A freshly bruised Magnus Carlsen came dangerously close to landing a decisive blow in Wednesday’s ninth game of his tightly wound defense of the world chess championship against Fabiano Caruana in London, until a moment of impatience allowed his opponent off the hook and left the best-of-12-games match no closer to resolution in a 4½-all deadlock.
Magnus Carlsen misses winning chance in Game 9 draw with Fabiano Caruana – live!
The 27-year-old champion, sporting a bandage over a black eye absorbed in a collision with a Norwegian journalist during a kickabout on Tuesday’s rest day, harried the American challenger out of his preparation early and pushed him to the brink of disaster in the middlegame, but one rushed misstep gifted Caruana the slack he required to hold for a 58-move draw with three classical games remaining and the gnawing spectre of a tie-breaker looming ever larger.
“I felt like I had a comfortable advantage and then I just blew it,” a clearly disappointed Carlsen said in the immediate aftermath. “I was poor.”
The nine straight draws is the longest streak of games to open a match without a decisive result in the recognized 132-year history of the world chess championship.
Carlsen opted for the geographically appropriate English Opening (1. c4), as he did in the fourth game, and the parallel lines extended for the champion’s first eight moves (1. … e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Bc5 7. O-O O-O 8. d3 Re8) until he veered with 9. Bg5. The opening choice came as a bit of a surprise given how seldom Carlsen had played it in the past (only once in 37 previous classical games with Caruana prior to Game 4) and how frustratingly little he was able to mine from it eight days ago in a contest that quickly petered out to a straightforward draw.
Quick guide World Chess Championship 2018
Norway’s Magnus Carlsen is defending the world chess championship against Fabiano Caruana of the United States. The best-of-12-games match is taking place at the College in Holborn between 9 and 28 November, with the winner earning a 60% share of the €1m ($1.14m) prize fund if the match ends in regulation (or 55% if it’s decided by tie-break games).
Carlsen, 27, has been ranked No 1 for eight straight years and was considered the world’s best player even before he defeated Viswanathan Anand for the title in 2013. Caruana, 26, is ranked No 2, having earned his place at the table by winning the candidates tournament in March. No American-born player has won or even competed for the world title since Bobby Fischer in 1972.
It marks the first title match between the world’s top two players since 1990, when Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov faced off for a fifth and final time.
The match will consist of 12 classical games with each player awarded one point for a win and a half-point for a draw. Whoever reaches six and a half points first will be declared the champion.
The time control for each game is 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, 50 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus an additional 30 seconds per move starting from move 1. Players cannot agree to a draw before Black’s 30th move.
If the match is tied after 12 games, tie-breaks will be played on the final day in the following order:
• Best of four rapid games with 25 minutes for each player with an increment of 10 seconds after each move.
• If still tied, they will play up to five mini-matches of two blitz games (five minutes for each player with a three-second increment).
• If all five mini-matches are drawn, one sudden-death ‘Armegeddon’ match will be played where White receives five minutes and Black receives four minutes. Both players will receive a three-second increment after the 60th move. In the case of a draw, Black will be declared the winner.
Thu 8 Nov – Opening ceremony
Fri 9 Nov – Game 1
Sat 10 Nov – Game 2
Sun 11 Nov – Rest day
Mon 12 Nov – Game 3
Tue 13 Nov – Game 4
Wed 14 Nov – Rest day
Thu 15 Nov – Game 5
Fri 16 Nov – Game 6
Sat 17 Nov – Rest day
Sun 18 Nov – Game 7
Mon 19 Nov – Game 8
Tue 20 Nov – Rest day
Wed 21 Nov – Game 9
Thu 22 Nov – Game 10
Fri 23 Nov – Rest day
Sat 24 Nov – Game 11
Sun 25 Nov – Rest day
Mon 26 Nov – Game 12
Tue 27 Nov – Rest day
Wed 28 Nov – Tie-break games/Awards and closing
The games commence each day at 3pm in London.
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Carlsen’s deviation (9. Bg5) represented an aggressive effort to uncouple Caruana from the encyclopedic prep that’s buoyed him amply throughout the fortnight to date, but the 26-year-old American responded quickly for the next few moves (10. bxc3 f6 11. Bc1 Be6) until 12. Bb2 prompted the first long think of the afternoon. Caruana’s ultimate decision (13. … Bd5) after 21 minutes was met by Carlsen’s 14. Qc2 after a scant 72 seconds and the world No 2 suddenly found himself more than a half hour behind on time before his 14th move.
