With a draw on Monday in Game 8 of the World Championship match in London, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana equaled the record for the most consecutive draws to start a title contest. In 1995, Garry Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand also drew the first eight games of their title match in New York City.
The match score stands at four points apiece.
Though Game 8 did not lead to a decisive result, it was a fight as the players contested a different opening than in the previous seven games.
Caruana, the American challenger, had White for the fourth time in the match. As he had in the previous games with White, he opened with 1 e4 and Carlsen, the World Champion from Norway, once again answered with the Sicilian Defense (1… c5).
Instead of the Rossolimo Variation (3 Bb5), Caruana finally ventured into the Open Sicilian by playing 3 d4. Carlsen answered with the Sveshnikov, or Pelikan, Variation (5… e5). Instead of 7 Bg5, which can lead to heavily analyzed and very complicated positions, Caruana chose 7 Nd5. Though that continuation is considered more strategic than the other approach, it also can be dangerous for Black.
Carlsen’s 8… Nb8 is odd-looking, but it is also considered the best move because the more “normal” 8… Ne7 can land Black in some hot water after 9 c3.
Both players continued to follow the paths considered best until Carlsen played 18… g5. The move is consistent with some plans in the variation of the Sveshnikov that the game was following, but the move neglected Black’s development and allowed Caruana to gain time. He took advantage with an enterprising pawn sacrifice (21 c5), after which White had a dangerous passed pawn.
Carlsen might have been in real trouble if Caruana had not played 24 h3. Instead, 24 Nc4, continuing to build pressure on Carlsen’s center, would have given White a clear edge. Caruana’s error gave Carlsen just enough time to shore up his defenses.
Though the game continued until Move 38 before the players agreed to a draw, most of the drama was already gone.
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.
A close contest between Carlsen, who is ranked No. 1, and Caruana, who is No. 2, would certainly have been a logical expectation before the match began. But the inability of either player to pose a real threat to the other – with the exception of Game 1, when Caruana was in real trouble – may be a bit vexing for fans, and even for top players. As Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, ranked No. 6, told Chess.com at one point during Game 7, “I’m not gonna hide; the position is pretty dull.”
If Carlsen and Caruana are to avoid going into the history books with a somewhat unwanted record – most consecutive draws to start a World Championship match – they are going to have to do remarkable in Game 9, which will be Wednesday at 3 PM local, or GMT, time.