World Championship Game 12: And on to the rapids...

by Antonio Pereira
11/27/2018 – Two years after Magnus Carlsen openly went for a draw with White in the last classical game of his match against Sergey Karjakin, the World Champion offered a draw in a playable — slightly superior — position to take the struggle to rapid tiebreaks. Fabiano Caruana understandably agreed to split the point and now everything will be decided on Wednesday, when four rapid games — and blitz and Armageddon if the tie is not broken — will determine the champion. Guest analysis by GM WESLEY SO and GM ERWIN L'AMI. | Photos: World Chess

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"It’s just absurd. I’m completely shocked"

It first looked like a far-fetched scenario, but as the match progressed it became increasingly likely; especially those who think classical chess needs to be somehow modified or adjusted to the new computer era were very keen to talk about it; all eyes were put on the two players that are clearly on top of the chess elite...and it finally happened: the classical portion of the match ended with all draws. It is the first time in history that this happens in a World Championship match. 

We cannot say it was without excitement, though. Carlsen replied to Fabiano's 1.e4 exclusively with the Sicilian — and Caruana did not stop using Fischer's 'best by test' move nonetheless. In fact, the World Champion was very close to starting the match with a win, which would have undoubtedly changed the whole dynamics of the duel. And there were more wasted chances for both sides...

With the score tied, one game to go, Carlsen a clear favourite to win the tiebreaks and Caruana having the white pieces in the last game, the stage was set for a great show. Then, everything seemed to go the spectators' way: another Sicilian appeared on the board; for the first time in the match, Magnus outprepared Fabiano with the black pieces; the Challenger had a chance to go for a repetition, but refuted to do so; a complex struggle ensued, with Caruana low on time…do not miss the analyses below by star annotators Wesley So and Erwin l'Ami. But the main story of the day was the 'last move': Carlsen offering a draw from a position of strength!

It was tough

The 'Today in Chess' show, produced by the Saint Louis Chess Club, brought two connoisseurs as guests: former World Champion Garry Kasparov and the person who took the crown from his hands, Vladimir Kramnik. When the game abruptly finished with an agreed draw, the latter was asked what his immediate reaction was. Kramnik:

Let me tell the first word which comes to my mind: It’s a shame…He’s just better without any risk. How can you offer a draw? This is out of the question for me. He can offer a draw any time — in 10-15 minutes. It’s just absurd — something is wrong with Magnus. I have a feeling he cannot withhold the pressure. He’s a great chess player but this is not the way you play a World Championship. You have to fight, especially in such positions. It’s frankly showing such a weakness.

I can understand if he would be one point ahead, and maybe offer a draw in this position, but maybe not. It’s just absurd. I’m completely shocked.

After the tense struggle, the players still had to face the press

These are strong words, but there is something to be said about Carlsen's decision: it is now evident that he was happy to draw and go for the tiebreaks, naturally. Having the black pieces against one of the better-prepared players in the world, who incidentally has also shown great nerves throughout the match, Magnus probably arrived in the game with the idea that a draw was a desirable result. Apparently, he could not adjust this mindset during the game, when he actually got the upper hand.

Nerves, of course, played a big role — both Kasparov and Kramnik talked about their previous experiences in this regard. Kasparov:

I never was in the same situation. All decisive games I played, that was the last game of the match. Either I had to win or draw to retain the title, so whatever your plan was, that was it.

Garry then correctly pointed out that you could not think about a tiebreak — there was none. He concluded:

Every game was all or nothing. This is not all or nothing.

A packed house on Monday

Kramnik, on the other hand, talked about how it might be different for some players to deal with the pressure and find ways to motivate themselves:

My approach was always just to forget about it. Think about the game — as if I were playing a regular game…in such moments, especially in a World Championship match. Maybe I have a strange and old fashioned way of seeing it, but it’s already not so much up to you what will happen…the only thing which you control is your player, your stamina, not to get too nervous, to play as well as you can at this particular moment. [...] As simple as it sounds.

He speculated that he might have a different approach than Magnus:

Maybe [other players] need another approach — exactly the opposite — to get to [their] best. It’s very individual, it depends very much on your temperament [and] on your character…so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

There is a lot of room for discussion, but the outcome of the game now means that the players will probably have a couple of long nights ahead before deciding who will be regarded as 'World Champion' for the next two years. The tied score after the classical portion changed the paying structure from 60/40 to 55/45, but it seems this is the last thing the players are thinking about. When asked, Carlsen said he was not even aware of the regulation and Caruana replied: "I don't care about the money".

Anyway, it will all be decided on Wednesday when Carlsen will have the white pieces in the first rapid game at the same starting time.

Will Caruana get to beat Magnus in the tiebreaks?

Replay the first moves of Game 12 with commentary

Judit Polgar: "I think it's the most stressful game of his life, no doubt about it"

Match standings


Game 12 summary

GM Daniel King presents a brief summary of the game

Game 12 press conference

Caruana: "I was a bit surprised by the draw offer..."

Game 12 analysed by Wesley So

Current world's number 10 and someone who will very much be in the run to qualify for the next match, Wesley So, took a closer look at the game. He wrote about the Challenger:

"All his tournaments, all the work of his life has been aimed at reaching this point. After accomplishing everything necessary to reach the goal of playing for the World Championship, Fabiano has survived eleven tough rounds to get to this last game. I cannot think of any game where there's so much to play for."


Round-up shows

GM Erwin l'Ami reviews the game

All games of the match


Macauley Peterson contributed reporting from London


Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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