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We Got Ourselves A Mysterious Chess Controversy

Photo: Matt Dunham (AP)

After four games, reigning chess world champion Magnus Carlsen and his American challenger Fabiano Caruana are deadlocked at two points each. Each of the four games they’ve played has ended in a tie, and today’s draw was the shortest (and most boring) of the bunch, as it only took two-and-a-half hours and 34 moves. Carlsen had the white pieces and he apparently avoided Caruana’s “Petroff Defense” by drawing the board into a “Reverse Dragon” pattern. But you are definitely not here for hardcore analysis of chess setups that sound like weed strains but half as cool, and thankfully, a mysteriously leaked and quickly deleted YouTube video has provided us with some much needed controversy.

The video in question is called “Today In Chess: World Chess Championship Fabiano In Training” and it was posted by the Saint Louis Chess Club, where Caruana trains. It features 3:25 of footage that shows Caruana’s pre-World Championship training regimen, including which grandmasters he’s working with, some possible strategies he’s maybe developing, and which of Carlsen’s past games Caruana is paying special attention to. If the video is authentic, Carlsen might now have a good idea of how Caruana intends to open their matches, at the very least. It was quickly deleted and only fragments survive online.


Obviously, preparing for all the tendencies of the greatest chess player in the world and developing a suite of strategies and contingency plans for a dozen rapid-fire games is an arduous task. It takes a village, and even the identities of a player’s helpers can be a closely guarded secret. Here’s FiveThirtyEight’s Oliver Roeder:

A player readying for a championship match typically enters seclusion with a small, handpicked crew of grandmaster aides and other associates. Even revealing their identities could be risky, I was told, because different grandmasters have different chess tendencies, and revealing the grandmasters might signal a game plan to the opponent.


So by unintentionally posting the video, Caruana’s team could have tipped their hand to Carlsen and showed that they wanted to, say, focus on the Petroff Defense or do something with a Queen’s Gambit or execute another kind of good chess idea or whatever, and Carlsen and his team would be able to easily develop counter-strategies for Caruana’s strategies. That is, unless the leak is a clever hoax intended to bait Carlsen into a trap and look for the wrong game plan by Caruana. Getting Carlsen to commit to a faulty plan or even question the validity of Caruana’s forthcoming tactics could give the American an advantage. Caruana and his reps declined all comment.

For their part, all of Carlsen’s team thinks that the blunder was just a simple and costly mistake. Carlsen said when asked what he thought about the video, “Well, I’ll have a look at the video and then make up my mind.” Carlsen’s manager said, “I think this is real. It can happen by mistake, and we’ve been close to making the same mistake. It’s more likely that it was a mistake than that it was staged.”


Norwegian grandmaster Jon Ludvig Hammer correctly pointed out that the information is probably real, since it shows openings that Caruana has already used. “This is the opening library of Caruana,” he said. “This was so much detail and in-depth information on an opening he has already used in the world championship match. It is obvious that this is relevant.”

Sounds to me like a lot of doofuses are playing into Caruana’s hands, and nobody will be ready for his devastating “Triple Narwhal” counter-gambit strategy. You absolute fools.

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