Carlsen and Caruana played to a 58-move draw in Game 9.
Caruana’s temporal complications were redoubled with his drastic and potentially dubious 17. … Bxf3, which sent Carlsen’s advantage into a spike on the Stockfish evaluation engine.
“I didn’t feel totally comfortable, (but) I thought if I started to drift it could get very unpleasant,” Caruana said of the choice. “I wanted to make it more concrete. Of course I’m basically admitting my position is very unpleasant, but still that the drawing margin is very high with these opposite-colored bishops.
“I thought it would be easier to play if I simplify the position a little bit.”
Carlsen, edge on time approaching an hour, made all the right moves, making equal exchanges of material while continuing to squeeze Caruana’s slowly diminishing position: 18. Qb3+ Kh8 19. Bxf3 Nxd4 20. Bxd4 Qxd4 21. e3 Qe5 22. Bxb7 Rad8 23. Rad1 Qe7 24. h4 g6. Little by little it seemed Carlsen, after eight draws in as many games, was inching toward a breakthrough win that would all but seal his third defense of the title he captured from Viswanathan Anand in 2013.
And then he blinked.
Carlsen’s hasty decision to offer a pawn with 25. h5 immediately prompted criticism from both the computers and the pundits. American grandmaster Hiraku Nakamura called it a “strange move” and “peculiar choice”, adding: “It feels a little bit premature to me.”
That assessment was only confirmed over the next several moves (25. … gxh5 26. Qc4 f5 27. Bf3 h4 28. Rxd8 Rxd8 29. gxh4) and from there a bloodless denouement appeared inevitable despite a patch of counterplay opportunities for the challenger that breathed a rattle of life into the winnowing proceedings. Eventually, the rivals shook hands after three and a half hours.
“I was very happy with the opening, obviously,” said a downtrodden Carlsen, who extended a career-high streak of 14 straight draws stretching back to last month’s European Club Cup in Porto Carras, Greece. “You cannot expect more than what I had for sure.”
The champion admitted he had “mixed feelings” about 27. Bf3: “On one hand it leads to a very comfortable advantage. On the other hand, as Fabiano said, it simplifies the game quite a lot. I felt like I wasn’t in time to do everything that I wanted. I just think (25. h5) was a a mistake.”
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He wasn’t alone.
An impassioned Carlsen bristled when asked by a reporter from Norwegian broadcaster NRK why he continued to persist for so long in the endgame despite the high likelihood of a peaceful result. When did he understand it was a draw?
“I understood it immediately,” Carlsen said, voice rising. “It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play. I’m trying to entice him to play h5 and if he does play h5 then I at least have a target. But obviously if he just keeps still and keeps his fortress just waiting for my king to enter then there’s nothing, but there’s no harm in playing. I really don’t understand the point (of the question).”
Carlsen will be widely regarded as the favorite to retain the title in the €1m ($1.14m) match if the next three games end in draws, forcing a tie-breaker that under Fide’s match regulations consists of a series of games under tighter time controls. The Norwegian, who in addition to his No 1 ranking is the world’s top rated rapid player and top rated blitz player (compared to Caruana’s respective ratings of No 8 and No 16), is unbeaten in tie-breakers over the last 13 years. But the circumstance is one that Caruana is not willing to entertain just yet, and even less prepared to concede.
“I’m really not thinking about the tie-break now,” said Caruana, who is attempting to become only the second American-born player to capture the world championship after Bobby Fischer in 1972. “If we get there then I’ll start to think about it, but there’s still a lot of chess to be played.”
He added: “And I really don’t agree with most people about my chances in the tie-break.”
Much of the chatter during the build-up to Wednesday’s game surrounded Carlsen’s black eye, which he’d revealed in an enigmatic Instagram post the day before with no explanation. Had the world No 1 fit a few rounds of sparring with Anthony Joshua into the rest day itinerary?
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The match is heating up
Carlsen’s traveling physician, Dr Brede Kvisvik, confirmed the champion had suffered the injury to his right eye while playing football on Tuesday and was given ice to ward off swelling. No stitches were required.
“There’s no concussion, as we had feared,” Kvisvik told NRK. “It looked worse than it was.”
Carlsen, asked multiple times about the shiner in the mixed zone and during the press conference about whether it had any effect on the afternoon, offered the same terse response to each query: “No.”
The players will have a quick turnaround before the competition resumes on Thursday at the College in Holborn with the Brooklyn-bred challenger playing as white in Game 10.
“I would have loved to have win one game (so far),” Carlsen said. “But it’s not a disaster.”