It has been the longest staredown in history – 12 long drawn-out games. But after 50 nerve-shredding hours of play, one black-eye, and an embarrassing data leak, the world chess champion has been crowned in London.
Norway’s rock star of chess Magnus Carlsen held onto his title in commanding style on Wednesday as he crushed US challenger Fabiano Caruana in a penalty-kick style sudden-death playoff that followed three weeks of deadlock.
Carlsen picks up a prize fund of £487,000 plus 20% of the worldwide pay per view proceeds, while Caruana takes home £400,000.
Caruana, who was bidding to be only game’s 17th king and the first American for 46 years, pushed Carlsen all the way but could not hold on at the end.
Heartbreak for Fabi
“It’s heartbreak for Fabi because he had been doing so well over the course of the 12 games,” said International Master Anna Rudolf.
Chess legend Garry Kasparov, meanwhile, paid tribute to Carlsen’s brilliancy in playoff situations where the time controls get faster.
“Carlsen’s consistent level of play in rapid chess is phenomenal,” said. “We all play worse as we play faster and faster, but his ratio may be the smallest ever, perhaps only a 15% drop off. Huge advantage in this format.”
The grueling three-week match, every minute of which has been broadcast live in Norway across two channels, was poised on a knife-edge after a record 12 straight draws in the classical version of the game.
Moment of weakness
The previous record had been just eight in Kasparov’s 1995 match against Vishy Anand.
Carlsen, 27, and Caruana, 26, then had to enter overtime to battle it out in rapid and, if needed, blitz – two much faster forms of the game – to find a victor.
Carlsen had the advantage of playing with the white pieces for the first of four mini-games and won swiftly after Caruana blundered. It was the first moment of weakness the American had shown all match.
Jonathan Hawkins: Did Caruana nominate Trent to play the rapidplay for him or something? #CarlsenCaruana
— Daniel Gormally (@elgransenor1) November 28, 2018
Carlsen then followed up in the second game as Caruana wilted under the pressure in the fully-enclosed sound-proofed glass tank they were playing in at The College, Holborn. It left Carlsen two nil up and needing just a draw. He then won the final game to secure the result and a very painful end for the American.
Carlsen, who has held the title now for five years, was the heavy favourite going into the playoffs. He is the world’s number one rapid and blitz player, while Caruana is only ranked 8th and 16th respectively.
"It was a good day at work" pic.twitter.com/25d02pvvo8
— David Llada ♞ (@davidllada) November 28, 2018
The main section of the match was described by some as one of the most boring in history as the ultra-high level of play from Carlsen and Caruana only resulted in the world’s top two players battling themselves to a standstill.
However, off the board, there were a series of incidents that have spiced up the match, held in London for the first time since 2000.
‘It was so, so tense’
In round 5, Caruana played without knowing a clip that appeared to reveal tightly held secrets of the American challenger’s preparation had been uploaded to YouTube shortly before the game.
Carlsen’s team had seen it and informed the champion, but Caruana only found out at the post-match press conference.
Then it was Carlsen’s turn. In round 5 he turned up sporting a bandage and a black eye having collided with a Norwegian TV reporter while playing football the day before.
He missed a winning chance with an impatient move and the match remained deadlocked.
Added to that, Carlsen has complained about the enclosed glass “fish tank” being too cold and at one key moment the sound-proofing allowing Russian voices to disturb the players.
— Fabiano Caruana (@FabianoCaruana) November 28, 2018
Lucy Hawking, the novelist daughter of British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, was invited to make the ceremonial first move in the playoff.
She said afterward: “The atmosphere in there was electric! It was so, so tense.”
All said and done, Caruana is a thinker first and a warrior second. While with Carlsen it’s the other way around. As the tempo quickened and the importance of each move intensified, it was always likely that Magnus’s martial qualities would prevail. #carlsencarauana2018
— Jonathan Rowson (@Jonathan_Rowson) November 28, 2018
Carlsen is a former child prodigy who has been dubbed everything from the “Mozart of chess” for his symphonic style to the “Justin Bieber of chess”, for his good looks and trendy quiff. He has modeled for a fashion label, been named one of Cosmopolitan’s sexiest men and given interviews to teen girl magazines.
In 2004 he became a grandmaster aged just 13 years and 148 days, making him the second youngest ever at the time after Russian rival Sergey Karjakin.
Hoping for useful tweets for R11. pic.twitter.com/XWmi2IYiMw
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) November 23, 2018
Carlsen won his first world championship in 2013 against Anand before becoming the highest-rated player in the history of chess with a peak rating of 2881 in 2014.
He then defended his title again in 2014 and in 2016 against Karjakin.
Carlsen dominates the international chess scene but until today has had an up and down year that has included a record run of draws in classical chess.
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.