World Chess Championship Game 12: Carlsen Offers Draw In Better Position To Reach Tiebreaks
Much ado, but still nothing in the win column. Caruana and Carlsen will decide the championship in a rapid/blitz playoff. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

World Chess Championship Game 12: Carlsen Offers Draw In Better Position To Reach Tiebreaks

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Nov 26, 2018, 12:40 PM |
266 | Chess Event Coverage

Twelve games and 12 draws. Now the 2018 world chess championship between Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen is in the books as the first in history without a single decisive game.

Despite universal agreement from the chess engines and grandmaster analysts covering the match that Black had a clear advantage in game 12, the two players agreed to a draw on move 31, as Carlsen preferred to reach the tiebreaks to decide a world champion. 

After a rest day Tuesday, Carlsen and Caruana will play a rapid (and blitz if necessary) playoff on Wednesday, Nov. 28. Carlsen will play White in game one of the rapid tiebreak match. 

Don't fret about the dozen drawn games—in 1863 the world checkers championship also featured the top two players in the world, and they drew all 40 games (21 of them were exactly the same!).

By those standards, London was downright blistering, although today's action was just heating up when the reigning champion shut it down. It was like watching the first half of a Tarantino movie, only to have all the characters then decide to put down their weapons and decide their differences over tea.

"At this point I probably was not the right mindset to go for it," Carlsen said after the game.

Arkady Dvorkovich 2018 World Chess Championship.

FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich was at the start of the game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

At least they can't share the title. And at least they also didn't play into an early repetition, which became possible in the first hour. Chess fans were spared that indignity when instead of toggling his queen from a4-b4-a4, the challenger kept up the fight with 15. Be3.

Caruana and Carlsen will now play four rapid games at 25+10, and maybe some blitz games too (at 5+3) on Wednesday to decide who wears the highest chess crown for the next two years. The exact format is reposted at the bottom of this article. A brief drawing of lots following today's press conference resulted in Carlsen taking White in game one.

Drawing of lots Caruana Carlsen Game 12 World Chess Championship 2018

Carlsen picked a white queen and will start the playoff with White. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It was clear form the post-game comments by Carlsen that he was steering for the playoff despite the favorable position. Particularly notable was his disinterest in hearing computer evaluations after pawn breaks like 25...b5 instead of his chosen 25...a5.

"My approach was not to unbalance the position at that point," he said. "I had very clear path with ...a5 and ...e4 which gave me a completely safe position that I could maybe play for a win and it seemed nonsense for me to go for anything else."

Caruana Carlsen Game 12 World Chess Championship 2018

Another Sveshnikov in the making. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

For super-GMs who usually value positional truth and accuracy above all else, Carlsen's motivation clearly shifted. He wasn't looking for the most precise moves. He was looking for the most solid sequence that would get him to Wednesday. When told that the ...b5 lever netted him about a +2 computer evaluation (his largest of the match), Carlsen remained indifferent: "I don't care," he said. 

Just when there was still much to play for, out of nowhere Carlsen offered a draw right after the minimum number of moves. Caruana thought for a bit, but accepted, making this the shortest game of the match (31 moves).

Caruana Carlsen Game 12 World Chess Championship 2018

Media attention for the last classical game was high, with a total of about 50 people in the small room. The conditions for photographers were far from ideal, so much that the well-known chess photographer David Llada decided to leave the room before the players arrived. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

"I was a bit surprised by the draw offer," Caruana said. "I thought about it for a little while. At least I know what my next move should be; I should play Nf2-h3-g5 and Be3-d4 after that. But I can never be better here, and I don't really have any active ideas. If anything, Black is better but at least I thought I was over the worst of it. I thought it was much more dangerous a few moves ago."

A little earlier in the day, top grandmasters were sure a bigger fight was ahead.

For a quick meta-analysis of what the peace offering means for the match as a whole, one man who is no stranger to last-round heroics weighed in:

Caruana had to quickly adjust his expectations of the day. After a repeat of the Sveshnikov, Carlsen added a new wrinkle by putting his knight on e7 instead of retreating back home to b8. Very quickly an original position occurred, where it wasn't clear where the challenger should put his king.

Kasparov, and his old rival Vladimir Kramnik, didn't think much of the f3 and Rh2 idea, claiming that it mostly offered weaknesses for Black to probe.

"I was gonna put pressure and if I got a chance I'd try to take it," Caruana said. "The opening didn't really work out the way I wanted. I was down a lot of time and I had a position I didn't really feel comfortable with."

Fabiano Caruana Game 12 World Chess Championship 2018

Caruana wasn't too comfortable with his position today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

What was he specifically concerned about? Caruana, who looked relieved (his second Cristian Chirila admitted to Chess.com the same) was candid:

"I was very worried about 29...Ba4. If I play 30.b3, I wasn't sure about the sac [on b3] or going back. I probably should play 30.Rc1 but I thought 30...b5 and if I take, then 31...Qb6 or something. And if 31.Bd4, then this position I didn't like at all [31...Bxd4 32.Qxd4 bxc4 33.Rxc4 Bb5 34.Rc3 Bxe2 35.Rxe2 Qb6 or 35...Rb8 maybe]. I just have a really passive position, my king is weak."

Caruana quickly found himself down about 40 minutes after a little more than an hour of play. Carlsen seemed to want to keep up the pressure by playing quickly. Was that an additional tactic, or was he just confident in his replies?

"To be honest, I was just trying to make natural moves," Carlsen said. "Everybody could see that I wasn't really necessarily going for the maximum. I just wanted a position that was completely safe and where I could put some pressure. If a draw hadn't been a satisfactory result, obviously I would have approached it differently."

