London

Game 6: The World Champion Escapes

Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, was on the ropes in Game 6 of the title match in London. But in a long endgame, Fabiano Caruana, the challenger, could find no way to break down Carlsen’s defenses and he was finally able to escape with a draw.

The result left the match tied the halfway point at three points apiece; all six games in the contest 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 Worldchess.com, 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.

In Game 6, Carlsen, who is from Norway, had White and started with 1 e4. It was Carlsen’s third game with White and, in all three games, he has chosen a different opening move.

Caruana, who is American, replied 1 … e5 and after Carlsen continued 2 Nf3, Caruana chose the Petroff, or Russian, Defense. That was not a surprise as Caruana had employed the defense with great success when he won the Candidates tournament in Berlin earlier this year to qualify for the title match.

The game continued down an obscure branch of the Petroff that Carlsen had doubtless studied carefully. Caruana demonstrated he also was well prepared as he navigated some of the intricacies with no problem.

After 15 moves, the position was symmetrical and the game seemed headed for a draw, which also was no surprise, as the Petroff has long had a reputation of being drawish.

The game continued, however, partly because there is a rule in the match that games must be at least 30 moves, and also because neither player had any interest in agreeing to an early peace.

On Move 22, Carlsen made what turned out to be a small, but subtle error by positioning his light-squared bishop on a file that could be opened. Caruana was able to gain time to develop his rooks by attacking the bishop and that allowed him to take over the initiative.

Carlsen was in no immediate danger, but Caruana had nagging pressure against White’s position. By Move 34, the players had reached an endgame in which each had his bishop pair and a knight and a set of six pawns.

Just after the first time control at Move 40, Carlsen made another small error and was forced to trade one of his remaining pieces for three of Caruana’s pawns. Nominally, that is about an even trade, but, at the tail end of the sequence, Caruana was able to win another of Carlsen’s pawns.

Carlsen was clearly in trouble, but Caruana only had two pawns left and if Carlsen could trade them, the game would be a draw. The exchange of one pawn was impossible to prevent, but Carlsen could not easily get to the second. Computer evaluations showed a clear edge for Caruana.

Computers do not understand endgames very well, however. And Carlsen is one of the greatest endgame virtuoso’s in history. He found a plan that involved sacrificing his last queenside pawn to allow his king to infiltrate Caruana’s king side. Though Carlsen’s king now had almost no room to maneuver, it could support the advance of his h pawn if Caruana tried to go after Carlsen’s f pawn to clear the path for his own remaining f pawn.

For nearly 20 moves, Caruana tried to outflank Carlsen, but it was not possible. Carlsen had built a fortress. The game was drawn on Move 80, after six-and-a-half hours of play.

A curious facet of the match is that Black has had equal chances or an edge in every one of the games; neither player’s strategy with White has been effective.

Game 7 is on Sunday at 3 PM local, or GMT, time.

Caruana will once again have Black. The way that the match has unfolded, that may be an advantage.

Leave a Reply