World Chess Championship Game 6: Caruana Misses 'Impossible' Win
Fabiano Caruana's Petroff got him equality and then more, but there's just no shaking the draw bug in London. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

World Chess Championship Game 6: Caruana Misses 'Impossible' Win

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Nov 16, 2018, 4:41 PM |
131 | Chess Event Coverage

It has been 16,878 days since an American has won a game in an undisputed world championship match (Spassky vs Fischer, game 21, Aug. 31, 1972). And since the top American is not a supercomputer, it will be at least two more.

In today's round six of the 2018 world chess championship, Fabiano Caruana pressed in a piece-for-three-pawns ending, but missed an incredibly opaque forced win against Magnus Carlsen.

Yes, the Norwegian supercomputer "Sesse" announced mate in 30, but even top grandmaster commentators couldn't understand all the complexities of the missed opportunity.

Magnus Carlsen

It was a head-scratching kind of day for Magnus Carlsen. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Count GM Ian Rogers among them. The veteran journalist was the one to inform Carlsen that his fortress should not have held, but then even he had trouble explaining all the pathways.

"I am not going to disagree with the computers, I just don't understand it," Carlsen said after being informed that 68...Bh4 was the key.

Ian Rogers

GM Ian Rogers breaks the news to Carlsen, then tries to show why Carlsen was losing, only to have trouble with the myriad nuances. But he's in good company: GM Peter Svidler also couldn't explain everything, and that was with "Sesse" in front of him! | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

The match is now tied 3.0-3.0 after six games, with every game ending drawn in the first half. After tomorrow's rest day, Carlsen gets the second half of his "double White," although the player making the first move has hardly been enjoying this pleasure in London. Black has been at least equal, and most of the time for preference, through the first half-dozen games.

"Magnus hasn’t been able to show anything as White. And today again," Maxime Vachier-Lagrave said on the Chess.com live show, which again nearly reached 50,000 concurrent viewers. The top French player called Carlsen's attempt at an opening advantage "naive."

Fabiano Caruana

Unlike the 1980s, this "Hand of God" doesn't always put the goal in the back of the net. Fabiano Caruana's goalkeeping as Black has gone just fine. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Long before the six-plus hour grind, the second-longest of the match, Carlsen played his third different opening move. Sure enough, after 1. e4 Caruana responded with his 19th-century helper, Alexander Petroff. This answered the question of whether the challenger would eschew his trusty defense, despite some of the variations being shown as part of his database in the now-infamous leaked video.

Once Caruana played 2...Nf6 instead of 2...Nc6, Carlsen briefly paused and turned to the photographers, just as he had done after 6. b4 a day previously. The move could not have been a surprise, but instead must have felt like a challenge—to try to beat his challenger with his top defensive weapon.

Magnus Carlsen

Carlsen eagerly wants to learn more about the ending. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Soon after it became boogie knights, with the steeds making an astounding 75 percent of the players' first 20 plies in the offbeat variation. At one point, Caruana made seven consecutive knight moves, and 10 of his first 14 moves were made by his knights. 

How weird was it? Caruana's kingside knight took seven moves to get from g8 to e7, a process that of course usually takes place in a single leap. Unfortunately, the game quickly stabilized into a symmetrical pawn structure that looked more like an Exchange French.

"I think the opening was relatively innocuous and I got a pretty close to equal position; maybe it was very slightly worse," Caruana said. "It’s very funny looking but unfortunately it leads to a very dull position."

From there, the American outplayed his rival, who continued too passively in trying to avoid a knight-for-bishop exchange. Caruana traded a side pawn for a center pawn, true to Carlsen's scouting report that his opponent favors the center (there was a line where Caruana could have gone after the a-pawn instead, but he wanted the d-pawn).

Shortly after, Carlsen said he was more or less forced to enter the vicissitudes of an ending where he offered a piece for three pawns, but he didn't even realize it was really only two pawns. That was quickly winnowed down to a single pawn before the Norwegian manufactured a nearly-impregnable fortress that could only be broken down with the most prodigious computing power.

Magnus Carlsen Fabiano Caruana

The players couldn't take their eyes off GM Danny King's computer screen. There's a lot to unwrap from today's ending. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"It’s not the kind of thing you go for when you have decent alternatives, so I don’t know what else I could have done anyway, Carlsen said after the pawn-grab. "I didn’t feel great about it, especially not after I realized I was losing one pawn, but at that point I don’t know if there were many alternatives."

Sam Shankland

Here is the winning line played out to mate, found with the help of Sesse, Stockfish, and endgame tablebases. 

Afterward Carlsen laughed at the first question at the press conference, which was nearly as assured as Caruana's Petroff.

"I knew I was gonna get that question!" Carlsen said about whether he has a newfound belief in fortresses (the reference was to his statement at the last world championship that he "generally" doesn't believe in them). "So…It’s a good thing they exist, right?"

"Now I do (too)," Caruana said.

Had it come down to bishop+knight mate, had Caruana had to prove himself before?

"I had it a few times and I didn’t have any problems so far," Caruana said.

Fabiano Caruana

Leg one of the "double White" went fine for Caruana. Or should we say, "Carlsen survived his first turn with White?!" It's been that kind of upside-down title match. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"I think from move about 22 to the time control I made many, many mistakes," Carlsen said. "…c5 was an attempt to break out, otherwise Black is very slightly worse, and then I just got way too casual with this whole Bc2 and Rd1 thing."

He said he should have kept his bishop on b3 "as we are taught" in isolated queen pawn positions. "I missed so many things. I’m just happy to have saved it," he said.

So why does Black continue to do well?

"I think the thing is that it’s maybe a bit easier to be a bit careless with White as you always feel you have more of a room for error," Carlsen said. "Like today, I guess I was probably a bit influenced by the fact that I had the white pieces. With Black I probably would have played more carefully in the early middlegame."

Today's match also had some of the usual intrigue of a world championship. A FIDE drug testing official arrived as scheduled, ready to test the players upon conclusion of the game.

In addition, before the round, the players' chairs were analyzed for electronic devices, similar to other title matches in history, including the last one to include an American. Recall that Bobby Fischer had his chair flown to Iceland, and it turned out to be so comfortable that Boris Spassky asked for one, too.

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A player's chair: Apparently not TSA-Precheck approved. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"The Championship 2018 is the most protected chess event in history, both in regular security and advanced anti-cheating and fair play measures," World Chess CEO Ilya Merenzon said in a press release. His organization hired the the famed detective agency Pinkerton for help with security. "Pinkerton employs the most advanced technology, but it’s very much warranted given the interest this match is generating, and increased betting and overall profile of the event."

Maybe it's a good thing Caruana didn't find the difficult path to victory. Pinkerton might have had the 13th world champion to answer to:

Some of the security protocols at the event seem unnecessarily strict, while others are just strange (press can bring phones into the playing hall, as long as they are in one of the clear plastic bags provided, but of course an app could be running even without the ability to manipulate the screen).

Magnus Carlsen

Assistance from Greek gods apparently allowed: Carlsen channels Nike. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Whether or not Pinkerton's assistance is actually needed is debatable, but according to Caruana's second GM Cristian Chirila, what the players really need more is one another.

"Magnus needs Fabiano," Chirila said. "Fabiano needs Magnus. And the chess world needs both.”

He added that the chess world also needs a win. Today, it nearly got it. But at least it was a fight.

Fabiano Caruana

Caruana nearly became the world's highest-rated player today. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

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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