The World Chess Championship: Round 1

The 2018 World Chess Championship Match kicked off yesterday, the 9th of November, in incredible fashion. While the challenger had the opportunity to start with the white pieces, it was the champion that was almost scoring a full point on the night, but for the loss of grit, which the champion used to be known for.

To start off the match, the World Chess gave US actor Woody Harrelson the honor of being the first person to move a chess piece and the official First Move Ceremony of the FIDE World Chess Championships, and he was supported by the FIDE President, Arkady Dvorkovich, CEO of World Chess Ilya Merenzon and Vice President and Member of the Board of Trustees of the Russian Chess Federation, CEO of PhosAgro Andrey Guryev.

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Woody Harrelson making the first move: Photo Credit – Nadia Panteleeva

The World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, almost got the perfect result – a win – in Game 1 of his title defense, against Fabiano Caruana. But at several critical moments, Carlsen missed his best moves (which is pretty much unlike the younger Carlsen), allowing Caruana to wriggle out with a draw.
Though the result was a disappointing one for Carlsen, it was anything but that for the fans, and even though most would have said “just accept the draw already after move 72”, the game stretched 115 moves and nearly six hours before the players agreed to split the point.

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Magnus Carlsen Awaiting Fabiano Caruana: Photo Credit – Nadia Panteleeva

Magnus Carlsen, 27, who hails from Norway, is making his third title defense, after picking up the crown in 2013, when he defeated Viswanathan Anand of India. However, Fabiano Caruana, 26, who is American, is playing his first match for the title, after missing out on the opportunity with a final game loss to Sergey Karjakin when he had to win, but lost. Caruana has since been in a superlative form (not as much as Ding though), and carried the form on to win the Candidates tournament earlier in the year and rose to being the number 2 chess player in the world. Carlsen is ranked Number 1 in the world, while Caruana is Number 2. It is the first time since 1990, when Garry Kasparov faced Anatoly Karpov, that Nos. 1 and 2 have faced off for the undisputed title, and the question beckon: would the result of the year 1990 occur again?

The match, holding in central London, at The College in Holborn, which is an historic, Victorian-style building, is organized under the auspices of the World Chess Federation, who are the game’s governing body, and World Chess, being the official organizer of the World Championship Cycle.

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The World Chess Logo

The match is being televised on worldchess.com/london, the official broadcasting platform.

The match, which is a best-of-12 games, has a prize fund of a million euros (about $1.1 million), with 60 percent for the winner. Each win is worth a point, and each draw, half point. The first player to reach 6.5 points is declared the winner. (If the match should be tied after 12 games, the players will proceed to a series of tie-breakers, which consists of Rapid, Blitz and Armageddon, where the winner of the match would receive 55 percent of the prize fund.)

Partners for The World Chess Championship Match:

PhosAgro, a leading chemical company, is the Official Strategic Partner;

Kaspersky Lab, World Chess and FIDE’s Official Cyber-Security Partner;

PRYTEK as Technology Transfer Partner;

S.T. Dupont as Official Writing Instrument;

Isklar as the official mineral water of the Championship Match;

Unibet as the Official Betting Partner.

It is also great to note that the match has received worldwide media exposure, with articles in The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and ESPN, among others.

Carlsen and Caruana are well acquainted, having played each other at classical, or slow, time controls almost three dozen times (officially). They know each other’s style; they have no secrets. But, in World Championship Matches, where the pressure is at the highest level, every small edge counts, and so anything a player can do to surprise his opponent is significant. Other than playing psychological games, or resorting to gamesmanship, which neither Carlsen nor Caruana is known to do, the only real way to surprise the opponent is with opening strategy and opening choices.

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Caruana vs Carlsen: Photo Credit – Nadia Panteleeva

In Round 1, the edge certainly went to Carlsen. Against Caruana’s 1. e4, Carlsen chose the Sicilian Defense, perhaps the most double-edged reply. It has not been a standard part of Carlsen’s repertoire for some time and is a provocative choice in such a high-stakes match. (The opening choice may also indicate that Carlsen prepared for the match with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, a noted Sicilian expert, who is a month older than Carlsen. The members of each player’s team of seconds is usually a well-guarded secret because it can tip the opponent off about the pre-match preparation).

After Carlsen played 2… Nc6, perhaps indicating that he wanted to enter the Sveshnikov Variation, Caruana countered with 3. Bb5 — the Rossolimo Variation, which Anand used against Boris Gelfand during their 2012 title match. Caruana’s opening choice was possibly meant to avoid the maze of complications of the Sveshnikov, but it backfired as Carlsen gradually took control.

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Diagram of the Rossolimo Sicilian: Photo Courtesy – http://www.thechesswebsite.com/rossolimo-attack/

As the first time-control approached on Move 40, Caruana’s time was dwindling rapidly and his position was under pressure as Carlsen managed to open up the file in front of Caruana’s king. Caruana decided that his best chance lay in a flight of his king to the other side of the board, but, according to the various computer engines analyzing the position, that was a mistake. Carlsen could have then swung his queen to the other side of the board and picked off one or two of Caruana’s pawns, which he did not. In the endgame, his Queenside pawns, supported by his dark-square bishop, would have been dangerous, if not lethal. The computers evaluated Carlsen having a strategic advantage of the equivalent of about two pawns – more than enough to be decisive at this level of competition.

But Carlsen did not see the strategy and rather chose to concentrate on the kingside. On his 40th move, he made a fateful decision – he exchanged his dangerous passed f pawn for Caruana’s c pawn. And even though Carlsen retained an advantage, it was now minimal.

After the further exchange of Caruana’s knight for Carlsen’s bishop, as well as a pair of pawns, the players ended up in a rook-and-pawn endgame where Carlsen’s chances to win were quite insufficient, despite having an extra pawn. Carlsen, as is his habit, continued to press for another 60 moves, before he agreed to a draw. And as a Nigerian International Master noted “Carlsen lacks drive, it took a loss against Karjakin to get his groove. Unfortunately a loss against caruana might be his doom” – IM Olufemi Balogun.

The game was one of the longest in World Championship history, eclipsed by one of 124 moves in 1978 between Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi, and another of 122 moves between Carlsen and Anand in 2014.

Carlsen supporters would say this is a good indication that Carlsen has still got the strength to go on, but Caruana fans or those who want Carlsen to lose the crown would say the champ is wasteful and Caruana would take it at the end of the tournament.

And as the second round kicks off, do you think it would be another draw, or would Carlsen/Caruana pull off a win?

What say you?

Courtesy: The World Chess

 

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