2018 World Chess Championship: Game #12

2018 World Chess Championship
Holborn, London, England (November 9th-28th)

Magnus Carlsen (Norway) vs. Fabiano Caruana (USA)
Game 12
Match Score: 6-6
Official Site: https://worldchess.com/

2018 World Chess Championship: Game 12
Monday, 26 November 2018

Carlsen faces scathing criticism after offering draw in better position.
The title will be decided via tiebreaks!

Carlsen offered a draw in this position. Notice the times on the clock! The gesture came as a shock to thousands of viewers and commentators.

The person shocked the most by today’s result was not GM Maurice Ashley who visibly lurched forward and exclaimed “What??!!” after hearing that Magnus Carlsen offered a draw in the 12th game of the championship match. After challenger Fabiano Caruana had lost his way in the middlegame, Carlsen was set to turn in one of this classic grinding wins to win the championship.

Such predictions were circulating around social media. While there is no need to provide a list of comments expressing disappointments, GM Vladimir Kramnik was probably the harshest when it stated that such a ploy should not be taken by a world champion. He then made a statement of support to Caruana!

“It’s a shame for Black to offer a draw in such position!”
~Vladimir Kramnik

What was interesting about the game was the heightened anticipation after a Sveshnikov was trotted out on the board. They repeated the 7.Nd5!? line, but Carlsen varied after 7…Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7 which is not the main line and differs from 8…Nb8 tried in games 8 and 10. The text move offers a reasonable plan which is the shore up the kingside and support an …f5 thrust.

Fast forward.

White dawdled with his queen and viewers were afraid they were going to take a three-fold repetition. No chance! Black began playing useful moves including principled kingside castling and 22…Bg6! Now Carlsen started to assert authority on the position with 23…f5 At this point the tide had swung in black’s favor as a queenside attack was looming.

Caruana had embarked on a dubious plan of 18.f3?! 21.Rh2?! and 23.Rc2. This plan was to shore up the queenside for a pending black onslaught. However, after 27…Be8! 28.Kb1 Bf6 29.Re1, Caruana was shuffling wood trying to find the best setup. Instead of 29…a4? the stronger move was 29…Ba4! and subsequent sacrifices on b3 were evaluated as a winning attack for black.

White plugged up things with 30.Qb4! Now Carlsen started to shut things down… at least in his own mind. After 30…g6 31.Rd1 Ra8 he offered a draw!! Shock reverberated around the chess world which had been salivating for a decisive result. The reality was that Carlsen had already poised himself for a tiebreak and did not want to take a risk of losing the championship when he had not shown much during the match.

Psychology played a big factor in his decision, so he took what he thought may be the better odds in the tiebreaks. However, Hikaru Nakamura who was supporting a Carlsen victory, weighed in with a surprising statement about the match.

Annotations by GM Amon Simutowe

In game 12, Carlsen avoided the risk of running into special preparation by not repeating 8…Nb8 in the Sicilian Sveshnikov. He continued with 8..Ne7 and the game ended in a draw after move 31. Carlsen offered a draw when he had more time on his clock and his pieces were more mobile. I have been in situations when the stakes where quite high before but I typically played on at least a few more moves if slightly better. For instance, if Carlsen played 3 more moves, on one of the responses, Caruana might have taken significant time to respond sinking into time trouble and increasing the probability of making a mistake. Thus, my surprise was more from the time advantage aspect not the slight positional advantage since Caruana could still manage to draw in the final position.

GM Amon Simutowe
Photo by Fred Lucas

Many grandmasters including Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kraminik were not thrilled that Carlsen accepted a draw in a game in which he had a slight positional advantage and noticeable time advantage. Kasparov tweeted that he would reconsider his earlier opinion that Carlsen is the favorite in tiebreaks since tiebreaks require a lot of nerves and taking a draw in a slightly better position did not signify tough nerves.

Fundamentally, Carlsen’s decision to draw may not be as worse as many experts suggested in practice given what was at stake. It would have been easier for Carlsen to play for a win if he needed a win to for instance tie the match. Even Kasparov indicated it was easier for him to play for a win in his final game matches because his situations were typically all or nothing. Also statistically, I think Carlsen made a decent decision to draw. Since Carlsen is slightly better than Caruana in rapid chess based on their rapid ratings, the definition of better in this case is only more applicable over a slightly bigger sample of games.

A higher rating simply means a higher probability of winning and in this case the difference is not really that much at 2700+ level of play since players at this level have no technical weaknesses. Thus, it makes sense for Carlsen to try and win in a 4 game rapid match since he can get a chance to even the score if he loses than press for a win in a game in which a blunder could mean losing the title. Carlsen also indicated that he came into the last match to just get a draw. Changing the mindset during the game is sometimes difficult in practice.

Speculation occurred about Carlsen’s health, but nothing of the sort was mentioned during the press conference. Carlsen explained that he didn’t think he was that much better and mentioned the word “safe” a few times. However, Caruana had only eight minutes life and there was little risk in playing a few more moves since white was squirming. Harsh criticism was swift and some pro-Carlsen fans reacted… some even defected! Garry Kasparov also expressed his candid view…

When asked about the 12 draws and the format, Caruana gave a principled answer by saying that the two have played according to the current regulations, but added that, “If the powers that be want to change it, then we’ll work with something else.” Caruana also mentioned that he’s fine with playing more games and that neither player seemed to be suffering from fatigue.

Throughout the match it appeared from body language and facial expressions that Carlsen was rattled and perhaps his nerves have gotten the best of him. On the other hand Caruana seemed upbeat and cheerful. In this game however, he stated that the felt he was on the precipice of defeat and was relieved to get the draw offer.

Nevertheless, the two will play four rapid tiebreak games followed by a two-game blitz mini-match (up to five such matches until the tie is broken). If the match is still tied, an Armageddon game will be played if necessary. White will have five minutes, but be required to win. A draw with black wins the title. Technically, black can win the title without having won a game… Amazing!

Here is the presser conducted by a befuddled Danny King…

Press Conference (Game #12)

Video by World Chess

Video by GM Daniel King/Power Play Chess

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