The classical time-control portion of the match ended with 12 consecutive draws, the only time in the history of the world chess championship that all classical games have been drawn. On 28 November, rapid chess was used as a tie-breaker; Carlsen won three consecutive games to retain his title.
The top two players with the highest rating (by the average of all 12 lists in 2017), who did not qualify via one of the above qualification routes, and who have played in either the World Cup or Grand Prix.
The match was organised in a best-of-12-games format. The time control for the games was 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, an additional 50 minutes added after the 40th move, and then an additional 15 minutes added after the 60th move, plus an additional 30 seconds per move starting from move 1. Players were not permitted to agree to a draw before Black's 30th move.
The tie-breaking method consisted of the following schedule of faster games played on the final day in the following order, as necessary:
Best-of-four rapid games (25 minutes for each player with an increment of 10 seconds after each move). The player with the best score after four rapid games is the winner. The players are not required to record the moves. In the match, Carlsen immediately won three games in a row, securing the championship.
If the rapid games had been tied 2–2, up to five mini-matches of best-of-two blitz games (5 minutes plus 3 seconds increment after each move) would have been played. The player with the best score in any two-game blitz match would be the winner.
If the blitz matches had failed to produce a winner, one sudden death "Armageddon" game: White receives 5 minutes and Black receives 4 minutes. Both players receive an increment of 3 seconds starting from move 61. The player who wins the drawing of lots may choose the colour. In case of a draw, the player with the black pieces is declared the winner.
The prize fund was 1 million euros net of all applicable taxes. Had the match been decided in the classical portion it would have been divided 60% vs 40% between winner and loser. As the match went to a tiebreak the split was more even at 55% vs 45%.
Previous head-to-head record
Prior to the match, Caruana and Carlsen had played 33 games against each other at classical time controls, of which Carlsen won 10 and Caruana 5, with 18 draws. The most recent game, during the 2018 Sinquefield Cup tournament, resulted in a draw.
2018 World Chess Championship alternative logo showing two figures with overlapping legs holding a chessboard in between with overlapping arms holding chess pieces
The World Chess Federation also showcased an "alternative logo", which depicts two figures with overlapping legs holding a chessboard. The image received controversy for appearing provocative and even "sexy". According to World Chess, this logo is "controversial and trendy, just like the host city", which is London. When the head of World Chess, Ilya Merenzon, was asked to speak on the topic, he said that "it's about two people fighting", but later added that "it would be nice to bring a little bit of sexual appeal into chess".
Organisation and location
The match was held under the auspices of FIDE, the world chess federation, with the organisation rights belonging to Agon, its commercial partner.
Following the previous championship match in 2016, the president of FIDE, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, said that the next venue would be in London or somewhere in Asia. Japan, South Korea and Singapore all said they were prepared to host the match. In November 2017, London was revealed as the host.
The match took place at The College in Holborn, Central London, an impressive Victorian building with a glass dome on the roof. The interior was refitted for the match to provide an elevated rectangular playing space that was to be sound-proof and set behind unidirectional glass so that the players were separated from the audience: the players could be seen, but they would not see the spectators who stood in near total darkness. To attend the event, ticket prices ranged from £45 to £100. It was also broadcast online, with IM Anna Rudolf and GM Judit Polgár providing commentary.
The first move of each game of the match was ceremonially performed by guests invited by the organisers. Among the guests were movie stars Woody Harrelson (who also made the first move in game one for the previous championship match in New York) and Tom Hollander; Ellis Reppen, partner of Jan Gustafsson, who was part of Carlsen’s team in New York; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales;Sergey Karjakin, the previous challenger for the chess championship; Daniel Weil, the person who designed the pawn he moved, as well as the rest of pieces and the chessboard; and Lucy Hawking, daughter of physicist Stephen Hawking. For the first five minutes of actual game time, photographers were allowed to remain in the playing space to take photos.
The games were analysed live by the Sesse computer, running Stockfish. The computer uses a 20-core 2.3GHz Haswell-EP CPU, which is significantly more powerful than standard computers, but not at supercomputer level.
