Will Fabiano Caruana Beat King Magnus?
Fabiano Caruana has a monumental challenge ahead of him. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Will Fabiano Caruana Beat King Magnus?

| 129 | Fun & Trivia

The coming world championship match is going to be Magnus Carlsen's biggest challenge since he won his crown.

As I mentioned in my recent article, it is the first time he will defend his title against a younger challenger, the 25-year-old American Fabiano Caruana. Besides, the rating gap between the opponents, which is currently a measly 20 points, is going to be the smallest of all Carlsen's previous matches.

So, who will celebrate a victory this fall?

Most of the experts predict a very close match since both players are exceptionally strong in all components of the game with the only exception that the endgame is probably still Carlsen's territory. Meanwhile, there is a very important factor that can ultimately determine the winner, and I don't recall seeing it being discussed anywhere. In case of a tie the match will be decided on a tiebreak, and Carlsen is a heavy favorite there.

The current world champion is the undisputed number one in all three categories (classical, rapid and blitz); meanwhile the difference between Caruana's regular and rapid ratings is quite big!

Moreover, the Paris rapid tournament, which is a part of the Grand Chess Tour, didn't inspire optimism for Caruana's fans.

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/ 

The number of simple one-move blunders by Caruana was staggering in Paris!  Yes, Fabiano was in a very poor form and it was a rapid tournament, so most of the mistakes were made when Caruana had almost no time left, Nevertheless, it is definitely something that should concern the challenger. Judge for yourself:

This is the position after 66 moves from round four.

It is difficult to imagine a more drawish position, but both opponents had just about one minute each, so the fight continued. Here is the critical moment of the game where Caruana blundered:

White won a pawn and eventually the game. By the way, don't rush to blame Nakamura for playing the dead drawn position. He is a natural fighter who plays for any practical chances. This strategy has brought him many extra points.

I can personally attest to how difficult it is to play against Nakamura in this kind of situation, since I once almost lost a similar "dead drawn" position. And unlike Caruana, I had more than an hour at my disposal! We discussed this game in my old article.

Unfortunately for Caruana, the worst was yet to come. In another game vs. Nakamura, he blundered a minor piece in a very complicated but approximately even position:

And finally look at the truly horrific blunder in the next game. Caruana not only blundered a rook, he played the only legal move that didn't win the game!

You might say that I am nitpicking, that it is just rapid and blitz games and blunders are natural there. You are probably right, but I do know that there are no "small things" in the world championship match!

The way I see it, unless Caruana dramatically improves his rapid play, he cannot afford a tie in the match and a subsequent tiebreak.

In a short, 12-game match, such a disadvantage can become a significant factor. Just imagine a situation before the last game if the score is even and Caruana has to play with Black. He is in essentially in a "must-win" situation, and taking extra risks playing Black can easily backfire. 

fabiano caruana at norway chess

Fabiano Caruana at Norway Chess. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/ 

Am I saying that Fabiano Caruana is doomed in the coming world championship?

Actually, I think it is quite the opposite. The potential disadvantage that I described can really motivate the challenger, and if there is a guy who can bring big surprises, it is definitely Caruana! Who could forget Fabiano's famous seven straight wins in the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, including a win over Magnus Carlsen!?

I don't have an answer to the question in the article's title. What I know for sure though, is it will be a very exciting match!

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