Grandmaster chess at this level is so rarefied – the pair are the top players in the world – that they can cancel each other out. Some observers have found that a little dull, pining for the heroic days of chess when players still made errors, theory ...
World Chess Championship 2018
The game has regained its popularity thanks to the rise of Asian giants and the world wide web
Magnus Carlsen (L) plays against Fabiano Caruana (R) during the World Chess Championship in London on 26 November 2018. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
The World Chess Championship match between the title-holder, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, and his American challenger, Fabiano Caruana will finally be decided tomorrow, after a three-week struggle in which all 12 games of long-form chess they have played has been drawn. They now embark on a series of “rapidplay” games – lasting about an hour, roughly a sixth of the time it normally takes. If they are still locked together after four such contests, the two grandmasters play a series of up to five mini-matches of roughly 10-minute blitz games to try and determine the winner. Then, if the scores are still level they play a single so-called Armageddon game, in which if the player with the black pieces can manage to draw the game – white goes first and has a time advantage so this is easier said than done – he wins the title. Armageddon would be a first for the world championship and an extraordinary way to decide it.
The match has divided chess aficionados. Grandmaster chess at this level is so rarefied – the pair are the top players in the world – that they can cancel each other out. Some observers have found that a little dull, pining for the heroic days of chess when players still made errors, theory wasn’t quite so exhaustive and computer analysis hadn’t superseded the human brain in determining what grandmasters like to refer to as the “truth” of a position. But others have gloried in the high standard of the play, the brilliance of the defensive resources employed by both players and the fact that at least half of the 12 classical games were spiritedly fought and could, with lesser defenders, have produced a decisive result.
This paper has the longest running daily chess column in the world. We persevered in no small part because of our brilliant columnist, where others have not. What is undeniable is that chess is now established as an online spectacle. Websites covering the match garner large and enthusiastic audiences; long games allow time for comment and speculation; online followers can see potentially more than the players themselves, who are locked in their glass booth and unable to look up moves; and on social media grandmasters offer hot takes. Web chess, it transpires, is Test Match Special for people who find cricket too fast-paced, proving Dutch grandmaster Hans Ree’s point it is a game beautiful enough to waste your life for.
Chess had been in the doldrums in recent years, in part because it lacked the cold war intrigue. The game began in China and India, and its renaissance is down in part to chess’s popularity among Asian teenagers. Pessimists fear computers may one day “solve” chess, demonstrating an infallible sequence of moves that guarantee victory from the start of the game. But that solution is still many years away. The human struggle looks certain, for now, to keep millions hooked to see if Caruana can upset the odds and defeat Carlsen, the favourite unmatched in rapidplay and blitz. Whoever triumphs, the winner will be the game itself, which reaped the fruits of an online revolution.
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