Match preparation video leak
On 13 November 2018, a two-minute video showing Caruana's preparation for the match showing a list of openings, possibly revealing some of Caruana's opening preparation, was uploaded onto the Saint Louis Chess Club'sYouTube channel. The video was quickly removed, but screenshots from the video were disseminated on the Internet. They revealed that Caruana’s team was focussing on particular games, and openings—openings that deal primarily with how Caruana would defend as Black against 1.d4 or 1.e4; including variations of the Queen's Gambit Declined, Petrov's Defence, and the Grünfeld Defence with a fianchetto.
Position after 34.Nh2. Here Carlsen (black) would have had a winning position with 34...Qe5, infiltrating the queenside. Instead play continued 34...h5?! 35.Rf2 Qg1 36.Nf1 h4?! 37.Kd2? and now 37...Rg3! also was winning but not played.
The first game was a marathon draw, lasting 7 hours. It was the fourth longest game in a world championship, after Game 5 of the 1978 championship (124 moves), Game 7 of the 2014 championship (122 moves), and Game 14 of the 1908 championship (119 moves). Caruana opened with 1.e4, and Carlsen responded with the Sicilian Defence, with Caruana playing the Rossolimo Variation, an opening with which he had lost against Carlsen in 2015. After 15 moves, it was clear that Carlsen had won the opening duel, with White having no clear way to improve his position while Black still had plans. Caruana started to consume a lot of time, but failed to neutralise Carlsen, with the result that Carlsen had a strong position after 30 moves and Caruana was in serious time trouble. Carlsen had a winning position several times between moves 34 and 40 but, despite a significant time advantage, failed each time to find the winning continuation, and after 40...Bxc3? Caruana was able to reach a drawnendgame. Carlsen continued to play for a win but Caruana was able to hold the game, despite being a pawn down in a rook endgame. The players finally agreed to a draw after 115 moves.
Position after 16...Nxd5. Here, Carlsen (white) could have played aggressively with the temporary knight sacrifice 17.Nxf7, after which 17...Kxf7 18.Bxd6 Rxd6 19.Bh5+ Kg8 20.e4 would have recovered material, though neither player thought it offered White an advantage.
Game 2 began as a Queen's Gambit Declined with Caruana opting for the rarely played 10...Rd8. Caught by surprise, Carlsen avoided the most critical continuation and soon found himself far behind on the clock, a reversal of fortunes from Game 1. Caruana was clearly in the driver's seat, but Carlsen was able to "beg for a draw", successfully navigating to a drawn pawn-down rook endgame. The game was drawn by agreement in 49 moves.
Position after 14...Rxa5. Here, Caruana (white) could have exchanged the first pair of rooks with 15.Rxa5 Qxa5 16.Bd2 Qc7 17.Qa1 and begun to apply pressure on the queenside. The position would have become slightly more unpleasant for Carlsen.
Game 3 was a 49-move draw, beginning again with the Rossolimo Variation of the Sicilian Defence. Caruana deviated first with 6.0-0, against which Carlsen chose a rare continuation. White maintained some pressure, but it was not serious. On move 15 Caruana suffered a "blackout" and played Bd2, missing that Black does not have to exchange rooks. This lost all the White pressure, and a few moves later with neither side having any concrete plan, Caruana exchanged all the major pieces and went into a slightly inferior endgame, where Black possessed a bishop for White's knight as well as a slight space advantage. Carlsen tried, but Caruana was never in real danger of losing.
Position after 14...c6. White is in the midst of a queenside minority attack, and this was his only chance to play 15.b5 before Black stops it with ...Bd7. Carlsen may have been concerned about 15.b5 cxb5 16.axb5 a5, giving Black a passed pawn. GM Sam Shankland felt that White's position is more comfortable, but that after 17.Qa4 Qe7 18.Rfc1 Bf5! intending ...e4 with piece exchanges, a draw is still the most likely result.
