Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana head to tie-breaker after Game 12 draw

By Bryan Armen Graham

The world championship battle between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana will be decided in a quickfire tie-breaker after Monday’s Game 12 ended in a 31-move draw. The result shocked onlookers in light of the champion’s advantages in position and time, and left the best-of-12-games match in a historic 6-6 deadlock.

The latest bloodless result, the 12th draw between the world’s top two players in as many contests, ensured the €1m ($1.14m) showdown in London will go down as the first title match in which no decisive results were managed in the official 132-year history of world championship play.

“I wasn’t necessarily going for the maximum,” said Carlsen, who all but admitted he was content to move directly to a tie-breaker after move 20. “I just wanted a position that was completely safe, [but] where I could put some pressure. If a draw hadn’t been a satisfactory result, obviously I would have approached it differently.”

Quick guide

Norway's Magnus Carlsen is defending the world chess championship against Fabiano Caruana of the United States. The best-of-12-games match is taking place at the College in Holborn between 9 and 28 November, with the winner earning a 60% share of the €1m ($1.14m) prize fund if the match ends in regulation (or 55% if it's decided by tie-break games).

Carlsen, 27, has been ranked No 1 for eight straight years and was considered the world’s best player even before he defeated Viswanathan Anand for the title in 2013. Caruana, 26, is ranked No 2, having earned his place at the table by winning the candidates tournament in March. No American-born player has won or even competed for the world title since Bobby Fischer in 1972. 

It marks the first title match between the world's top two players since 1990, when Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov faced off for a fifth and final time. 

The match will consist of 12 classical games with each player awarded one point for a win and a half-point for a draw. Whoever reaches six and a half points first will be declared the champion.

The time control for each game is 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, 50 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus an additional 30 seconds per move starting from move 1. Players cannot agree to a draw before Black's 30th move. 

If the match is tied after 12 games, tie-breaks will be played on the final day in the following order: 

 • Best of four rapid games with 25 minutes for each player with an increment of 10 seconds after each move. 

 • If still tied, they will play up to five mini-matches of two blitz games (five minutes for each player with a three-second increment).

 • If all five mini-matches are drawn, one sudden-death 'Armegeddon' match will be played where White receives five minutes and Black receives four minutes. Both players will receive a three-second increment after the 60th move. In the case of a draw, Black will be declared the winner.

Thu 8 Nov – Opening ceremony
Fri 9 Nov – Game 1 
Sat 10 Nov – Game 2
Sun 11 Nov – Rest day
Mon 12 Nov – Game 3
Tue 13 Nov – Game 4
Wed 14 Nov – Rest day
Thu 15 Nov – Game 5
Fri 16 Nov – Game 6
Sat 17 Nov – Rest day
Sun 18 Nov – Game 7
Mon 19 Nov – Game 8
Tue 20 Nov – Rest day
Wed 21 Nov – Game 9
Thu 22 Nov – Game 10
Fri 23 Nov – Rest day
Sat 24 Nov – Game 11
Sun 25 Nov – Rest day
Mon 26 Nov – Game 12
Tue 27 Nov – Rest day
Wed 28 Nov – Tie-break games/Awards and closing

The games commence each day at 3pm in London.

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The 27-year-old champion from Norway, making his third defence of the title he captured from Viswanathan Anand in 2013, will play as white in Wednesday’s first tiebreak stage after a drawing of lots following Monday’s game. The tiebreak will consist of a best-of-four rapid match with 25 minutes for each player with an increment of 10 seconds after each move. If that is not enough to break the deadlock, they will play up to five mini-matches of two blitz games (five minutes for each player with a three-second increment). If all five mini-matches are drawn, it will come down to one sudden-death ‘Armageddon’ match in which white receives five minutes, black receives four minutes and both will receive a three-second increment after the 60th move. If that game is drawn, black will be declared the winner.

Carlsen, who in addition to his No 1 ranking is the world’s top-rated rapid player and top-rated blitz player (compared to Caruana’s respective ratings of No 8 and No 16), is widely regarded as a strong favorite in the format, not least due to a 13-year unbeaten record in tie-breakers. But Garry Kasparov said on Monday that Carlsen’s hasty draw offer betrayed a lapse of nerve in the reigning champion.

“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,” the longtime world No 1 wrote on Twitter. “Tiebreaks require tremendous nerves and he seems to be losing his.”

Caruana, as white, played into the Sveshnikov variation in Monday’s classical finale, as he did in the eighth and 10th games. Carlsen was first to deviate from those lines with 8. ... Ne7 and Caruana quickly fell behind on time after the champion played a novelty with 12. ... h5.

Game 12 was a draw after 31 moves and nearly three hours.

The 26-year-old American challenger was offered a chance for a draw by repetition shortly after (13. Qa4 Bd7 14. Qb4 Bf5) but bravely opted to play on with 15. Be3. Yet Caruana’s temporal problems compounded over the next few moves (15. ... a6 16. Nc3 Qc7 17. g3 Be7 18. f3 Nf8 19. Ne4 Nd7 20. Bd3) and he soon found himself nearly 50 minutes behind on the clock.

After Carlsen castled following a 12-minute think (20. ... O-O), Caruana delivered a surprise move (21. Rh2!?) that cost him in the opinion of the evaluation engines, but earned praise from the Russian grandmaster Alexander Grischuk from the commentary booth: “The deepest move in the match so far,” he said.

Even after the champion expended another 10 minutes before playing 21. ... Rac8, Carlsen was ahead in development with more than a half-hour advantage in time. He pressed the initiative with 22. ... Bg6 23. Rc2 f5 and Caruana’s dubious 25. f4 sent the computers haywire. The challenger’s position appeared increasingly difficult to hold after 26. ... e4 27. Be2 Be8 28. Kb1 Bf6 29. Re1 a4 30. Qb4 g6.

Which made Carlsen’s decision to offer a draw after 31. Rd1 Ra8 nothing short of mystifying. A relieved Caruana gladly accepted after a game that had lasted two hours and 57 minutes, sending the match to Wednesday’s tie-breaker.

“I was a bit surprised by the draw offer,” said Caruana, who is looking to become the second American-born player to capture the world championship after Bobby Fischer in 1972. “I can never be better [than move 31]. And I don’t really have any active ideas. If anything, black is better. At least I thought I was over the worst of it. I thought it was much more dangerous a few moves ago.”

He added: “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.”

Both players bristled at the notion that a world title match consisting solely of draws could undercut the sport’s popularity, addressing the central talking point of their three-week psychodrama.

“We work with the match that we have,” Caruana said. “If the powers that be want to change it, then we’ll work with something else.”