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One more Magnus Carlsen-Fabiano Caruana draw sends tied chess title match to rapid playoff

November 26, 2018

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

It was the first world chess title match ever without a single decisive result, as the world’s two top-ranked players continually probed but never managed to crack their opponent through a dozen games in London. Carlsen’s decision 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 his next eight moves.

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, it was Carlsen who unexpectedly offered to split the point on Move 31.

The match will be decided Wednesday with a four-game rapid playoff, in which each player has just 25 minutes to play his entire game. If they are still tied, the match will come down to a series of games at an even faster, “blitz” time controls.

The unprecedented run of draws has sparked serious talk that the match format needs an overhaul. One popular idea, though it could definitely draw out the proceedings, 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.

Caruana-Carlsen, World Championship Match, 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.

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