Stalemate To Checkmate: After 12 Draws, World Chess Championship Will Speed Up – NPR


Reigning chess world champion Magnus Carlsen (right), from Norway, plays Italian-American challenger Fabiano Caruana in the first few minutes of round 12 of their World Chess Championship match on Monday in London.

Matt Dunham/AP


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Matt Dunham/AP

Reigning chess world champion Magnus Carlsen (right), from Norway, plays Italian-American challenger Fabiano Caruana in the first few minutes of round 12 of their World Chess Championship match on Monday in London.

Matt Dunham/AP

The World Chess Championship is heading toward a dramatic conclusion on Wednesday, which could give the U.S. its first champion since Bobby Fischer took the crown in 1972.

The players will embark on a series of fast-moving tiebreaks at the event in London, which will get faster and faster if they continue to draw.

Fabiano Caruana, the 26-year-old Italian-American prodigy who grew up in Brooklyn, is definitely the underdog. For 12 games so far, he has taken on the current world chess champion, Magnus Carlsen. And each game has ended in a draw.

“I’ve had mediocre years, I’ve had good years,” Caruana said in a recent interview with The New York Times. “This year has been the best by far.”

According to the organizer World Chess, it’s the first championship match where nobody has won a game through the first 12 games of regular play.

Carlsen, who is 27 and from Norway, has been on top of the game for much of his adult life. He’s held the world champion title since 2013.

But some observers think he may be losing his edge. “He’s a shadow of himself, of his best times,” chess grandmaster Judit Polgár tells NPR’s Here & Now.

Carlsen raised eyebrows at a crucial moment in Game 12, when he appeared to be in a stronger position, yet suddenly offered to leave the game as a draw.

“For whatever reason, he chose not to invest the energy and, instead, proposed a draw after 31 moves, which Caruana accepted,” according to a write-up from World Chess.

That decision was baffling to legendary chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.

“In light of this shocking draw offer from Magnus in a superior position with more time, I reconsider my evaluation of him being the favorite in rapids,” Kasparov wrote on Twitter. “Tiebreaks require tremendous nerves and he seems to be losing his.”

At the same time, World Chess pointed out that even though computer calculations say Carlsen was more likely to win when he offered the draw, “the position was complicated and it was clear that it would take a lot of maneuvering, and many hours, if Carlsen hoped to break through.”

“I wasn’t in a mood to find the punch,” Carlsen said after the game, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Polgár said Carlsen has previously been known for avoiding draws. She says the two players are very evenly matched. “I think he lost the appetite of winning, or it is not so much important for him to win again, somehow he cannot motivate himself so much as he could before,” she said.

These past 12 games have been played according to time regulations that mean each game can take hours. The players have 100 minutes each for the first 40 moves, with even more time added after that.

But on Wednesday, the pace of the game is going to speed up – a lot. The challenge of the tie-breaks is that play happens in smaller and smaller amounts of time.

The faster play is expected to work in Carlsen’s favor. He’s higher-ranked in styles of chess with tighter time regulations.

The first four tie-breaker games start with 25 minutes each on the clock, and 10 additional seconds after each move.

After those four games, if the scores are still tied, it moves to even faster rounds called “blitz games.”

First, the players play two games with five minutes each plus three seconds after each move. If they’re still tied, they’ll play another two games, and this could continue up to 10 games total.

And if it’s still even after the end of the blitz games, they’ll go to a round referred to as “Armageddon.”

The player who has white pieces gets five minutes on his clock, one more minute than the player who has black. But, should the game end in a draw, the player with black pieces is automatically the winner.

And unless the referee decides otherwise, according to the rules, the players will have just 10 minutes between each of these tie-break games.

Besides the coveted title of world champion, there’s a lot of money on the line. The players are duking it out for a prize fund of 1 million euros ($1.1 million). If it had been decided in regular games the winner would get 60 percent and the loser 40 percent — now, because it has gone to tie-break games, the winner will get 55 percent and the loser 45 percent.

It’s worth noting that it’s highly unlikely that the matches will actually get to the epic conclusion of a sudden death round.

In fact, according to calculations by FiveThirtyEight, there’s a 0.02 percent chance this World Chess Championship will end in Armageddon.

