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Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana face playoff after a dozen draws in world chess title fight

November 27, 2018

In a baffling end to a less-than-stellar match, world champion Magnus Carlsen offered a draw in a superior position to American challenger Fabiano Caruana on Monday, marking the 12th and final consecutive draw in their title match and setting up a rapid chess playoff for the crown Wednesday in London.

It was the first world chess title match in the history of the game without a single decisive result, as the world’s two top-ranked players continually probed but never managed to break through. Carlsen should have won Game 1, Caruana had excellent chances in Game 9, but each time the position petered out into a draw.

Carlsen’s decision Monday to offer the draw quickly accepted by White was even more difficult to understand since Caruana, facing a growing attack on his castled king, had barely six minutes left on his clock to make the 40-move time control.

Despite outplaying his opponent from the Black side of a Sicilian Sveshnikov Defense, Carlsen missed a number of opportunities to sharpen the play, with many grandmasters and computer programs saying Black could have obtained a strong initiative with the aggressive 25...exf4 26. Bxf4 b5!, threatening to open up multiple attacking lines to the White king.

The Norwegian champ chose a slower approach, maintaining a clear clamp on the position and keeping Caruana, seeking to be the first American-born world champion since Bobby Fischer, on the defensive. But despite the champ’s penchant for making his opponents suffer for long stretches in unpleasant positions, Carlsen surprisingly offered to split the point on Move 31.

One reason behind the champ’s decision may be that his rapid rating is significantly higher than Caruana’s. His career rapid record against the American is 13-6, with four draws, according to ChessGames.com.

The unprecedented run of draws in a match that attracted unusually broad mainstream coverage has sparked talk that the championship match format needs an overhaul. One popular idea is to count only wins and say the winner is the first player to achieve a set number of victories the format Fischer wanted in his forfeited 1975 title match.

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While the London championship proved a drawfest, Chinese women’s world champion GM Ju Wenjun took care of business, surviving the 64-player FIDE women’s knockout tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, to retain her title last week. Ju pulled out a vital win in the four-game finals against Russian GM Kateryna Lagno to knot the match at 2-2, and went on to win the four-game rapid playoff 3-1.

Ju saved her title with a fantastic attack with Black against Lagno Rossolimo Sicilian, capped by a line-opening rook sacrifice that leads to checkmate: 30...Rxg3+! 31. hxg3 Rxg3+ 32. Kf2 Rg2+, and Lagno resigned facing 33. Ke3 (Ke1 Qg3+ 32. Rf2 Qxg2 mate) Qg3+ 34. Qf3 Qxf3 mate.

Caruana-Carlsen, World Championship, Game 12, London, November 2018

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Nd5 Nxd5 8. exd5 Ne7 9. c4 Ng6 10. Qa4 Bd7 11. Qb4 Bf5 12. h4 h5 13. Qa4 Bd7 14. Qb4 Bf5 15. Be3 a6 16. Nc3 Qc7 17. g3 Be7 18. f3 Nf8 19. Ne4 Nd7 20. Bd3 O-O 21. Rh2 Rac8 22. O-O-O Bg6 23. Rc2 f5 24. Nf2 Nc5 25. f4 a5 26. Qd2 e4 27. Be2 Be8 28. Kb1 Bf6 29. Re1 a4 30. Qb4 g6 31. Rd1 Ra8 Draw agreed.

Lagno-Ju, Women’s World Knockout Championship, Rapid Play-off, Game 4, Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, November 2018

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. O-O Bg7 5. Re1 e5 6. a3 Nge7 7. Nc3 O-O 8. Bc4 d6 9. d3 h6 10. Nd5 Kh7 11. c3 f5 12. exf5 gxf5 13. b4 Ng6 14. b5 Na5 15. Ba2 Be6 16. Qa4 b6 17. Bd2 Rg8 18. Rad1 Qd7 19. Nh4 Bh8 20. Nxg6 Rxg6 21. Qh4 Rag8 22. g3 Qf7 23. c4 Bf6 24. Nxf6+ Rxf6 25. f4 Rg4 26. Qh3 Rfg6 27. Rf1 Qg7 28. Kh1 Bc8 29. Qh5 Bb7+ 30. Kg1 Rxg3+ 31. hxg3 Rxg3+ 32. Kf2 Rg2+ White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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