Twelfth Draw in London Sends Carlsen-Caruana to Playoffs on Wednesday

The final classical game in London was drawn, Photo IM Eric Rosen
The twelfth straight draw at the Magnus Carlsen-Fabiano Caruana match in London will send the top two chess players in the World into a rapid tiebreak for the World Championship title. The four game rapid match, followed by blitz  and finally, Armageddon if needed, is set for Wednesday, November 28th (10 AM ET). Chess fans braced themselves for anti-climax as Fabiano Caruana was surprised in the Open Sicilian, Sveshnikov Variation. In the previous two Open Sicilians, Fabiano played quickly and confidently, but this time, he quickly got under time pressure after Carlsen's new wrinkle, ....h5. There was a chance the game could end in repetition long before move 30, though Garry Kasparov later said that he was fully confident Caruana would not acquiesce to a draw. Caruana was not immediately rewarded for valiantly fighting on. Instead, the American challenger found himself under pressure on the board on the clock. And then, to the shock of the chess world, Carlsen offered a draw on move 31. IM Kostya Kavutskiy annotates the games, and offers his thoughts on the most controversial draw of the match.

[Event "Carlsen-Caruana FIDE World Chess Champi"]
[Date "2018.11.26"]
[White "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Black "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B33"]
[WhiteElo "2832"]
[BlackElo "2835"]
[Annotator "Kostya"]
[PlyCount "62"]
[EventDate "2018.??.??"]
[WhiteTeam "United States"]
[BlackTeam "Norway"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "USA"]
[BlackTeamCountry "NOR"]