We’ll just have to watch to find out. Games kick off Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET.



Place in chess competition – The Steubenville Herald-Star



— Contributed

Members from the Fellowship of the Pawns youth chess club competed Nov. 18 in the 2018 Pennsylvania State Game/15 Championship. Teammates Phillip Rawson, right, and Caleb Bier, left, competed in the scholastic section and took first and second place, respectively, with Phillip going undefeated and Caleb losing his only game to his teammate, Rawson. Coach Gary Rawson, back, also competed in the championship section of the tournament. The club meets from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Tuesday at First Westminster Presbyterian Church, 235 N. Fourth St., Steubenville. Youth interested in learning or playing chess are welcome to come anytime. For information check out the club’s website at fellowshipofthepawns.wordpress.



Speed Chess Championship: The Final Four's Footrace! – Chess.com


If the Speed Chess Championship’s “Finals Weekend” was a high-schooler, this would be Spring Break. You’ve waited all year to see who will survive the 12+ total hours of non-stop chess action.

The first semifinals match will take place on Friday, November 30 at 2pm Eastern, then when the calendar turns over, the next will be Saturday, December 1 at 2pm Eastern. The finals will be on Sunday, December 2 at 2pm Eastern.

The first semifinal on Friday will be second-seeded Wesley So against upset-specialist Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The second semifinal on Saturday is two-time finalist Hikaru Nakamura against 12th-seeded (even though he’s #11 in the world!) Levon Aronian

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Chess.com wanted to know everything about these semifinalists, from who’s fastest on foot to what’s the most distracting thing about playing in the SCC. Here’s what the four men had to say (on some occasions answers have been edited for clarity or length):

1) Who would win a one-kilometer foot race between the four of you? Who would win an arm-wrestling contest? 

Duda: I was pretty much a regular runner, and in my golden times, I was capable of running like 15km without breaks. Honestly I doubt anyone else could repeat this. So I would choose myself as a definite favorite, even though a couple of months ago, I got another ankle sprain, so logically I got out of form.

Aronian: I have a feeling I will win both, but I would love to have that tested!

So: Hikaru—because he can run a half-marathon. For the arm-wrestling contest, Levon—he is ARMenian.

Nakamura: I’d like to think I’d win the one-kilometer race amongst the four of us as I’ve run many 5ks and plenty of half marathons. However, I suspect that since the distance is so short and Jan-Krzysztof is pretty wiry that he’d be the fastest over that distance. In terms of arm wrestling, I have absolutely no clue, I think it would be completely random.

2) Please finish this sentence: In order to be faster than Hikaru in bullet, I would handicap him by __________. 

Duda: By making him to have a chat with some nice lady, seated in front of him. That should be enough.

Aronian: Giving him my mouse. 

So: Making him use only a laptop mouse.

Nakamura: In order to handicap myself, I would make myself have to type moves. No mouse allowed!

3) Jan-Krzysztof was 1 in 235 to win the entire SCC according to SmarterChess’s predictions before the season began. Obviously hindsight is 20-20 but do you feel those odds were about right before the season began? What would you put his odds at now that we are down to four players? 

Duda: I wasn’t into statistics before my competition in SCC, because at the time I really didn’t know where I stood. My opponents were definitely greater than me on paper, but on the other hand I didn’t necessarily feel that they were much better in a fast “clicking.” I mostly felt it when I played against Sergey Karjakin, and was given like 18 percent chance. Was I really able of winning just every fifth match? Now it’s gonna be more difficult for me, because I probably no longer will be considered as an easy-to-beat guy. But come on, after all it’s just online chess! It’s fun!

Jan-Krszysztof Duda Speed Chess

Aronian: People tend to overestimate and underestimate some players. Karjakin and [Alexander] Grischuk are enormous players OTB, but online can be tricky. I am sure that the odds will be corrected for the next season. Duda could be a favorite in his match, since he got the crowd’s support! 

So: The match odds were clearly unfair for Duda as 1 in 235 means he had less than 0.5 percent chance to win the tournament. That was unrealistic. Given his rating and playing strength has improved in the last few months and now he has 1 in a 4 chance to win. 

