Wednesday, Game 9 of the World Championship between the champion, Magnus Carlsen, and the challenger, Fabiano Caruana, produced the same result as the first eight games: A draw. The nine consecutive draws to start a World Championship match are a record.
The match has become a clash between the irresistible force (Carlsen) and the immovable object (Caruana). In Game 9, Carlsen, 27 and from Norway, had White and, as he had in Game 4, he began with the English opening (1 c4). Caruana replied with the same system that he had used in the earlier game and the players followed the same path until Carlsen varied with 9 Bg5.
The move did not change the evaluation of the position much and by Move 16, Caruana was already trying to repeat the position to force a draw by playing Bd5 and Be4 to continually attack Carlsen’s queen. Naturally, Carlsen avoided that by playing 17 Qd1. Caruana immediately exchanged his light-squared bishop for Carlsen’s knight with 17… Bf3. That turned out to be a small error as, after a further series of exchanges, Black had a broken, and therefore slightly worse pawn structure.
That was not a serious problem for Caruana, however, and after more trades, the players wound up in an endgame in which chances were roughly equal. The game continued for another 25 moves, but there was no real hope for either player to win and they finally agreed to a draw after 56 moves and three-and-a-half hours.
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.
The lack of decisive results has not dampened press coverage of the match. In the day before Game 9, articles appeared in The New York Times, NBC News, the Guardian, the Daily Mail, FiveThirtyEight, and Deadspin, to name a few.
There is certainly no shortage of tension, particularly with only three games left in the regulation, or slow, part of the match. The last match in 2016, went to tie-breakers before Carlsen prevailed over Sergey Karjakin. That turned out to be a really exciting finish. The current match seems to be heading for the same ending. Game 10 is Thursday at 3 PM local, or GMT, time.