Game 3 of the World Chess Championship was monumental -- but still a draw

Magnus Carlsen WCC 2016Getty Images for AgonA tough draw in Game 3.

NEW YORK — The “Grandmaster draw” has come under fire in the world of elite chess.

The way it works is that GMs know certain positions and outcomes so well that will sometimes agree to a draw after just 15 or 20 moves.

This is dismaying to fans of “fighting chess,” although it’s understandable given how well-prepared, using powerful computers, GMs now are.

At Game 3 of the 2016 World Chess Championship in New York, title holder Magnus Carson of Norway and challenger Sergey Karjakin of Russia played to a draw, matching the result of each of the first two games.

But it was anything but a tame agreement between GMs.

It was one of the most epic draws in WCC history, a 78-move ordeal that lasted seven hours. For Carlsen, who was strongly favoured at one point to win by the analysis engines running on computers, it was a huge missed opportunity, both with white and in a complicated, stressful endgame, with his opponent under time pressure.

For Karjakin, it was a vindication of his renowned defensive skills and blow for Carlsen, considered by some to be the best endgame player on the planet.

Endgames in chess are interesting because although computers haven’t yet “solved” chess, they have worked out certain endgames. This is because there are so few pieces left on the board, typically, and computers are able to crunch the available options down to “best play” sequences.

But endgames are tough for even the finest players because humans aren’t as good at pure calculation as computers — and because while algorithms never tire, after hours of furious thinking, humans do. Throw in clock pressure and you have ample opportunity for even a chess genius like Carlsen to screw up.

The game itself was the Ruy Lopez opening for white, transposing into a Berlin Defence, a reliably drawish choice for black.

However, anything goes in an endgame, so I’ll just run through the sequence where Carlsen blew it (in Carlsen’s defence, in St. Louis where two former world champs and a couple of contenders were following the game at dinner on a smartphone, there was furious debate and analysis taking place about whether it was a win or a draw, as GM Yasser Seirawan recounted in his ChessBase breakdown of Game 3).

As you can see, an analysis engine is giving Carlsen a 75% chance of winning here:

But then he decides again checking the black king by playing rf7+, instead attacking the white pawn by playing rb7:

That move doomed his clear chances for a win and set the stage for Karjakin to go for a technically difficult but far from impossible draw.

The WCC now stands tied, 1.5-1.5, with Game 4 starting at 2PM ET on Wednesday.

Here’s the final Game 3 position on the board:

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