Nakamura: Having played Jan-Krzysztof quite a few times on Chess.com, it was pretty obvious that he was much better than 235-1. I’d say based on his victories against Sergey and the best comeback I’ve ever seen against Grischuk, that his (current) odds are probably 20 percent. 

4) I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets by saying that Levon has recently become an 1. e4 player, or perhaps has returned to being an 1. e4 player. What’s the most radical thing each of you has ever done to improve your chess results?

Duda: Well I think the most radical thing for me was changing my old “bad” habits. I started to do some sport activities and I’m trying to eat in a more healthy way. This change is still in progress!

Aronian: Studying the “not-best” games of the great players helped me to regain some confidence at some point.

Levon Aronian Speed Chess

So: Moving to Minnesota, and living with my family! They’ve been very supportive and helpful to me in my life. Also switching federations to the United States.

Nakamura: I’ve never done anything super radical, but I think that taking long breaks from chess and living life resulted in an improved outlook and better chess (specifically going to college in 2006 and living in Vancouver in 2008).

5) What’s the best game you know of for your semi-finals round opponent?

Duda: I have watched basically every match, missing only a couple of the first round matches. And of course my games are the best. But aside of me I really like some of Levon’s displays against Anish in those London-style openings. Perhaps the 18th game was the coolest.

Aronian: I think the 2010 game from Bursa World Team Championship against [Boris] Gelfand was spectacular. There must be many, but I saw this one live.

So: Wojtaszek-Duda Polish Championship 2018. Duda won this game with Black against the Polish number one. I think it was a sweet, spectacular moment for his career as it pretty much secured the tournament victory and assured him the Olympiad first board.

Nakamura: Lev has played too many great games of chess in both regular chess and bughouse to name one!

Nakamura Speed Chess

[Ed: Just to make sure we have one offering from each player, here’s a funny ending idea Aronian once used. — MK]

6) Would you like to see a online-only event of some sort added to the Grand Chess Tour?

Duda: GCT is so far inaccessible for me. But online events are fun to watch, and top-guns start to blunder a lot. So yes, definitely!

Aronian: Why not? I find watching and playing the online matches to be very exciting.

So: Yes. Playing online has the added benefit to players as we can play anywhere in the world, at any time. It gives us more time to study and prepare for the event and we don’t have to undergo the tortuous activity of long travel and 30 hours on planes and in airports. Remove the jet lag, and the fatigue. I’m open to seeing different formats introduced to chess. I’m interested in the idea of having a Chess960 tournament as well for example.

Wesley So Speed Chess

Nakamura: I think having an online aspect to the GCT would be very interesting. Having streamed a lot on Twitch lately, it has become clear to me that online viewership is critical to chess. As long as there can be 100 percent transparency and no devices can be used while playing online, it’s the future for sure.

7) Of these choices, what would be the most distracting in playing your Speed Chess Championship match: Having your opponent play without his shirt on, having your entire family behind you watching you play, having to play with pink dark squares, or having to play “upside down” with the pieces you control being at the top of the screen instead of the bottom?

Duda: Having my entire family watching me playing from behind would likely be too much to handle.

Aronian: Pink would definitely be the worst.

So: I guess I would not enjoy having to look at my opponent’s naked chest for several hours.

Nakamura: Without a doubt, the most distracting thing would be playing the match with my whole family behind me watching. It adds a whole different layer of pressure since you feel that you cannot let them down.

8) The most incredible thing to happen in the chess world in the last 10 years was ________________.

Duda: Magnus Carlsen’s rise was something extraordinary.

Aronian: Me overtaking [Iuri] Shkuro on the FIDE blitz rating list. 

So: For me it’s the establishment of the Saint Louis Chess Club and the Grand Chess Tour. Before that they were holding the U.S. Championship in a basement and chess in the United States didn’t have an official home. Now we have the Chess Hall of Fame and the world’s tallest chess piece in St. Louis, plus all the tournaments they sponsor.

Nakamura: The most incredible things to happen in the last 10 years in chess have all involved the legendary Uzbek GM, Timur Gareev!

9) How closely will you be following the world chess championship?

Duda: I will watch every game being played in the same day, and probably I will do it at high speed, without much understanding what is really going on!

Aronian: As always, very closely.

So: Very closely! I’m very anxious to see if Fabiano [Caruana] can finally dethrone Magnus, or if not, what the final score will be.

