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The Chess World Championship Match kicks off

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FIDE’s 2018 World Chess Championship kicked off last week, with reigning champion Magnus Carlsen attempting to defend his title against the American newcomer Fabiano Caruana.

The first 4 games of the match resulted in draws, both contributing to the tension of the event and showing the thorough preparedness of each of its competitors.

The championship is taking place from 9 - 24 November at The College in Holborn London, featuring a total of 12 high-pressure games, which, if resulting in a draw, will lead to a tiebreaker at the end of the month. 

An introduction to the players

Magnus Carlsen has long been referred to as the Mozart of chess and, due to his number one ranking over the past seven years, he's widely considered the greatest player who’s ever lived. He won his first World Championship title from Viswanathan Anand in 2013 and has reigned as the sport’s most dominant figure since.

For an example of the superhuman abilities that Carlsen employs, check out the video below where he plays three simultaneous matches, while blindfolded and with a third of the time afforded to his opponents.

In short, Carlsen was born and raised to be a chess mastermind.

Fabiano Caruana, on the other hand, represents the greatest challenge that Carlsen has faced in his reign as World Champion, as 2018’s match is the first time that the two highest rated players in the world will be squaring off. While Caruana didn’t grow up with quite the mystique of his opponent, he was no slouch growing up, having moved from the US to Madrid at age twelve to begin his professional career as a chess player.

Fabiano Caruana 

Fabiano Caruana. Image credit: Andreas Kontokanis

What to expect from the match

While Magnus is best known for his searing gameplay in both bullet and blitz chess, which have shorter time constraints, the World Championship match is set to follow a more classic format, allowing each player significant time to think in between moves.

While neither player shows much weakness in their game, they each come with their distinct strengths.

Fabiano is known for his array of openings, which can dictate the tempo of each game and possibly catch Magnus off guard.

Carlsen, on the other hand, earns his mastermind status in the middle and end games, where he may make an unorthodox move or two to bring games into uncharted territory. This forces his opponent to stray from what they may have prepared and simply play chess in the moment.

Player mindsets heading into the Championship

Although the games themselves are poised to be tense and mentally straining for both players, the press conference during the event’s opening ceremonies showed that both players are handling the building pressure quite well.

When Fabiano was asked for a figure that he’d like to be compared with to counter Magnus’s 'Mozart' label, the unassuming American quipped that he’d pick someone in the “hip-hop or rock genre.”

Carlsen, on the other hand, was at one point asked if he goes into the match with any female support, to which the 29 year old, who’d previously been labelled one of Cosmopolitan magazine’s Sexiest Men, jested that "Women hate me and I repel them." 

While both players seemed to be enjoying themselves at the press conference, one can only wonder if those good spirits will persist as the million dollar prize pool looms over their moves on the squared circle for the next 3 weeks.  

The match so far

Many agree that game one of the match was the most exciting of the first 4, as Carlsen surprised most (including his opponent) by establishing an early advantage with the black pieces. This is of particular note as the person playing white gets the first move and typically holds what's called a "tempo" advantage. In high-level games, this more often than not leads to black playing defensively and looking for a draw. Magnus threatened to pull away around move 40, but ultimately missed a few key moves allowing Fabiano's defensive play to secure him a draw. Although the competition was dead even after the first round, both players seemed content with the result after an exhausting 7-hour, 106-move game.

As a response to day one, Fabiano came out of the gate swinging with the black pieces for game two, surprising the reigning champion on move 10 with a take that hadn't been played in high-level competition for over 40 years. While this game also ended in a draw, Magnus's response to the move, below, shows that he was clearly caught off guard.

Games three and four were a bit more straightforward, with each resulting in what both players would agree to a draw position in under 50 moves.

While some would see the first four games of the match resulting in a draw as a bit of a let-down, it guarantees each of the remaining 8 to be played at higher stakes. With the threat of a tie-breaker looming after 12 games played, it's only a matter a time before the two players start taking more risks and giving more chances.

To find out more about the Chess World Championship, including how to stream the event, visit the World Chess website here.

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