World Chess Championship: Tiebreakers to determine the winner after Magnus Carlsen’s shocking draw offer

World Chess Championship: Tiebreakers to determine the winner after Magnus Carlsen’s shocking draw offer

Aditya Pai November 27, 2018 21:57:40 IST
World Chess Championship: Tiebreakers to determine the winner after Magnus Carlsen’s shocking draw offer

“I don’t know how to put it politely. So, I will just say the first words that come to mind – it’s a shame,” said former world champion, Vladimir Kramnik when he was informed that Magnus Carlsen had offered a draw on the 31st move of the twelfth and final game of the World Chess Championship match at The College in Holborn, Central London.

While this draw put the match in record books for being the first in the 132 year history of official world championships to finish without a decisive result, it’s abrupt end baffled patzers and pundits alike. Carlsen was in complete command of the position when he offered the draw on move 31, one move after having completed the minimum number of moves for making draw offers.

World Chess Championship Tiebreakers to determine the winner after Magnus Carlsens shocking draw offer

The twelfth game abruptly ended in a draw after Magnus Carlsen’s surprising draw offer. Image Couurtesy: World Chess

Caruana said after the game that, like everyone else, the draw offer came as a surprised him too. “I was a bit surprised by the draw offer. 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,” he said.

Carlsen, however, said that he “was not in the right mindset to go for it”. “To be honest, I was just trying to make natural moves. I mean, everybody could see that I wasn’t really necessarily going for the maximum,” he added.

Caruana, who had the white pieces in the final game, allowed Carlsen to venture into the double edged Sveshnikov variation of the Sicilian Defence. Carlsen was the first to deviate in the line when he went 8…Ne7 instead of 8…Nb8 which he had played in the two previous games in the line. But this wasn’t necessarily an attempt by Carlsen to outwit his challenger since, around move 14, he made a silent draw offer by attempting to repeat the position.

Caruana braved playing on but was soon caught in an unpleasant situation. Carlsen had managed to stymie Caruana’s attack by closing down the kingside while having a free hand on the queen’s wing where Caruana’s king had castled. Trying to hold his position together, Caruana ended up expending too much time off his clock. At one point, the challenger was about fifty minutes behind.

The critical moment in the game came on the 25th move when Carlsen could have broken up white’s queenside with 25…b5. A lot of top grandmasters thought this should have been the way to go for black. But Carlsen chose the relatively modest 25…a5 in the position and explained his choice afterwards stating that he didn’t want to unbalance the position.

“This was just not my goal. Once again, my approach was not to unbalance the position at that point. I had a very clear path with [25…] a5 and e4 which gave me a completely safe position that I can maybe play for a win.”

However, the Norwegian super computer “Sesse”, which has been spectating the match, agreed with the grandmaster consensus on 25…b5 and gave black a winning edge of about 2.0 in the resulting position. When this was pointed out to Magnus, the world champion simply responded with an “I don’t care”.

In conjunction with his plan, Carlsen did execute the 25…a5 and e4 plan in the game but after this, as per Fabiano Caruana, “the worst was over”. The position was still quite difficult to play for Caruana since he barely had any active plans. And just when it seemed Carlsen would torture Caruana until eternity with his trademark ‘squeeze’, the world champion, to the shock of everyone watching, offered a draw.

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

Garry Kasparov, who had previously regarded Carlsen to be a favourite in the tiebreaks wrote on Twitter that in the light of the shocking draw offer by the world champion, he feels Magnus seems to be losing his nerves.

Kramnik, as mentioned before, was also utterly disappointed. On the ‘Today in Chess’ webcast by the St. Louis Chess Club, the former world champion went so far as to say that he would have played for a win in the position even if a draw had won him the match. “I will be rooting for Caruana in the tie-breaks now,” Kramnik added.

The chess world has also been abuzz with talks about the high number of draws in this world championship match. One of the arguments raised was that since this is a classical world championship match, deciding the winner in a tighter time control (rapid/blitz) made little sense. The several offered solutions included having more games.

A longer match, it was discussed, might allow players take more risk as they would have more opportunities. FIDE vice president, GM Nigel Short seemed to be in agreement with this notion. After the match, he wrote on Twitter: “Not enough rounds and too many rest days”.

Fabiano Caruana, when asked about this, said he wouldn’t mind more rounds. “I mean, I won’t mind more rounds. Sixteen or Eighteen rounds would be fine. It’s not like we are exhausted after twelve games or anything.”

Kramnik, however, had a rather innovative solution to the problem. As per the rules of some of the previous world championship matches, in case of a tie, the world champion got to retain his title while the prize purse was split in half. Kramnik made a modification to this and proposed that a tiebreak be played before the classical games began. In case of a tie, the winner of the tiebreak be declared the winner of the match instead of automatically letting the world champion go away with the title.

This, Kramnik said would not only decide the classical world championship in the classical time format but would also put pressure on at least one of the players to take risks, even if it were a 12-game-match.

However, as it stands, the match has ended in a 6-all deadlock without a single decisive game. In the forthcoming playoff on Wednesday, the players will battle in a four game mini-match with a rapid time control (25 minutes per player with a 10 second increment after each move). If the scores still remain tied, there will be up to five two-game blitz matches (5 mins per player + 3 sec increment).

In case there is still no winner after the five blitz mini-matches, an Armageddon game will decide the winner. In this game, white will have five minutes against black’s four. Black, on the other hand, will have draw odds, meaning, in case of a draw, black would be adjudged as the winner.

Despite the public outrage against Carlsen due to his abrupt draw offer, he remains to be a heavy favourite in the match. By rating, Carlsen, with an Elo of 2880 in rapid play, outweighs Caruana (rated 2789) by a whopping 91 point margin. In blitz, the gap is even steeper. Carlsen (rated 2939) is 172 points ahead of Caruana, who has a rating of 2767. Furthermore, the world champion has not lost a tiebreaker in more than a decade.

“I think I have very good chances but I don’t know what’s gonna happen,” the world champion said about his chances. “Before today, I thought getting a tiebreak will be a good result so I am still happy about that,” he added.

Replay Game 11

Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India

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