Another draw. The final scheduled game, Game 12, of the 2018 World Chess Championship ended in a draw. That’s an incredible TWELVE in a row.
Perhaps this is what we expected, with Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana separated by just three rating points going into the match.
But while for some today’s game had an air of predictability about it – even if the timing of the draw on move 31 caught everybody off-guard – it leaves us firmly in squeaky-bum time.
The match goes to tie-breaks on Wednesday when either the US challenger will become the first champion to have won the crown without winning any classical games in a title match, or Carlsen will be the first to defend it without winning a classical game.
One thing is for sure: Carlsen is the favourite. While Carlsen and Caruana are separated by just a hair’s breadth in classical chess, there is a chasm – at least at the elite level – between them in rapid and blitz: 100 points.
Carlsen is the world’s top-rated rapid player and top-rated blitz player, while Caruana is rated No 8 and 16 respectively. It’s also been 13 years since Carlsen lost a tiebreak.
However, if rapid and blitz aren’t sufficient to separate the champion from the chaff, the match will go down to Armageddon – chess’s version of a penalty shoot-out.
Was it boring?
Hell, no. This was another dynamic game with Caruana pushing – perhaps over pushing – and Carlsen seeing a serious advantage but not taking the opportunity, perhaps because he was satisfied with a draw. There were gasps of surprise when it ended in a draw – Carlsen could have pushed on but chose to be conservative.
But the question is, are all these draws good for chess?
In the post-match press conference, English Grandmaster Daniel King seemed to think so: “I hope it generates a lot of interest because it [the match] has been incredibly close.”
He added that Carlsen “took us all by surprise” when he offered the draw with a small advantage, at least according to the chess computers.
A thrilling end?
Tarjei Svensen, the Norwegian journalist, tweeted: “Well, for the fans, a draw today was great. We get to see a thrilling tiebreak now. Nothing better than that.”
Carlsen also seemed sanguine about the prospect of tie-breaks.
Screw Sesse. pic.twitter.com/vd1iOswRE2
— Olimpiu G. Urcan (@olimpiuurcan) November 26, 2018
Carlsen revealed afterward that his intention before the game started was to hold the draw and head for the tie-breaks, and therefore he was not in the right mindset to take any risks and play for the win.
“Everybody could see that I wasn’t necessarily going for the maximum, I just wanted a position that was completely safe where I could put some pressure. If a draw hadn’t been a satisfactory result, obviously I would have approached it differently.”
Speaking about the final position, Caruana declared: “I was a bit surprised by the draw offer…I can never be better here and I don’t really have any active ideas. If anything Black is better but I thought I was over the worst of it. It was much more dangerous a few moves ago.”
Later on he admitted: “I’m mainly relieved because I thought it was quite close today, I was very worried during the game.”
Former top 10 player Grandmaster Judit Polgar said afterward that, by deciding to take the safe route and not take advantage of an inaccuracy from Caruana on move 25, Carlsen may have put his title at risk.
“This mistake could cost him the crown,” she said. “He did not try, he did not want to win it in classical chess. This shows something we’ve never seen before by Magnus, and it’s not a good sign necessarily.”
What happens next?
Here’s what happens next as we enter tie-breaks and possible Armageddon situation:
- Play will start again on Wednesday at 3pm at The College in Holborn.
- Carlsen and Caruana will play a 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.
- Around an hour and a half after the result, the ceremony will take place and the winner is crowned.
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.