The most anticipated World Championship match in recent memory has just crossed the halfway point, with Magnus Carlsen employing his second straight White in Game 7 after an epic draw in Game 6. Today’s 40-move draw followed the recurring narrative of the match—Magnus got surprised as White in the opening, avoided the critical continuations in favor of something safe, but failed to get any real pressure and Caruana held comfortably as Black. The match now stands tied at 3.5 – 3.5, with five games to play before an impending rapid tiebreak.
British junior Shreyas Royal started Game 7 with 1.d4, a repeat of Game 2. (Photo: Eric Rosen)
After starting with 1.d4, 1.c4, and 1.e4 in his first three White games, today Carlsen returned to his first choice of 1.d4. This indicates that his team feels out of the Petroff, Queen’s Gambit Declined, and English Opening with 1…e5 that Caruana has employed so far, the QGD is the best area to seek fresh battleground, with chances to sidestep away from Caruana’s deep preparation. But despite having a better idea of what was coming today, Magnus’s attempts to stir up play in Game 7 were neutralized with a simple plan of exchanging pieces in a symmetrical structure.
The players followed the same line as played in Game 2, reaching the same position after nine moves:
This is where Carlsen deviated from their previous game with 10.Nd2 instead of the main line 10.Rd1. This somewhat rare move likely did not surprise Fabiano, who then delivered the first ‘real surprise’ of the game with 10…Qd8.
Now Carlsen started thinking, confirming later in the press conference that while he knew 10…Qd8 was a move, he just didn’t expect it today. Magnus had a few chances to head for a sharp position with White, but opted to play it safe, presumably again wary about the depth of Fabiano’s preparation.
Evaluating the risks of a sharp struggle. (Photo: Eric Rosen)
What followed was a middlegame where the computer evaluation remained almost dead equal for the entire time, but both players felt that White had a little pressure once he landed the favorable combination of queen and knight vs. queen and bishop late in the middlegame. Despite that, accurate play by Caruana again nullified White’s advantage and the players found a natural three-time repetition in an equal bishop vs. knight endgame towards the end of the first time control.
Since round two Caruana has shown no signs of cracking. Another solid day at the office. (Photo: Eric Rosen)
After the game, the players were seen discussing in the match room for a few minutes, comparing different lines they considered in the middlegame. In a post-game interview, Caruana remained objective and kept his cool, giving the following summary: “I played a bit carelessly near the end, and got [under] some slight pressure which I didn’t expect. I kind of underestimated the danger, but still it was very much a draw. Overall, a solid draw without too many problems is a good result.”
In his own interview Carlsen also downplayed whatever chances he may have had: “I think what I played was a little too slow, and I ended up getting nothing. I was hoping to kind of outplay him in the ending with knight against bishop but I don’t think there was anything there.”
In the press conference, the players were again faced with the perennial question of why White’s theoretical advantage in the match has seemingly been neutralized day in and day out. Caruana was quick to point out that although he held somewhat comfortably today, he was never better at any point, and still had to play accurately in order not to fall worse.
The players had no new answers to the question, “…is Black the new White?” (Photo: Eric Rosen)
For this reporter, this was my first time visiting a World Championship match, and I was quite pleased with the spectator experience provided at the match venue in London. There was a few spots to watch the official commentary with GM Judit Polgar and IM Anna Rudolf, always with a decent view of the players and a solid cafe. There seemed to be enough room as long as people kept moving—from the game room, to the cafe, to the commentary room, to the shop, outside for a breath of air, and so on!
I will be covering tomorrow’s Game 8 as well. Will Caruana retake the White pieces and continue trying to crack Magnus’s Sicilian, or will we see an earlier surprise?