The Calm Before the Storm (World Championship 2018)

Hi all, I’m back!  I took a short break for the past couple weeks in order to finalize my Early Action college applications and get those in.  But, now that the November 1st deadline has passed and I’m done with those (phew, what a relief!), I can get back to writing.  So, without further ado, let’s get to the actual article.

It’s only a few days from one of the most anticipated World Championship matches in the Carlsen era.  On one hand, we have the reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who has successfully defended his title for the last two encounters.  On the other hand, we have Fabiano Caruana, the current second-highest rated player in the world and World Champion hopeful.  For the first time, the Carlsen’s challenger is actually younger than him – Carlsen is 27 years old, while Caruana is 26.  This brings a new aspect to the match that hasn’t been seen yet:  Caruana’s rating and age are comparable to Carlsen, whereas it’s always been one or the other with the previous two challengers in Anand and Karjakin.  This makes for a very compelling match on paper.  But, before getting too far into the match itself, let’s see how these players got here.

The Road to London

First, we have reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen.  There honestly isn’t much that has to be said about him except, he’s good.  Very good.  In his most recent tournament, European Club Cup, he had a +1 score with one win and five draws.  Overall, he’s played much less than Caruana since the match was set, so he’s likely going to be very prepared for the upcoming matchup.

Next, we have Caruana.  He punched his ticket to challenge Carlsen because he won the Candidates tournament back in March.  Typically, when a player is going to be the World Championship challenger, they don’t play that much until the match because they want to stay home and prepare.  However, Caruana hasn’t stuck to that strategy all that much, instead playing in most of the big tournaments.  It hasn’t been a bad decision at all, though, since he’s played well in each of these events and goes into the match only three (!) rating points behind Carlsen and his playing stamina up to par.

What to Look for

It seems like these players are going to play for different narratives in this match.  Carlsen, in his typical style, will probably go for solid openings as Black and try to steer the game towards the endgame if possible, since no one in today’s game is better than him in that phase; as White, at least early in the match, we will probably see Carlsen going for more rewarding possibilities, but if he is up near the end of the match, he will probably switch to more solid openings there as well.  Caruana, on the other hand, will probably push for more in the middle stages in all of his games as White since it is in his interest to avoid the endgame if he won’t have at least something to play for in that phase; meanwhile as Black, we might see Caruana a bit more aggressive than Carlsen in the end.  However, the flow of the match is what will be the greatest factor in determining how the players play as the match goes on.

Recent Games

The most recent game between Carlsen and Caruana was at the Sinquefield Cup, where they drew a relatively tame game.  Likely, neither player wanted to exhaust one of their prepared opening lines so that they could save it for the match.  However, in the head-to-head match before that, Carlsen won against Caruana at the Altibox Norway tournament earlier in the year; in that game, Carlsen reached an advantageous endgame where he ground down Caruana.  I’ve attached this game below.

Carlsen – Caruana, Altibox Norway, 2018

This is the kind of game that Carlsen will likely aim for in the upcoming match.  Meanwhile, Caruana will strike early and often, hoping to replicate games like this recent attacking gem from the World Chess Olympiad.

Caruana – Anand, World Chess Olympiad, 2018

No matter the case, this match will be one of the most exciting, action-packed matches to date, and I know I’ll be keeping up with every game.

Looking ahead, I’ll finally be playing in my first tournament in months since I finally have some time.  Next time around, I’ll either be updating you guys on games from the World Championship or share some games from that upcoming tournament of mine.  As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

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