WCC 2018 Rd 1: Fabiano survives major scare in 7-hour thriller
Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana face off in the first of their 12-game championship series. 0.5-0.5. Source: The Guardian.

WCC 2018 Rd 1: Fabiano survives major scare in 7-hour thriller

IM vinniethepooh

There is noise all around as the World Chess Championship 2018 is going to begin. Magnus Carlsen has picked the Black pieces, and the game begins with the expected 1.e4 by Fabiano Caruana. Berlin? Ruy Lopez? No! Magnus goes for the Sicillian and comes close to toppling over Fabiano in the Rossolimo.

Carlsen gets the bishop pair, Caruana some central activity and semi-open f file, Caruana's knight goes in prison and Carlsen seems to be completely outplaying the American, just when a Karjakin wakes up in Caruana.

Carlsen Caruana

Let it begin! Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Caruana struggled through the 115 moves clash, but finally made it to escape with a draw. Magnus made a strong statement by almost taking an early lead, but just when he was about to finish proceedings, some stubborn resistance by Fabiano saved the day.

It reminded a lot their game in Grenke Classic earlier this year, where Caruana was similarly getting outplayed but escaped in a complex rook ending, which also occurred on the board today.

Fabiano Caruana

Caruana's stubborn resistance gave reminders of the 2016 World Championship. Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Earlier at the beginning of the match, some drama ensued. Before to make the ceremonial opening move, Woody Harrelson tipped Caruana's king over, misheard the whisper, and played 1.d4. Drama! That might have been a shock to the entire world, but it got corrected to 1.e4.

In any case, we did really encounter a shock as early as the first move, as Magnus employed the Sicillian! (It's rather less common in WCC matches, and not the most popular in Carlsen's repertoire) And he really did come close to tipping Fabiano's king over, in the chess sense.


The media is all over the place! Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Caruana was much low on time from the start, but when it did really matter, he dragged Carlsen down to time pressure as well, and chaos ensued as the players kept making mistakes one after the other.

To some extent, the missed opportunity in this match, in the 2016 matches hint at a slight weakness in Magnus' play: Realisation. (Ability to convert winning positions) He is a master at accumulating slight advantages, but when it comes to the finishing off? He must not be the best there.

Magnus Carlsen

He's not too dissapointed, but missing a win always hurts.. Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

In the end, with 39...Qg7, the Norwegian got a bit greedy, going pawn grabbing on the queenside, and had to pay the price as Caruana transposed into a rook ending pawn down, but one that did not come to haunt him. It would have been better to maintain the pressure, as the challenger said.

After all, "all rook endings are drawn!"


The press conference. Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com

So, at the end it was still the expected result, but the game was nothing short of a thriller. The pressure was immediately visible as both players made very unexpected mistakes!

A few quotes by the players:


"I was outplayed after the opening. It was a complicated position. Magnus started to outplay me. I think I was clearly losing, for a long time I was losing."

"I think he missed Nh2 at the end of the time control. After that I am think I am defending the position. After that it seems like it objectively should be a draw. There was many more hours of suffering, but at the end I managed a draw. ...This was not the most pleasant experience to defend this extremely long game with White. I think I was quite fortunate enough to end up with a draw.

"There was definitely a lot of nerves. It is a very different feeling playing the first game of a World Championship match. ...Normally with White you shouldn't be too happy with a draw, but considering my position I am very happy. I am relieved to have escaped."


"It started very well, I was better on time and had a better position. I couldn't quite find the knockout before the time trouble. I played a bit too cautiously I think. Suddenly he got a chance to break loose. Then it was quite drawish."

"I tried to find a way to exchange in order to play for a win, but I couldn't find it. Then I just moved around hoping to force a blunder, but I didn't succeed."

"A draw with Black is good, I would've liked to win, but I take with me what is positive from this game."


What a match! It's now time for some detailed analysis on the game. Photo: Chess.com

Analysis by @vinniethepooh