Sam Shankland

Want to find out what should have happened in game 12 of the world championship? 

Chess.com's Computer Chess Championship will pause its regular programming of CCC 3 to play out the position from game 12 where Carlsen and Caruana agreed to a draw.

The top chess engines in the world (including Stockfish, Komodo, Houdini, and Lc0) will play bonus games from that position starting at 2 p.m. Pacific time today, Monday, Nov. 26 and running through the world championship tiebreak. 

Watch the games and chat on Chess.com/CCC.


GM Alex Yermolinksy's
video analysis of the game is below:

One journalist suggested that the players were evaluating the middlegame differently. "I wasn't saying his position was OK or anything," Carlsen said. "I just said it wasn't obvious to how I could take it down without taking risks and I wasn't willing to take risks. I think there is no particular contradiction there."

On that point, Caruana agreed. "I think our evaluations were probably very similar," he said. "I mean I don't think either of us saw anything clearly winning for Black but we both agree that White was under pressure. This is obvious to any decent player."

Caruana Carlsen Game 12 World Chess Championship 2018

The players with Danny King at the press conference. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The handshake represented a reprieve from what was likely Caruana's shakiest moment in more than two weeks. Like on an actual bookshelf, his bookend games (one and 12) went a little sideways, but the middle action was mostly upright.

"I am mainly relieved, because I thought it was quite close today," Caruana said. "I was very worried during the game. When you feel like you're sort of on the brink of defeat, or at least you had a very dangerous position, then of course it's quite good."

The peace offering even surprised his manager, FM Espen Agdestein. "I wasn't expecting it, but I guess Magnus, he knows best," he told Chess.com.

Caruana Carlsen Game 12 World Chess Championship 2018

From the very start, Carlsen was content with reaching the tiebreak. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

About the playoff, both players seem confident.

"I think I have very good chances obviously but I don't know what's gonna happen," Carlsen said. "Before today I thought getting a tiebreak would be a good result so I am still happy about that."

Caruana is on the record from previous rounds as saying that he rates his chances just fine, and much higher than many pundits give him.

According to rule 13.1 of the match regulations, winning the match in a tiebreak results in five percent less in the purse than doing so in classical. That sounded more like a bug than a feature, and a benign one at that. As you might expect, neither player seemed that they cared or that the nominal difference affected their play.

Neither play also seemed to dwell on what a match of all draws meant for chess. For the record, Chess.com's live show experienced its peak viewership of any round, with concurrent viewers topping 58,000 at its height. You could look at that as a success of the event, or focus on the let-down that many felt at the sudden end. That produced some satirical chiding from one of Twitter's best GMs:

"If the powers that be want to change it, then we'll work with something else," Caruana said.

Number of games seems to be the targeted fix by many pundits. Earlier in the tournament, Carlsen said he would not mind an extension of the match to more games, and today Caruana agreed.

"I actually wouldn't mind more rounds," he said. "I think 16 or 18 rounds would be fine. It's not like we're exhausted after 12 games or anything, I don't think so. I'm sure we can play a few more. But we kind of play with the system that we have."

Now that home preparation has been "shown" 12 times, Levon Aronian said on the Chess.com broadcast that he thought Caruana and his team evinced better opening preparation, despite Carlsen making efforts to improve this facet of his play.

"I don't know, I think at this point it's absolutely irrelevant," Carlsen said about that analysis. "The match is equal so far, so it's not very interesting right now."

Caruana's response was slightly more enlightening but also modest: "We both had our moments. Neither of us has shown dominance in any stage of the game. Pretty balanced."

Harry Benson Caruana Carlsen Game 12 World Chess Championship 2018

The legendary chess photographer Harry Benson, who took many famous pictures of Bobby Fischer in 1972, was shooting another possible American world champion today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The final round  of this championship had some of the hallmarks of round 12 in 2016. In New York, Carlsen also preferred a draw to go to rapids. The difference is that there he was White and swapped everything off right away. This time around, at least there was some rising action.

So which is less satisfying? That may depend on personal preference, but a good indicator would be how you felt about the finale of "The Sopranos."

Playoff regulations

  • If the scores are level after the regular 12 games, four tiebreak games will be played. These are rapid games with 25 minutes for each player with an increment of 10 seconds after each move.
  • If it's still equal, two blitz games will be played (5 minutes plus 3 seconds increment). If it's still equal, a second pair of two blitz games will be played. If there is still no winner after five such matches, one sudden-death game will be played. The player who wins the drawing of lots may choose the color. The player with the white pieces shall receive 5 minutes, the player with the black pieces shall receive 4 minutes whereupon, after the 60th move, both players shall receive an increment of 3 seconds starting from move 61. In case of a draw the player with the black pieces is declared the winner.

Peter Doggers contributed to this report.

To follow the match, Chess.com has extensive coverage, including daily reports on game days right here on Chess.com/news. You can catch all of the moves live at Chess.com/wcc2018 and watch Chess.com's best-known commentators, IM Danny Rensch and GM Robert Hess, on either Twitch.tv/Chess or Chess.com/TV. Special guests, including Hikaru Nakamura, Hou Yifan, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Wesley So, Sam Shankland and more will be joining the live coverage on different days. 

In addition, GM Alex Yermolinsky will be doing round-by-round wrap-up videos, available immediately after every round on all your favorite social platforms (Twitch, YouTube, Facebook and Chess.com). 

The current U.S. chess champion GM Sam Shankland will provide written, in-depth analysis of each game in our news reports.

GM Yasser Seirawan will share his thoughts on the match standings and inner workings of how the players are approaching each game with videos, exclusive to Chess.com members, on each rest day.

Previous reports:

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