The World Chess Championship in London was overshadowed by a bizarre incident in round 8 when the playing arena’s unique sound-proofing failed.
The game between Norway’s chess “rock-star” Magnus Carlsen and US challenger Fabiano Caruana was apparently interrupted by irritating chatter despite the players being sat in a double-layered, glass-enclosed “fish-tank”.
Game 8 had been on a knife-edge with Caruana, 27, considering a key move. But while Caruana was in the middle of a 20-minute think, radio feedback and words, believed to in Russian, were heard.
Caruana, who is battling Carlsen to become the first US champion since the legendary Bobby Fischer, then made an error which lost him a clear game-winning advantage. However, both players denied the noise had put them off.
Yet that didn’t stop Carlsen – who hung on for a draw after the blunder – branding the distraction “unacceptable” after the game.
“There were the noises of people talking, but it was not very clear,” he said. “The organisers, they will fix it I’m sure because it was not ok.”
The setting at The College in Holborn resembles a large museum display case with unidirectional glass so spectators can see in, while the players can’t see out.
It is designed to prevent the players from being distracted.
Deputy arbiter Nana Alexandria apologised and said the words weren’t chess-related and so gave no advantage to either player.
Asked if the players were disturbed, she said: “There wasn’t time trouble at that point, but it’s not nice when you are in your thoughts sometimes if you hear even one word then it’s not good, not good of course.”
She said she had never experienced anything like it in her career and an investigation would take place to find out what happened.
Last night’s game went on to end in another draw – the eighth in a row – to leave the 12-round match all-square at 4-4.
The players will enjoy a rest day on Tuesday before round 9 kicks off at 3pm on Wednesday.