Game 12 of the World Chess Championship has ended in a shocking draw and now goes to tiebreakers between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana

Draws, draws, and more draws. Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for World Chess
  • The 2018 World Chess Championship will go to tiebreakers after a shocking draw in Game 12 on Monday.
  • There had been an unprecedented 11 draws before Monday’s result.
  • The reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen, had an edge in Game 12 but didn’t capitalise.

UPDATE: Game 12 ended, controversially, in a draw after 31 moves, after Magnus Carlsen held a slight edge with the black pieces. The chess world was shocked by the result. The match will now go to tiebreakers on Wednesday to decide the championship.

After an unprecedented 11 draws, the 2018 World Chess Championship has come down to a final classical game on Monday in London between the defending champ, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, and his challenger, Fabiano Caruana of the United States.

The No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world are separated by just a year in age and a few ranking points: Carlsen, 27, is at 2,835, and Caruana, 26, is at 2,832. So the march of equal results shouldn’t entirely be a surprise, though it’s never happened before. In 2013 and 2014, Carlsen defeated the former world champion Vishy Anand of India with decisive wins over the board in classical time controls, without going to rapid or blitz tiebreakers.

That wasn’t the case in 2016, when Russia’s Sergey Karjakin challenged Carlsen and won a single game. Carlsen also won a game, then the remainder were draws, but Carlsen defended his title in the “Armageddon” rounds that followed.

On Monday, Caruana has the white pieces and a slight statistical edge, but the big question is whether he’ll press for a win, overextend himself, and hand the title to Carlsen, or angle for a draw and take his chances in the tiebreakers. The latter is risky, as Carlsen is the world’s best rapid and blitz player.

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

Caruana’s preparation for the match has generally been better than Carlsen’s, but while both players have enjoyed opportunities to win, neither has converted. Caruana, not an aggressive player, has sought to negate whatever small advantages Carlsen snared – a major difference from Anand’s brand of power chess, where he countered Carlsen’s talents by launching redoubtable assaults from his side of the board.

Caruana’s preparation vs. Carlsen’s uncanny ability to find the right responses, even when he’s in trouble

Magnus Carlsen WCC 2016
Magnus Carlsen in 2016. Getty Images for Agon

In the competitive championship games, we’ve seen Carlsen repeatedly caught in Caruana’s superior opening preparation but able to find the best moves to equalise. Caruana, meanwhile, has missed some tactical shots – or, if you accept that he possesses computerlike calculating skills, followed such moves down their lines of play and decided they were too risky.

The 11-all score line has set off the usual bout of complaints that there are too many draws in super-grandmaster chess. The Carlsen-Caruana draws have been fascinating studies in peaceful outcomes, and there have even been a few novelties uncorked, as well as many Sicilian Defences with the black pieces. (The Sicilian is regarded as one of black’s best chances to play for a win.)

But the chess has been rather studious, and it’s shown that at the top level, the use of analysis engines means it’s difficult to rattle the best competitors.

For many fans, a decisive result on Monday would be thrilling and make up for the march of draws; America might also have its first world champion since Bobby Fischer in 1972.

Coming off a rest day, neither player should be prone to a blunder brought on by stress, so one of these guys will have to go for it. The prospect of a sharper Sicilian looms, as that was the opening employed in Game 12, which showed an advantage for white after 12 moves, the result of an early punch thrown on the kingside by Carlsen.

Sharp Sicilians are notorious for getting out of hand for black – and Carlsen, having trounced Karjakin in the tiebreakers two years ago and knowing Caruana is the lesser “fast” player, could aim for a draw, though the initial moves of Game 12 suggest he has a win on his mind.