It was a grueling and balanced fight that needed extra-time to conclude, but at the end of it all, Magnus Carlsen kept his title with a convincing performance.
A balanced act
Carlsen became world champion in 2013 and hasn’t looked back since. The highest rated player in history and regarded by some as the best player to ever grace chess, Carlsen is known as a brilliant and tenacious player, and is used to being favored to win. But in 2018, things weren’t as clear. His challenger, Fabiano Caruana (US), stood out as a worthy competitor. Caruana showed extremely precise preparation and impressed using his ability to calculate the best position.
The stage was set, and the two dueled it out over 12 long games. They each had their chance — Carlsen came inches to winning the first game, whereas only a seeming miracle saved him in game 6
They both had their fair share of chances, but every passing game brought another draw — and after 11 games, it was time for the decisive game.
Carlsen says “Tie-breakers, please!”
Since tie-breakers are carried out in a much shorter time control, where Carlsen was considered a clear favorite, the last game was met with great excitement, especially because Caruana was expected to try and force a victory — and try he did. However, things didn’t go as expected and the situation quickly backfired, leading to a situation where Carlsen was pushing for a decisive win and a title.
But Carlsen had other plans. Instead of pushing for a win (which, truth be told, was not exactly clear), he decided to offer a draw.
Thus, the stage was set for tie-breakers, though not without some controversy.
Again, Carlsen was widely regarded as a favorite if the match got to tie-breakers — but that was before the game. After the two finally reached that stage, not everyone was convinced of who was favorite. Hikaru Nakamura, four-time US champion, said it would be “odd” if Caruana lost the game.
Considering that Caruana has exhibited generally superior skills in all facets of the match (opening prep, middle game transition, endgames) it would seem a bit odd if he loses this match. #WorldChampionship
— Hikaru Nakamura (@GMHikaru) November 26, 2018
Former world champion Garry Kasparov also reconsidered Carlsen’s odds of winning.
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. Tiebreaks require tremendous nerves and he seems to be losing his.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) November 26, 2018
But the doubts were unfounded. Unphased, Carlsen pressed on and won in a decisive fashion. The tie-breakers, consisting of 4 games played with 25 minutes for each player, kicked off with a clear win for Carlsen, and the second game was even more convincing. Caruana had to make something happen in the third game but failed to do so — and Magnus Carlsen retained his World Championship title.
For more details, you can check out the tournament’s Wikipedia page, with detailed mentions of each game, and for even more in-depth analysis, Peter Svidler, eight-time Russian Chess Champion, has excellent in-depth analysis videos.