World number one and two, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, played their fifth draw in as many games in London for the world championship series. The 12-game match, organised by the World Chess Federation (FIDE), is being played between 9 and 28 November 2018 and has a prize fund of one million euros.
Carlsen said that “there is serious room for improvement at this point” after the climax of the fifth game on Thursday which saw the score remain tied at 2.5-2.5. The three-and-a-quarter hour match started brightly but ultimately finished in a draw after 34 moves.
His opponent, Caruana, opened which a highly aggressive pawn sacrifice early on which prompted gasps from the crowd. His intention was to create pressure on Carlsen and try to confuse him, forcing errors and leading to a higher chance of victory.
“Well, this line is really interesting and if black is cooperative it can get very exciting,” said Caruana. “But Magnus one the line quite well and I think played in a very logical way.”
Carlsen, on the other hand, was unfazed by his opponents peculiar opening strategy. “To be honest I was pretty happy about the opening. I felt as though after it calmed down, on the black could ever really be better. But I couldn’t find a way to push it.”
It was widely believed that Caruana was under much more pressure than Carlsen to get a win on Thursday with the white pieces. Under the rules of the 12 game series, the colour of the pieces must be reversed at the halfway point. This leads to an interesting pairing of games, six and seven, where both players use the same colours for two consecutive games.
Carlsen, who won the initial drawn, chose to play Game 1 as black. This means that he will play as white in Game 6 and Game 7 on Friday and Sunday. “Of course double black is coming up and this is a quite a serious challenge, but this was always going to happen,” said Caruana. “And whether I win or draw (on Thursday), this was still going to happen. So I wasn’t approaching this game differently than any other.”
“I can only play for a win if I get something and I can only really be disappointed that I missed a chance if I get some sort of chance in the game. And if a game is like this where we both play more or less correctly and neither of us makes a serious mistake, I don’t think that I can really be disappointed.”
World Champion Carlsen seems to be excited for his double-header as white. “It’s like any round-robin tournament,” Carlsen said. “If you have a double black or a double white, you kind of single that out when the tournament starts. That is either your opportunity to strike or when you’re at your most vulnerable. I am looking forward to it, obviously, and we’ll see what happens.
“But most of all I’m just more or less happy with the way things are going with black as it’s clear to the naked eye there is serious room for improvement at this point.”
While the on-board action has been mostly without drama, there has been major off-board controversy. Early on Tuesday morning, a two-minute clip was uploaded to the Saint Louis Chess Club’s Youtube channel before quickly getting taken down. The video contained details of Caruana’s secret preparations for the tournament.
In the brief period of time the video was online for screenshots were taken and widely shared online where chess fans dissected what they saw. The video included shots of a laptop which contained openings supposedly being researched by Caruana for his upcoming series with Carlsen.
There was also the names of three grandmasters contained within the video – Leinier Domínguez, Alejandro Ramírez and Ioan-Cristian Chirila – who could be working with Caruana as second’s in his camp to help the American practice.
When told about the footage in an interview Carlsen said with a smile “well, I’ll have a look and the video and then make up my mind.” Carlsen’s manager, Espen Agdestein did not comment on the video upon its initial release but later admitted that he thought it was a mistake by Caruana’s camp.
Talking to Norwegian chess journalist Tarjei Svensen Agdenstein said “I think this is real. It can happen by mistake, and we’ve been close to making the same mistake. It’s more likely that it was a mistake than that it was staged.”
The video resulted in speculation of this being a deliberate attempt to spread misinformation to Carlsen, prompting him to waste his energy preparing for openings that Caruana has no intention of playing. This has been deemed unlikely by all familiar with Caruana or high-level chess in general as some of the openings shown in the video have already featured in the first few games.
Both Carlsen and Caruana will be hoping to break the deadlock over the weekend and enter next week in a leading position. The 12-game series will be played until November 28th, and is shown for free on the FIDE website.