Like tic-tac-toe, five-day cricket matches and Italian soccer in the 1980s, chess has a lot of draws. But the two grandmasters currently battling for the world title in London, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, may be taking it a little too far.
Eight of the 12 games in their world championship match are over. And every one of them, including Monday’s Game 8, has ended in a draw.
For the past week and a half, Carlsen and Caruana, the two best players in the world, have matched wits, and moves, across a table in an auditorium in hourslong games. It can all feel a bit sterile at times, with the players separated from those watching by one-way glass, and the tension only broken by the occasional scheduled rest day.
From that detached vantage point, and even more distance online, the chess news media and fans have watched and analyzed the movement of each piece with excitement. And still, no one wins.
Occasionally. it has seemed as if someone might. In Game 1 last week there was excitement as the champion Carlsen pushed for victory, causing some to speculate that he was on his way to making quick work of Caruana, his American challenger.
But after a seven-hour marathon, Caruana, who at one point had been desperately short on time, fought back and earned a draw. That result seemed to set the tone that has continued.
In Game 6 on Friday it was Caruana’s turn to reach the brink of victory. He came desperately close to closing out Carlsen, only to be stymied in the last moves.
After Game 7, Carlsen declared: “What I did was just way too soft.”
“I’m not loving it, but I’m not in any sort of panic mode either,” he added. “It could have been worse.”
He would know: He has been here before. The 2013 championship, when Carlsen won his title, began with four draws. His first defense, in 2014, started with only one.
In 2016, the last time Carlsen defended his title, the match began with seven consecutive draws. Then the challenger, Sergey Karjakin of Russia, won a game, but Carlsen came back to win one of his own before retaining his crown in a tiebreaker.
Ah yes, the tiebreaker. Monday’s draw leaves four games to go in this year’s match. If no one wins any of them, on Nov. 28 the players will begin an arduous run of tiebreakers in the hopes that someone will actually win a game.
First, the players will face off in four games with a rapid time limit of only 25 minutes per player.
Four more draws? They will next play up to 10 more games at the blinding pace of only five minutes per player — so-called blitz games.
Still drawing? It’s time for an Armageddon game. In it, Carlsen and Caruana would play a single game: whoever draws white — and goes first — will get five minutes, while black will get four.
If this game, too, is a draw, then the organizers will simply throw up their hands and declare black the winner of the match.