Nakamura: All of us except Jan-Krzysztof will be competing in India during the world championship, so I suspect we’ll all be focused on the event and simply reviewing the games later. I personally don’t plan on watching any of the games in real time, but I will be doing some commentary on Chess.com with Danny [Rensch] and Robert [Hess].

10) What’s the hardest part about the format of the Speed Chess Championship?

Duda: To survive this 5+1 format. Also the fact that you are recorded all day long, and you have to behave properly!

Aronian: The long wait between the stages!

So: The bullet section. I don’t enjoy this because it is boring, like a video game for teenagers. I’m not even sure it’s chess.

Nakamura: The hardest part about the Speed Chess Championship is finding a rhythm because the five-minute portion is super slow, but the three-minute portion is really fast. 



Caruana 'Suffers Successfully' In Game 11 Of The World Chess Championship – FiveThirtyEight


With his last chance to command the white pieces in a regulation game in the World Chess Championship, defending champion Magnus Carlsen was unable to drum up any attacking chances. Game 11 — like the 10 that preceded it — ended in a draw. Carlsen’s challenger, Fabiano Caruana, defended admirably and the two are tied 5.5-5.5 with one regulation game to go.

Saturday’s game began with the Petroff Defense, Caruana’s favorite opening with the black pieces. Not surprisingly, this was familiar mental territory for the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world. Within 90 seconds, they’d blitzed out their first 10 moves, arriving at the position below.

This specific choice of opening was interesting for two reasons. One, Sergey Karjakin, the 2016 championship challenger, won a game with the white pieces from this exact position in 2016, against the elite Indian grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna. Two, the infamous deleted video that appeared to show secret aspects of Caruana’s pre-match preparation once again reared its head. That video showed a laptop screen with a variation of the Petroff that included the move “9…Nf6.” And indeed, on his ninth move, Caruana moved his knight to the f6 square.

But little else was interesting on Saturday. That “leaked” variation led to nothing sharp from either player and the secretive preparation unleashed no interesting secrets.

Karjakin happened to be in attendance at the venue in London on Saturday, and he provided some early commentary for the viewers that has also become the mantric chant of this match: “It looks very drawish,” he said. He was right. The queens came off the board by the 14th move. Only a pair of bishops and some pawns remained by the 26th. Thirty fruitless moves later, Carlsen and Caruana shook hands.

This is what an uneventful world championship draw looks like at high speeds. Come for the Petroff, stay for the bishop dance.

“Not much really happened today,” Caruana said after the game, to a bit of uncomfortable laughter from the crowd.

While Caruana may have very briefly felt some unpleasantness in the middlegame, “he may suffer successfully,” said Sam Shankland, the U.S. national champion, on a Chess.com broadcast. (To suffer successfully — what a lovely idea.) And indeed Caruana did. Indeed we all have over these past two weeks. Here’s exactly how, according to the computer’s unblinking eye:

“Chess in its present form will die the death of the draw,” wrote Emanuel Lasker, a former world champion, nearly 100 years ago. Yet here we are! Draws “are ingrained in the fabric of the game, a part of chess theory and culture,” another former national champ, Joel Benjamin, wrote in 2006. “Grandmasters play the opening better and make fewer mistakes. Willpower alone cannot ensure a decisive result.”

There is an austere beauty in the equilibrium of draws that this match has reached: Two goliaths, pushing each other with all their might, yet moving nowhere. At any moment, though, the ground can shift.

The mounting draws bring both good and bad news for the American challenger. On one hand, Caruana has proved beyond a doubt his ability to hang with and even outplay Carlsen, perhaps the best player of all time, in lengthy games under the sport’s brightest lights. On the other, should the match remain tied after the final game, the two will move on to speedier tie-breaking games. I wrote about what those look like in 2016. Carlsen is rated No. 1 in the world in both speedy chess formats that will be used, and he is almost universally thought to be a heavy favorite in the tiebreaker.

The match rests tomorrow. Game 12 — the final game of regulation and in which Caruana will have the white pieces — begins Monday at 10 a.m. Eastern. The tie-breaking games, if necessary, will happen on Tuesday. I’ll be covering it all here and on Twitter.