GM Rogers on London: Carlsen and Caruana Draw Marathon Game to Open Championship

Game one in Caruana-Carlsen, Photo Cathy Rogers
 Ian Rogers reports on the vibe of first day of the title match in London Queuing for an hour outside the venue for the World Chess Championship, The College in Holborn, in order to enter to see the first game has both pros and cons. The cons are obvious – London weather – but the pros are not inconsiderable. Firstly the camaraderie built up with others in the queue which, approaching 2 PM, an hour before the game, numbered more than 50 people, journalists and chess fans. Secondly one could watch World Chess supremo Ilya Merenzon sans accreditation being refused entry by a diligent security guard - though after a few phone calls to the right people he was allowed in to the College, out of the cold. In contrast, Woody Harrelson walked straight up to the door, said “I’m making the first move,” and was immediately allowed in by the star-struck guard. Thirdly, and remarkably, there was the number of people who approached the security guard asking about watching the match, only to be told that the first game was sold out and to try online for later games. Once entering The College media and spectators queue again for wristbands which provide entry to most parts of the building: the playing hall, bookshop, commentary room, cafe, playing room and chill room. The commentary room with Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf is particularly popular, though with seating only for 20 and limited standing room, it is frequently full – especially when Woody Harrelson joins the commentary.
Woody Harrelson with World Chess Championship commentators IM Anna Rudolf and GM Judit Polgar, Photo Cathy Rogers 
Upon entry to The College, the media are shocked to learn that World Chess has suddenly cancelled all accreditation for photographers and asked everyone to reapply by email! The 30 quickest to respond will then be allowed into the glass cube for the allotted 5 minutes. Despite a mad panic, in the end it seems every major media organization – including Getty, Reuters, multiple English and Norwegian media representatives plus the chess media - manage to squeeze in. Press officer Daniel King somehow controls and pacifies the media pack so that everyone can capture the fun when Woody Harrelson knocks over Caruana’s king, apparently mishears and makes the wrong first move, and finally keeps Caruana happy by changing his choice to 1.e4!. “Can I play something else?” Caruana plaintively asked the arbiter after seeing 1.d4. “I thought you said 1.d4,” replied Harrelson. (It was a joke, Harrelson said later, surprising both player who probably just thought he was a bumbling celebrity.)
Woody Harrelson makes the first move in Caruana-Carlsen, Photo Cathy Rogers
Once the game was underway the media and spectators dispersed to different parts of The College with fewer than 50 staying in the theater where the game was being played, watching the players in their glass box while sitting on rather spartan bench seating. However the spectator experience in the theater was otherwise superb. The players could be clearly seen in their glass box and above them (outside the box) were three screens, the center one showing the position and the most recent moves while the other two showed close-ups of the players’ faces. This turns out to be the perfect angle to watch the development of the players’ thoughts, much more interesting than showing the players just sitting at a board. It had been understood that a total of roughly 400 VIP and regular tickets were on sale each day but, curiously for a sold-out event, the number of paying spectators seemed to be only half that number. A head count revealed little more than 300 people in the building, of which the 60 press, about half of the 75 beautiful people in the VIP room, as well as the staff, would not have bought tickets. The positive upshot of having only, say, 200 paying spectators instead of 400 as expected, is that what seemed at first like a too-small venue turns out to be perfectly adequate (except for the severely overcrowded media room). For example, a playing arena holding little more than 100 turned out to offer ample space (except in the first 10 minutes when the media invaded).
Fabiano with Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield, co-founder of the Saint Louis Chess Club, Photo Cathy Rogers
The crowd generally seemed knowledgeable, though it was notable that more than half left very soon after move 40; evidently English dinner time. Their decision turned out to be quite reasonable, given that Carlsen, having lost his considerable middlegame advantage decided to try to grind down Caruana in a position where many less determined players would have agreed a draw.
