlsen will start with 1.e4 and try to crack Karjakin’s Berlin. I expect Karjakin to prepare the Berlin and Najdorf. If Karjakin really wants to go for it, maybe he should play the Najdorf exclusively. Carlsen’s 3.Bb5+ Moscow has been cracked by both Topalov and Grischuk in the last year. If Carlsen gets nothing with 1.e4 he’ll try 1.d4. I’m not sure Karjakin will use the QID, it’s too predictable. Maybe do what Karpov did with Kasparov in their first match, learn and play the Tartakower. More likely to see 5.Bf4s than the old mainline though. I personally think Karjakin should play 1.d4 with White. Tackle Carlsen’s Gruenfeld head on, Carlsen seems to reserve that defence for the big games. If he plays the QGD, the Catalan might be an interesting try, may catch Carlsen unawares in the first attempt, score a theoretical win, then switch to 5.Bf4. Karjakin’s best chances imo are to keep the games theoretical, play openings with high price premium per move. I think most of the chess world is predicting a smooth Carlsen win, I don’t think that will be the case. Carlsen will need to earn his victory, Karjakin’s going to fight all the way. Shown a lot of belief and fighting spirit in his recent interviews, he’s not coming to collect a paycheck, he’s coming to pull off a historical upset.

  2. I think Carlsen will win, but it will be harder than previous matches with Anand.
    If Carlsen is too relaxed, then he can lose. This is what happened to him in the second match with anand and was close to lose in game 6, what could have changed completly the match.

  3. I hope there will be a bit of variety. A few 1.e4 openings and some 1.d4 openings. I think Karjakin will play 1.d4 more often than usual, when I suspect Carlsen will try and play the NID, but play will transpose into a Catalan.

    I think both play similar openings with Black so expect to see some Berlin games with a smattering of NID/QID and Catalans. If 1.c4 is played I expect to see reverse Sicilian (Nogard).

  4. Think sergey will stick to i.e4 as white whereas I think Carlsen may try a variety of queens pawn/english/Nf3 ideas so I voted for e4 predominating. As WC matches tend to feature players trying new opening setups to surprise their opponent I’m predicting Carlsen to have learned some theory as black in some branch of the Sicilian to catch Karjakin out
    Any recent QC shipments to Moscow/Norway of note?

  5. James :
    Carlsen will start with 1.e4 and try to crack Karjakin’s Berlin.

    My prediction is that we will see some Italians, as the Berlin remains too tough to crack. This is nothing more than a wild guess of course.

  6. I expect 1.d4 at least in the first game by Carlsen, to check if the QID comes up and if not, what else. If Karjakin does play the QID, maybe Carlsen prefers trying to beat it over the Berlin.

    For Karjakin as white, no idea.

    I hope neither of them goes for 1.Nf3, 2.g3 crap but I’m afraid they will…

  7. @John Shaw

    Wouldn’t bet against the Italian, however, I still think Carlsen will lookup Karjakin in the endgame, at least once. Like in the Anand-Gelfand WCh match, one Sveshnikov, was enough for Anand to switch to the 3.Bb5 Rossolimo, for the rest of the match. I also think the Anti-Berlin line with the early Bxc6 is a contender: 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bxc6. Carlsen has also been dabbling with the London System recently, I doubt he would disrespect the World Championship by playing it though.

  8. I hope we don’t see a London. In the position after 1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 Bf4 e6 4 c3 c5 5 e3 Nc6 6 Nbd2 Be7 White has been playing 7 h3 to avoid losing the bishop pair after Nh5. Now, Black can simply go back to Bd6 a move later with 7…Bd6 since White can no longer play Bg3. That seems to solve the Black opening problems forever. But, the positions are beyond boring. I played that recently as Black. Perhaps I should be ashamed. But, I couldn’t stomach losing to that opening…again….

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