Game 5: Fireworks and Then Fizzle

After three relatively uneventful draws, the opening of Game 5 of the World Championship in London was sharp and unbalanced. It seemed as if there might finally be a decisive result.

But after Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion from Norway, and Fabiano Caruana, the American challenger, blitzed out 18 moves in an obscure variation of the Sicilian Defense, the resulting position left both players with roughly equal chances. Only 15 moves later, after most of the pieces had been traded, the players agreed to a draw.

The score now stands at 2.5 points apiece. All five games have ended in draws.

The best-of-12 game match has a prize fund of a million euros (about $1.1 million), with 60 percent for the winner. Each win is worth a point and each draw a half point. The first player to reach 6.5 points is declared the winner. (If the match should be tied after 12 games, the players will proceed to a series of tie-breakers and the winner of the match would receive 55 percent of the prize fund.)

The match is organized under the auspices of the World Chess Federation, or FIDE, the game’s governing body, and World Chess, the official organizer of the World Championship cycle.

The venue for the event is in central London at The College in Holborn, an historic, Victorian-style building. Fans can watch online at, the official site of the championship.

The match’s sponsors include PhosAgro, a giant, Russian-based international fertilizer company; Kaspersky Lab, one of the world’s top information security companies; S.T. Dupont, a leading French luxury goods manufacturer; Prytek, a Russian venture capital company specializing in technology and financial services; and Unibet, an online gambling operator that operates in more than 100 countries.

Caruana had White in Game 5 and, just as he had in Games 1 and 3, he opened with 1 e4. Carlsen once again replied with 1 … c5 and Caruana, evidently seeking to avoid the complex lines of the open Sicilian, resorted once again to the Rossolimo Variation (3 Bb5).

Instead of taking the knight on c6, as he had in Games 1 and 3, Caruana continued to develop. On Move 6, he lashed out with 6 b4, an obscure and tricky pawn sacrifice designed to temporarily destroy the coordination of Carlsen’s pieces. Though the move has not been played often at elite levels, Carlsen was evidently prepared for it, as he continued to play rapidly, first by accepting the sacrifice with 6 … Nb4.

The position became increasingly sharp and tactical. Carlsen’s 14 … Be6 was a beautiful move to meet the threats posed by Caruana. It also led to an exchange of queens. The resulting position was no longer as dangerous for Black.

Caruana missed perhaps his last chance to gain an edge when he played 20 c3; 20 Rc1 might have been a little more challenging.

Though Carlsen eventually won a pawn, he could not hold it because of the awkward position of his king. The players agreed to a draw in a nearly symmetrical position with equal material for both sides on the board.

Though Caruana has stuck with 1 e4 and the Rossolimo when he has had White, it has not yielded him any edge. He will have some time to perhaps rethink his strategy as Carlsen will have White the next two games (Nos. 6 and 7).

Game 6 is on Friday at 3 PM local, or GMT, time.

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