CHENNAI: The world of chess is abuzz with excitement as Magnus Carlsen gets ready to defend his title against Fabiano Caruana in the World Championship Match, which starts on Friday in London. The 12-game match has created a lot of interest because of Caruana’s tremendous performance in 2018. Only three rating points separate the champion from the challenger. Carlsen, World No 1 for seven years, has a rating of 2835. Caruana has 2832.
Defending his crown for the third time, the Norwegian faces what probably will be his toughest test. Carlsen rates Caruana highly because of his fearlessness. After surviving a close call against Sergei Karjakin in his last title match in 2016, Carlsen has had a mixed year by his standards, winning only two out of five tournaments (one shared title). Middle and endgame skills are his biggest strengths. If he can dodge Caruana’s opening preparation and steer games into quiet positions, he will gain an upper hand.
“I predict a very close match, with 50:50 chances. It will be more result-oriented and exciting,’’ said former Asian champion SP Sethuraman when asked about Caruana’s chances. GM Sundararajan Kidambi echoed the same. “I am tempted to say it’s 50-50.”
Carlsen has not lost to Caruana since 2015 in classical games, which should give him a psychological edge. He has won one and drawn two against Caruana this year. Considering his match experience, Carlsen starts favourite but needs to raise his game considerably. Caruana has been the player of year, winning the Candidates, Grenke Classic, Norway Chess and Sinquefield Cup (joint).
Sine Candidates, he has been in awesome form. Thrice he won tournaments by winning the last round, which is a difficult thing to do in such strong events. He is uncompromising and revels in complicated positions. Steering the game into such positions will benefit Caruana because he is one of the best calculators.
What is the key for Caruana to end the Norwegian’s reign? “I think putting him under pressure right from the beginning with his ambitious and aggressive play will be Caruana’s strategy,” felt Sethuraman.
“Even though Carlsen is the hardest player to beat, going by current form so would be Caruana for Carlsen. He would come fearlessly at him and not go for a defensive strategy like Karjakin. This could backfire, but appears to be the best strategy against Carlsen,” said Kidambi.