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MACA Chess Horizons Magazine Article
 2018 World Chess Championship - Caruana, Wayward Son
 FM Christopher Chase
  April 2019

The 2018 World Championship match is over. American challenger Fabiano “Fabi” Caruana has sadly (at least for Americans) been defeated, losing rather decisively in the rapids tie-break after a rather tedious if tension-filled 12 classical draws. Magnus Carlsen is once again world champ, defending the title he first claimed in 2013 when he bested Vishy Anand in India. This is his third successful defense, following 2014 (in a rematch against Anand) and 2016 (against Russian Sergey Karjakin). Fabiano was the first American to contend for the title since Gata Kamsky played Karpov in the 1996 FIDE finals, or since Bobby Fischer if we’re excluding non-Classical titles.

The match was hotly anticipated and talked about since Caruana won the 2018 Candidates in the Berlin. And though it would have been nice to have an American champion, it was not to be.

Held in the “Post Modern Bat Cave” like Kühlhaus Hall in Berlin, the 2018 Candidates was a strange affair, with the door blown wide open by the collapse of my pre-tournamen Levon Aronian’s complete collapse. The basketball loving and Boston Celtic supporter Aronian, finished dead last with a shocking 6 loses. His Caruana’s triumph was by mere point over Karjakin and Mamedyarov but a win is a win and with his win the U. S. Chess scene was all a buzz, especially the St. Louis CC (, Fabiano’s base of operations. It was even suggested that the Club would actually host the match when the World Chess was slow with the details of the championship match in London. This would be a dream come true for American Chess as I am sure the St. Louis CC would spare no expense promoting the match and chess in America but alas, it was not to be. Agon finally raised its forprofit head and the match was headed to a small, seldom used hall in London (The College, Southampton Row) with no great promotional effort for chess. John Saunders wrote a blog posting of the numerous short comings of the site. One major shortcoming of the whole organization was the unannounced policy of only allowing spectators 30 minutes in the auditorium for their £60+ ($79) ticket.

Going into the match, I considered Carlsen as at least a 2 to 1 favorite given his big match experience, his greater endgame skill and his far greater rating in rapids and blitz, the tiebreakers. But every dog has their day, so maybe, just maybe, Caruana could pull an upset, and it wasn’t as if Carlsen’s recent play was so impeccable. It seems to me he lost his lust for chess he had in the past. He said as much in a press conference when he said named himself, “three or four years ago,” as his favorite player! And this was from someone who just turned 28 a few days after the match. For a benchmark, Fischer won the title at 28, Spassky and Petrosian at 32.

The first game’s celebrity first mover was the actor, and a personal favorite of mine, Woody Harrelson. Though 1.e4 was requested by Caruana, Woody played 1.d4 and Fabiano nearly had a heart attack. He asked if he had to live with the move in a rather quiet, concerned voice and the answer was “No” he got his 1.e4 but his nerves revealed themselves then and in the game. It seems that 1…c5 surprised him somewhat, particularly 2…Nc6. He fell back on his tried and true Rossolimo Attack. He brought nothing new and in fact he played just routine moves, attractive but pointless and got a poor opening and a lost position soon thereafter, not to mention terrible time pressure. Carlsen was playing quickly and with much confidence. Meanwhile, Caruana was the opposite, moving slowly and nervously in a worsening position. Not only did the position become lost, he was also playing on the increment for the last 10 moves or so. He needed a miracle to avoid a disastrous first game loss and a miracle he got. Carlsen decided, or so it seemed to me, that the position would win itself and just played without thought, hoping for that time pressure blunder. When it didn’t come by the first time control, Carlsen had to try to squeeze a win out of a slightly better endgame in the second, which he wasn’t up to. The draw saved Caruana from disaster and I thought it would let him relax a bit – if he didn’t lose that position, what position could he lose?

This was the closest Carlsen would get to a win - that is until the 12th and final classical game, but we’ll get to that later. Carlsen tried 2 d4s, 3 c4s and 3 e4s all without much success. Caruana stuck with 1.e4 throughout but with very little success other than in game 8 and maybe in the 10th. Against 1.d4, Caruana came well prepared against Carlsen’s QGD with 7.Bf4, even the second time around Carlsen he achieved nothing. Against 1.c4 Caruana had a nice little system with 4…d5 and 6…Bc5 that Carlsen couldn’t dent. Against 1.e4 Fabiano used his Petroff to much success and again, Carlsen had nothing really to offer against it. In fact, he nearly lost to the Petroff’s in game 6 when he tried a silly but cute line that Caruana was well prepared for, got bored, was worse and then allowed a mate in 36 but more on that later. On the other side of the coin, Caruana kept to his Rossolimo gaining almost next to nothing other than in game 3 where White had a chance at some point for an initiative but a careless move order lost that possibility. In fact, there was much puzzlement by the press and all those twitter/comments on the match why White was doing so badly. Only when Caruana allowed Carlsen’s Sveshnikov Variation (or the Chelyabinsk Variation as declared by Gennadi Timoshchenko in his brand new book “Sicilian Defense: The Chelyabinsk Variation” 2018, Russell Enterprises) using the seldom 7.Nd5 did White achieve something.

Match highlights revolve around games 6, 8 and 12, so let’s dive in.