The first game of the 2018 World Chess Championship ended in an epic 115-move draw lasting seven hours as Norway’s “Mozart of chess” Magnus Carlsen missed a clear chance to win.
There was a real buzz of excitement in the air as the 12-round title match, the first to be held in London since 2000, was about to kick off at The College in Holborn.
But when it happened it did so in comical fashion as Hollywood star Woody Harrelson was asked to make the ceremonial move, but instead ended up knocking over a king.
Woody Harrelson: king of jokes
Surrounded by cameras, Cheers star Harrelson then made an even worse blunder when he moved the wrong piece for Carlsen’s opponent Fabiano Caruana and the American number one had to ask him to replay the move.
Harrelson later admitted the mistake was actually a pre-planned joke, which Caruana said in the post match press conference he was completely unaware of.
When play did eventually start, it became an intriguing, absorbing and at points dramatic game with Carlsen springing a minor surprise by responding to 1.e4 with a Sicilian.
A more cagey first game had been expected. The last time a champion won Game 1 of a world title match as black was 37 years ago when Anatoly Karpov defeated Viktor Korchno in the opener of their rematch in Merano, Italy.
But this was no drab opener. First Carlsen signalled his attacking intent with his opening choice – and then there was a moment of serious drama just before the time control that drew gasps from the crowd.
Players are required to have made 40 moves in one hour 40 minutes or they lose on the spot. Leading up to his 40th move Caruana found himself battling against the clock.
His king was also in real danger with Carlsen’s queen in a powerful position and pieces circling. However, Caruana just about managed to make an accurate move with only three seconds to spare, and gain a desperately needed 50 extra minutes on the clock.
Caruana survived for the moment and was able to relax a little, but was even more relieved when Carlsen, making his 40th move under time pressure, responded with a spectacular blunder to let his challenger completely off the hook.
Game 1 grinds to a halt
The pace then slowed as a draw seemed likely and, following an exchange of queens, Caruana was able to hold. The grueling game came to an end when Carlsen, who had tried to wring something out of the position, eventually gave way and extended his hand to offer the draw.
It was the longest ever game between the pair, who have played 35 times in classical time controls. However, it was not quite the longest in world championship history.
That was Game 5 of the 1978 showdown between Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov, which ended in a draw after 124 moves.
GM Daniel King described the game as “exciting but exhausting”.
Carlsen said: “It started very well, I was better on time and had a better position. I couldn’t quite find the knockout before the time trouble. I played a bit too cautiously I think. Suddenly he got a chance to break loose. Then it was quite drawish.
“I tried to find a way to exchange in order to play for a win, but I couldn’t find it. Then I just moved around hoping to force a blunder, but I didn’t succeed.”
Round 2 of the 12-round match starts on Saturday at 3pm GMT.
Leon is a national newspaper journalist from London, England. He is an avid chess fan, and writes regularly about the game. Apart from chess, he loves cricket, Tottenham Hotspur FC and spending time with his son.