1. e4 {It's important to view this game contextually. Caruana was definitely
looking for a fight, but not to go crazy for a decisive result and just take
what he could get. Meanwhile, Carlsen, in his own words, was perfectly happy
with a draw in order to reach the tiebreaks, looking for a solid position
where he could put safe pressure without any risk of losing. Keeping that in
mind, much more of Carlsen's play makes a lot of sense than it would otherwise!
} c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Nd5 {Caruana
repeated the same line that gave him a promising position in his last two
games as White.} Nxd5 8. exd5 Ne7 $5 {But this time it is Magnus who deviates
first, who was likely tired of getting surprised every game. The main move is
8...Nb8, but I'm sure Caruana's team had examined this sideline as well.} 9. c4
Ng6 10. Qa4 Bd7 11. Qb4 Bf5 12. h4 h5 $146 {A new move, after which Caruana
started to think.} ({A Kramnik game referenced by commentators ever since
Fabiano first went 7.Nd5 in Game 8 continued} 12... a6 13. h5 Nf4 14. Nc3 Be7
15. Be3 Nd3+ 16. Bxd3 Bxd3 17. h6 $1 $14 {which allowed White to gain a
strategic advantage, 1-0 Kramnik-Roganovic, Batumi 2018.}) 13. Qa4 ({As
pointed out by Kasparov,} 13. Bg5 {would seem to be the critical test of
Black's play, trying to induce the weakening move f7-f6. Most likely} Qb8 $5 {
would be seen if Carlsen was still in preparation here, though it's a bit
unnatural from a human point of view.} ({After} 13... f6 14. Be3 {White gets
an improved version of the same position in the game.}) {A potential follow-up
could be} 14. Be2 a6 15. Nc3 Be7 16. Bxe7 Kxe7 17. c5 Rc8 $1 $11 {where Black
is actually perfectly fine. White has other options along the way, but it's
understandable why Caruana would not want to venture down these lines without
sufficient preparation, something we've seen Carlsen do quite a bit in
previous games.}) 13... Bd7 14. Qb4 Bf5 15. Be3 {Fabi correctly (from a
sporting point of view) declined the repetition, to the praise of those
watching.} a6 16. Nc3 Qc7 ({Stockfish actually suggests for Black to sacrifice
a pawn with} 16... Be7 17. Qxb7 {and just} O-O $13 {which certainly seems
playable but leads to an extremely sharp position. Based on how the game ended,
it's pretty clear Carlsen was instead looking for stability today, not chaos.})
17. g3 Be7 18. f3 {This move caused some controversy, though to me it looks
quite sensible, as White keeps control over the e4-square.} ({After} 18. Be2 {
White would need to account for} e4 {with idea of improving the knight on the
e5-square.}) 18... Nf8 {A nice idea, resembling Game 1 where Carlsen first
improved his knight via this square before castling.} 19. Ne4 Nd7 20. Bd3 O-O
21. Rh2 {Another controversial move, though for this one I'm not a fan.
Caruana comes up with a sharp plan to castle queenside and bring the rook to
c2, but concretely it gives Black excellent counterplay.} (21. Nf6+ $2 {
would be an error as after} Bxf6 22. Bxf5 {Black could open lines with} e4 $1
23. Bxe4 Be5 $132 {with huge compensation against White's weaknesses.}) ({But}
21. O-O {seems like the safest option, looking to play Rac1.} Bg6 22. Qd2 {
Stopping Nc5.} b5 23. Rac1 $14 {and White looks slightly better.}) 21... Rac8
22. O-O-O Bg6 23. Rc2 f5 $1 {A very useful move, kicking White's knight off of
e4.} 24. Nf2 (24. Ng5 $6 {would likely be met with} Bxg5 25. hxg5 e4 $1 $15 {
and strategically Black is doing excellent.}) 24... Nc5 25. f4 a5 $5 {This is
where Carlsen's intent for the game starts to become clear. Instead of trying
to open the queenside, given that White's king is sitting on c1, he aims to
keep the position under full control.} ({The players were asked about} 25... b5
{after which Caruana felt that it was quite dangerous for White, but Carlsen
more or less shrugged it off as being 'not what he wanted', despite the
apparent objective strength of the move.} 26. Be2 a5 27. Qd2 b4 $17 {It's a
tough situation to judge as a commentator. It seems misplaced to criticize
Magnus's moves as 'second-rate' because he fully admits they weren't the
best--knew during the game they weren't the best, but made them anyway as he
secured his goal for the final game - reach the tiebreaks. So he sacrificed
the quality of his play in this game in order to win the war--an interesting
decision!}) 26. Qd2 e4 27. Be2 Be8 28. Kb1 Bf6 29. Re1 a4 ({After the game
Fabiano pointed out} 29... Ba4 {as being difficult to meet, as} 30. b3 (30.
Rcc1 b5 $1 31. cxb5 Qb6 $17 {and once Black wins back the b-pawn, the b-file
will be difficult to defend for White.}) {would be met with} 30... Bxb3 $1 31.
axb3 Nxb3 32. Qd1 a4 $1 $19 {with a devastating attack for Black, though
Magnus stated very clearly that he was only interested in solidity.}) 30. Qb4
g6 31. Rd1 Ra8 {Accompanied by what most, including Kasparov could only label
as an 'inexplicable' or 'shocking' or 'cowardly' draw offer, which Caruana
accepted after a bit of thought. At first I was ready to brand Magnus as a
coward as well, but after hearing him in the press conference, where he was
very clear about his intentions for the game (shutting it down), his decision
to offer a draw here seems perfectly reasonable to me. It's not like he was
ever clearly winning, just better. In a tournament, he would press on
undoubtedly, as we've seen him do multiple times even if a draw would clinch
first place! But here, he had his mind set before the game, and accomplished
what he came to do. If it was up to Kasparov, then Caissa would punish Magnus
in the tiebreaks for avoiding a fight here, but we'll just have to see how
things all play out. Tiebreaks ahead!} ({After the game Carlsen gave the
following line as justification for his draw offer, not seeing a way to 'press
without risk'.} 31... Ra8 32. Bd4 Bxd4 ({Stockfish points out} 32... Nd3 $5 33.
Bxd3 Bxd4 34. Bf1 Bc5 35. Qc3 $17 {where only Black can be better with such a
powerful dark-squared bishop, though this looks like a position that the
computer overestimates without offering a clear pawn for improving the
position.}) 33. Rxd4 Qa5 34. Qxa5 Rxa5 35. Nd1 $1 {An important maneuver,
bringing the knight to c3.} b5 36. cxb5 Bxb5 37. Bxb5 Rxb5 38. Nc3 Ra5 39. Rb4
$11 {which, to Magnus's credit is indeed equal, despite Black having other
options along the way, of course.}) 1/2-1/2

[/pgn] Interact with Eric Rosen, who is taking over our twitter@USChess using the hashtag #CarlsenCaruana. is the tournament website.   IM Kostya Kavutskiy is a professional chess player, coach, and writer. Check out his twitter and Patreon page for instructive chess analysis and advice for improvement.

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