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Magnus Carlsen defeats Fabiano Caruana to win the Chess World Championship

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A chess champion is crowned as Norwegian player, Magnus Carlsen, defends his title against Fabiano Caruana, winning his third consecutive World Championship. 

Fabiano Caruana during Game 1

Image courtesy of Nadia Panteleeva

Many expected the showdown between the reigning champion and American, Fabiano Caruana to be closely contested, but few, if any, expected it to be just this evenly matched. The format of the tournament included 12 classical (long format) games, which ended up in a tie-breaker after the entire dozen of them resulted in draws, and several tie-breaker games in rapid chess (shorter games).

Each player had moments where a win looked inevitable or the time left on their clock was dangerously low while defending a possible checkmate, so while the scores were dead even after regulation, the classical portion was full of both drama and tension.

Carlsen, the expected favourite in the match, came out of the gates swinging in the first of the 12 games, securing a quick advantage within the first 30 moves. As the game rolled into its middle stages, analysts expected Magnus to find a crafty mating pattern, but although Fabiano let his time allotted in the game wander as low as 8 seconds, he eeked out a draw in a drawn out end game. At 7 and a half hours and 115 moves per player, Game 1 ended as one of the longest World Championship games in history.

Caruana returned the favour in game two, catching his opponent by surprise when he played a move stepped outside of the expected opening sequence with a complicated variation that hasn’t been seen in high level play for over 40 years. When asked what was going through Magnus’s mind when Fabiano switched things up, he replied, “Oh shit... mainly." As a result, the Norwegian player sacrificed heaps of his time for the game, but ended up calculating the position properly and secured another draw.

The drama in this year’s World Championship match extended well beyond the chessboard’s 64 squares, after a promotional YouTube video supposedly leaked crucial aspects of Caruana’s preparations to the public as well as his opponent after the first few games. The footage showed Fabiano studying for the championship match with Carlsen in a getaway house with several other Grandmasters, known as his ‘seconds’. A brief camera cut to a laptop screen showed a list of openings that Caruana had been preparing for the match.

The supposed leak from Caruana's camp

When asked for thoughts on the controversial leak, Magnus smugly said he’d have to, “have a look at the video,” before making up his mind. It’s hard to say whether or not this had any effect on the result of the match, but there’s no doubt that it had a mental effect on the American challenger going into the following games.

Things were mostly steady until the 8th game, where many thought Magnus Carlsen blundered his chances away mid-game. At one point, commentators were claiming that, “we have a new world champion” in Fabiano Caruana, but a dubious pawn push just several moves later left the audience gasping and the evaluation back at even.  This gave Magnus the brief opportunity to close up holes in his defence, concluding in yet another draw.

The two players headed into game 12 deadlocked, where a winner for either would crown them as the World Champion. Carlsen had a significant advantage according to computer engines and Grandmasters alike, but surprised the world when he offered a draw as an endgame that favoured the Norwegian approached. This left many, including former World Champion Garry Kasparov, somewhere between confused and annoyed that they didn’t get the exciting ending to regulation that they’d hoped for.

Magnus, however, was playing for the win rather than an exciting showdown in game 12 and knew he had a significant advantage in the rapid format of the tie-breaker games. Naturally, players lose some of their ability to calculate with shorter time constraints, but Carlsen, who’s been known as the Mozart of Chess for the majority of his life, is thought to lose far less of his ability than other Grandmasters to make the right decisions under the gun.

His spur of the moment calculations were on display for the world this Wednesday as he blew Fabiano out of the water in the tiebreaker match, soundly winning 3 of the 3 rapid games played for his third consecutive title. Most expected Carlsen to edge out of a victory in the tiebreaker, but few thought it’d come in such a dominating fashion after such 12 highly contested games leading up to it.                                                                      

Image courtesy of Nadia Panteleeva

In the press conference following the event, Magnus claimed that his chess game hadn’t necessarily been great over the past few years (ironic considering the trophy he was about to receive), but hopes that the relieved pressure of having to defend this title will allow him to open up his game and further evolve his style.

The next World Championship match won’t be until 2020, but the popularity of the event (with features on CBS, BBC, Al Jazeera, and CNN to name a few) ensures that chess itself will be an exciting sport to watch until then. A new dating app aimed at chess players called ‘Mates’ is supposedly one of the first steps to not only introduce the game to the younger generation, but also help define the mind crunching board game as cool.   

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