Miguel Illescas previews Carlsen vs. Caruana

by Miguel Illescas Córdoba
10/15/2018 – We are only weeks away from the start of the World Championship in London, where Magnus Carlsen meets his latest challenger, the American Fabiano Caruana, and the fans wait impatiently for this impending train collision. It's a match which a priori promises great emotions and high-quality games because we will witness the indisputable numbers 1 and 2 of the world ranking. Grandmaster Miguel Illescas reflects on AlphaZero and wonders if secret preparation tools could make the difference. | Photo: Peón de Rey

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Equality of forces

In the next issue of Peon de Rey (to be released November 1st) I will examine the possibilities that I believe each one of the contenders has. For this, I took the time to analyse exhaustively the games in which they have faced each other, but not only the result — which favours Carlsen in classical mode 57% -43% — but also the moves.

An advance on the conclusions: it seems that, within the margins of a prevailing equality, Magnus has the initiative, but there is a factor that could alter that scenario.

Preparation, men and machines

From my experience as coach and right arm of Vladimir Kramnik in the three World Championship matches in which Volodya [a nickname for Vladimir -Ed.]  triumphed (London 2000 against Kasparov, Brissago 2004 against Leko and Elista 2006 against Topalov), I know that the preparation before the match plays a decisive role in the outcome. Kramnik surrounded himself with a complete team, not only of grandmasters, but of other specialists. It is well known that for the London match we had a physiotherapist and a cook, as well as a bodyguard that Kramnik insisted on hiring in the middle of the match! And of course, we also had a complete computer park, because its importance then was already very large.

There is no doubt that the role of machines in chess preparation has increased since then. Now the databases are larger and the programs stronger, both for their strategic understanding and the speed of calculation of modern processors. Therefore, it is natural that a fundamental element in the team of the protagonists of the next match in London has to be the technological one. They need to have powerful hardware and an expert team who knows how to get the most out of it.

AlphaZero and American patriotism

What will be the program or programs that Carlsen and Fabiano will use in their preparation? And which computers? Simple laptops or more powerful machines? In the next issue of Peon de Rey we develop some hypotheses, but one of the questions that floats in the air, and that we raised in the magazine last January is the following: could Google allow Caruana to have the help of ALPHAZERO? There are few nations with as high a patriotic sense as the United States of America, and after all, Google is an American company, and the world chess title an iconic prize.

For those who do not know who or what ALPHAZERO is, I am pleased to share the article I signed at number 132 of Peon de Rey, and that ends with the following reflection: "If any elite player had access to the 1,300 games played by ALPHAZERO or the complete statistics of the 44 million games of training, it would have a huge competitive advantage compared to his colleagues. Everything is in the hands of Google".

AlphaZero games to replay and download


Download the full article by Miguel Illescas from Peón de Rey # 132 (PDF)

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The next issue of Peón de Rey #137 will be released November 1st


Miguel is a Spanish chess player born in Barcelona. He is the editor of the chess magazine "Peón de Rey" and contributes to the daily newspaper "La Vanguardia" where he tests readers with different chess moves.


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