World Champion Magnus Carlsen, Photo Cathy Rogers
It took another 3 hours before the game was over and the players emerged to a surprisingly crowded press conference, with 30 journalists and a handful of hardy spectators. “There were definitely a lot of nerves,” admitted Caruana. “It is a very different feeling playing the first game of a world championship match in front of so many cameras.” Carlsen, who knew that he should have converted his highly favorable position, admitted “I couldn’t quite find the knockout [and] played a bit too cautiously.” A huge save for Caruana who would have faced a massive task had he lost the first game and faced six Black’s from his next 10 games afterwards.

[Event "WCh 2018"]
[Site "London ENG"]
[Date "2018.11.09"]
[White "Caruana, F."]
[Black "Carlsen, M."]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B31"]
[WhiteElo "2832"]
[BlackElo "2835"]
[Annotator "GM Ian Rogers "]
[PlyCount "229"]
[EventDate "2018.11.09"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. d3 Bg7 6. h3 Nf6 7. Nc3 Nd7 {
Both Carlsen and Caruana have played the standard 7...0-0 this year - and
Carlsen beat Caruana with this move in 2015 - but the possible benefits of
delaying castling are also well known.} 8. Be3 e5 9. O-O {This is not
considered as flexible as 9.Qd2 and Carlsen takes advantage by continuing to
keep his king’s final destination a mystery.} b6 10. Nh2 Nf8 11. f4 exf4 12.
Rxf4 Be6 13. Rf2 h6 14. Qd2 g5 15. Raf1 {White is drifting into a position
which looks good but which offers White nothing constructive to do. Here or
last move 14.a4 would have been useful, making Black’s king a little less
safe when it lands on the queenside.} Qd6 16. Ng4 {After the game Caruana
could not pinpoint where he had started to head seriously downhill, but this
may be the moment, since the knight does nothing on f6. 16.Nf3 was still
roughly equal.} O-O-O 17. Nf6 Nd7 $1 18. Nh5 Be5 19. g4 f6 $1 {A strange
position where White’s hold over the light squares is not as secure as it
seems. Black does not mind White’s knight repositioning to f5 via g7 as this
would allow Black to open the h file with ...h5 later.} 20. b3 Bf7 21. Nd1 Nf8
$5 {Hardly a necessary pawn sacrifice, but with Caruana half an hour behind on
the clock, Carlsen decides to step up the pressure, with little risk.} 22. Nxf6
Ne6 23. Nh5 {The computers found 23.Nd7! Be5 24.Nf6! with (so they say)
equality but a human with 10 minutes left was never likely to investigate such
a path deeply.} Bxh5 24. gxh5 Nf4 25. Bxf4 gxf4 26. Rg2 {Played quickly, but
the exchange sacrifice 26.Rxf4! should hold.} Rhg8 27. Qe2 Rxg2+ 28. Qxg2 Qe6
29. Nf2 Rg8 30. Ng4 Qe8 31. Qf3 Qxh5 32. Kf2 Bc7 33. Ke2 Qg5 $1 34. Nh2 {
A desperate decision, with 6 seconds left on the clock.} h5 $1 35. Rf2 {
Again running it close - 4 seconds remaining when Caruana moved.} Qg1 36. Nf1 {
8 seconds to spare this time, but after this move, and Carlsen’s long think,
Caruana began to look rather less downcast. Here a mobile phone went off in
the VIP section of the audience but the players did not stir; a good
indication that the glass box is well sound-proofed.} h4 37. Kd2 {Here and
earlier, the computer suggests 37.e5, but from Caruana’s point of view it
would be crazy to risk losing such a key pawn just before the time control.}
Kb7 38. c3 {Now Carlsen briefly started biting his nails before returning to a
less revealing thinking pose.} Be5 {Having played 36...h4, Black should feel
almost obligated to follow with 38...Rg3!, though 39.Nxg3 hxg3 40.Re2 Qa1 41.
