American challenger Fabiano Caruana missed his best chance to win a game against Magnus Carlsen at World Chess Championship

Fabiano Caruana, left, and Magnus Carlsen, right. Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for World Chess
  • American Challenger Fabiano Caruana fought for a win in Game 6 at the 2018 World Chess Championship, but Magnus Carlsen was able to make a draw.
  • The first five games were interesting, but all also ended in draws.
  • Six more games remain to be played in London, with the score deadlocked at 3-3.

The midway point of the 2018 World Chess Championship in London has arrived. For the first time since Norway’s Magnus Carlsen took the title in 2013, the two highest-rated players on the planet are competing for the win.

Carlsen, 27, is taking on Fabiano Caruana, 26, and the latter is the first American to make it to the championship match since Bobby Fischer in 1972. The players are well-prepared contestants who have faced each other numerous times over the past few years. Before Game 6 of the match, Carlsen’s FIDE rating was 2835, Caruana’s 2832, but Carlsen has a career edge in wins, with a lead on decisive results against Caruana.

In Game 1, Caruana showed some nerves with the white pieces, as Carlsen played the Sicilian Defence against Caruana’s 1. e4 opening, avoiding the drawish Berlin Defence in the Ruy Lopez. The Rossolimo variation of the Sicilian quickly developed, and Carlsen developed an edge before Caruana was able to wrangle a hard-fought draw after 115 moves and seven hours.

Game 2 led to another draw, after 49 moves. Game 3 saw the Rossolimo Sicilian again appear, this time with some befuddlements created by Caruana, who also missed chances to sharpen the position despite better preparation than Carlsen. Nonetheless, the result was another draw.

In Game 4, Carlsen opened with 1. c4, the English game, a move essayed by Fischer at times, but infrequently seen in recent World Championship play. It manifested a theme for the 2018 WCC: an intriguing opening that peters out into draws. This time, the bloodless result occurred after 34 moves.

Game 5 was another Rossolimo Sicilian, but this time Caruana uncorked the obscure Gurgenidze variation, a gambit with the b pawn. A new theme crystallised: Caruana’s deeper opening preparation versus Carlsen’s oft-touted ability to ignore complicated opening theory and find the best analysis of nearly any position.

And still, a draw after 34 moves. The WCC consists of 12 classical games, followed by rapid/blitz tiebreaks. This was how the 2016 Championship match, played between Carlsen and Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, ended. Karjakin and Carlsen won games, but a deadlocked score after 12 games gave Carlsen an advantage given his superior rapid and blitz skills. This led to speculation that Carlsen was looking to draw the classical games against Caruana and again throw the Championship to faster chess, where he’s also better by his results that Caruana.

The thriller of Game 6

World Chess Championship 2018
Caruana grabbed a slim advantage in Game 6. Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for World Chess

Another wrinkle was that by starting with the white pieces, Caruana had to deal with two games in a row with black after Game 6. And so in Game 6, things got a bit crazy. Carlsen opened with 1. e4, and Caruana was at last able to use the Petroff Defence, at which he’s considered an expert. Carlsen dealt with it by moving a knight an almost absurd number of times in the opening, a violation of a fundamental chess principle.

Caruana wasn’t confused by the gonzo tactic, and by the endgame, Caruana had found a slight edge, after Carlsen sacrificed a knight in exchange for two extra pawns. By move 54, Caruana was winning. For the first time in the 2018 Championship match, Carlsen found himself fighting for a draw rather than pressing for a win. Ten moves later, Carlsen’s king was cornered, and the World Champ was trying to salvage an analytically lost position.

But Caruana couldn’t delve 30 or 40 moves into the position, finding a very esoteric plan, and was unable to move in for the kill. Regrettably, for the challenger, another draw was agreed to after 80 moves. However, Caruana headed into the second half of the match having notched his strongest game to date in World Championship Play.

After a rest day on Saturday, the match will resume Sunday, tied 3-3, after both players have collected 0.5 points for each draw.