The World Chess Championship is being held in Manhattan this month, and defending champion Magnus Carlsen has been playing challenger Sergey Karjakin since Nov. 11. The Norwegian and the Russian danced their way to seven straight draws to open the match, which is the longest such streak to begin a championship match since 1995. Each player earns 0.5 points with a draw, and 1 for a win.
Carlsen has been the world champion since 2013, and he has a legitimate case for being the greatest chess player of all time. The young Norwegian was a grandmaster by age 13 and was favored to win another title, but Karjakin took a 4.5 to 3.5 lead yesterday when he won Game 8 thanks to a tactical blunder from Carlsen.
If you watch the match back, what really stands out is the palatable tension in the room. The format of the championship match allows for more time between moves than other formats like Blitz or Armageddon, which I swear to you are real and could be used as tiebreakers, but time management is still a huge factor in the game. As the rules state:
The time control for each game shall be: 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.
As FiveThirtyEight noted, Karjakin was seven seconds away from instant defeat at one point before he made his 40th move, and a hurried misplacement of his queen almost cost him the game. It’s no wonder then that the two pale chess dudes looked strained throughout the match. When considering a move, Carlsen would apprehensively lean right out over the board and move his mouth around. Karjakin opted for cradling his head in his hands. When Carlsen finally conceded the game, he ended a squirmy match that lasted over five hours. I can see why the schedule had seven rest days on it.
But Carlsen wasn’t off the hook yet. Facing down a press conference full of journalists eager to pick apart your most high-profile failure sounds hellacious, and Carlsen sat there for two interminable minutes before flapping his hands like a bird and storming off. The World Chess Federation (FIDE) announced that his abrupt exit could cost him 10 percent of his winnings.
I mean, look at this. It looks excruciating!
Game 9 is this afternoon, and Carlsen will begin trying to climb out of the hole that Karjakin put him in. He apparently has just a 19 percent chance of winning the championship, and he’ll have to play attacking chess to get there. Whether he can take the mounting pressure will probably have a large say in how he does.