e5 might look a bit scary. However as the engines show, Black can take the
White queenside pawns and finish the attack just before the e pawn queens,
though again, if Carlsen gets his calculation even slightly wrong he will have
thrown away the win.} 39. Kc2 Qg7 $2 {The queen on g1 was like a nail in
Caruana’s knee. After more patient play, e.g. 39...b5!, White is suffering
badly. Carlsen was nervous about 39...b5 40.b4!?, but if that was a concern
then starting with 39...a5 was sensible and also very strong.} 40. Nh2 $1 Bxc3
$6 {Played with 12 seconds to spare. From his countenance over the past four
moves, Carlsen clearly believed that, with the White knight coming to g4, he
had blown his advantage and now he knew he was also not going to win on time.
Black could still play for a significant advantage with 40...Qg3, with the
idea 41.Ng4 Rxg4! 42.hxg4 h3. Even 40...Qg1 would keep some edge} 41. Qxf4 Bd4
42. Qf7+ $1 Ka6 43. Qxg7 Rxg7 44. Re2 Rg3 45. Ng4 Rxh3 46. e5 $1 {“[Now]it
seems like it objectively should be a draw,” said Caruana, “[though] there
were many more hours of suffering.”} Rf3 47. e6 Rf8 48. e7 Re8 49. Nh6 h3 50.
Nf5 Bf6 51. a3 $1 b5 52. b4 $1 cxb4 53. axb4 Bxe7 54. Nxe7 h2 55. Rxh2 Rxe7 56.
Rh6 Kb6 {The rest of the game was well summarized by Carlsen, who said “I
just moved around hoping to force a blunder, but I didn’t succeed.”} 57.
Kc3 Rd7 58. Rg6 Kc7 59. Rh6 Rd6 60. Rh8 Rg6 61. Ra8 Kb7 62. Rh8 Rg5 63. Rh7+
Kb6 64. Rh6 Rg1 65. Kc2 Rf1 66. Rg6 Rh1 67. Rf6 Rh8 68. Kc3 Ra8 69. d4 Rd8 70.
Rh6 Rd7 71. Rg6 Kc7 72. Rg5 Rd6 73. Rg8 Rh6 74. Ra8 Rh3+ 75. Kc2 Ra3 76. Kb2
Ra4 77. Kc3 a6 78. Rh8 Ra3+ 79. Kb2 Rg3 80. Kc2 Rg5 81. Rh6 Rd5 82. Kc3 Rd6 83.
Rh8 Rg6 84. Kc2 Kb7 85. Kc3 Rg3+ 86. Kc2 Rg1 87. Rh5 Rg2+ 88. Kc3 Rg3+ 89. Kc2
Rg4 90. Kc3 Kb6 91. Rh6 Rg5 92. Rf6 Rh5 93. Rg6 Rh3+ 94. Kc2 Rh5 95. Kc3 Rd5
96. Rh6 Kc7 97. Rh7+ Rd7 98. Rh5 Rd6 99. Rh8 Rg6 100. Rf8 Rg3+ 101. Kc2 Ra3
102. Rf7+ Kd6 103. Ra7 Kd5 104. Kb2 Rd3 105. Rxa6 Rxd4 106. Kb3 Re4 107. Kc3
Rc4+ 108. Kb3 Kd4 109. Rb6 Kd3 110. Ra6 Rc2 111. Rb6 Rc3+ 112. Kb2 Rc4 113. Kb3
Kd4 114. Ra6 Kd5 115. Ra8 1/2-1/2

“This was not the most pleasant experience to defend this extremely long game with White,” said Caruana. “I am relieved to have escaped." The second game will begin tomorrow, November 10, at 10am AEST. is the tournament website. The Today in Chess broadcast daily starting at 12 Noon ET  will feature a star-studded schedule of interviews. Full list of viewing options in our Couch Potato guide. Find our media kit and mainstream media round-up here.