Game 4 was a 34-move draw that began with the English Opening, Four Knights, Kingside Fianchetto variation. Carlsen came up with the first new move, 11.b4, but Caruana was prepared with the immediate rejoinder 11...Bd6. Several logical moves later Carlsen had the opportunity to create an imbalanced position with 15.b5, but declined (see diagram). After 15...Bd7 stopping the pawn break, it became difficult for either side to come up with concrete plans, and the game was soon drawn. This was only the second time Carlsen opened with c4 in a world championship match, the first being a victory against Viswanathan Anand in game 5 of the 2013 World Chess Championship.
Position after 13...Qa5. Carlsen had many ways to go wrong earlier, but had successfully avoided all the traps and now initiates a forced line that leads to a comfortable endgame for Black.
Game 5 was a 34-move draw, beginning once again with the Rossolimo Variation of the Sicilian Defence. This time play transitioned to the little-used Gurgenidze variation, which was prepared by Caruana before this match began, forcing Carlsen to spend a lot of time thinking early on. In fact, the variation with 7...a6 was last played at the top level in 2007. It was not until 13. ...Qa5 that Caruana began to seriously think about his next move. Although Caruana had caught Carlsen in his preparation, Carlsen navigated the complications accurately, and emerged not only unscathed, but with a slightly superior position. Nonetheless, Caruana was able to defend without many problems, and the players agreed to a draw after the 34th move.
Position after 67.Kg6?. Engine analysis shows a forced mate in 30 beginning with 67...Bg5 68.Bc4 Bh4!! 69.Bd5 Ne2 70.Bf3 Ng1!!. The idea is that White will eventually be zugzwanged to advance his h-pawn, allowing it to be rounded up. However, the variation was so subtle that Garry Kasparov wrote that no human could have found it.
Game 6 was an 80-move draw. Carlsen began with 1.e4, while Caruana defended with the Petrov Defence, one of his favourite openings. Both players blitzed out the opening, reaching a dry and drawish middlegame. However, Carlsen played somewhat carelessly and Caruana was able to sharpen the position by opening the center. By move 26 it was apparent that Black was for choice. Carlsen defended by giving up a knight for three pawns, two of which were connectedpassed pawns on the queenside, and forced an opposite-color bishops endgame. Caruana was able to take one of the pawns, but Carlsen had strong counterplay and it was unclear how Caruana could make progress. On move 67 Carlsen made a subtle error that allowed Caruana a forced mate in 30 moves, found by Sesse. However, the line was so subtle that even grandmasters had trouble explaining the idea after the game. After this last opportunity Carlsen made no further mistakes and held the draw.
Position after 14...Ne5. White has the chance to push forward with 15.Nce4, but after 15...Bd7, it is not easy for White to recapture the c4-pawn since 16.Nxc4 Rfc8 gives Black's pieces enough activity that White still has no advantage.
For Game 7, Carlsen once again had the white pieces (the order switched at the halfway point) and he repeated the Queen's Gambit Declined of game 2. The first nine moves followed game 2, until Carlsen deviated with 10.Nd2. However, Caruana was well-prepared and had his counter ready. Carlsen temporarily sacrificed a pawn to exert some pressure on the Black kingside, but when the opportunity arose to open the game with 15.Nce4 (diagram) – which would have compromised Black's king position but made it awkward to recapture the sacrificed pawn – he didn't sufficiently believe in his position to press ahead. Carlsen later said that playing 15.0-0 was an admission that White had no advantage. After White recaptured the sacrificed pawn the position was symmetrical. Carlsen made some attempt to win the game, but although he was able to establish an outpost for his knight on d6, he had to trade every other piece to achieve it, and the game fizzled to a draw on move 40.
Position after 23...Bd6. White can continue a promising attack with 24.Nc4 or 24.Qh5. However, White played 24.h3? which was too slow and allowed Black to mount an effective defence beginning with 24...Qe8! The queen manoeuvres to g6, guarding both the h5- and d6-squares and stopping all of White's attacking ideas.
In Game 8 Caruana had the white pieces and once again opened with 1.e4. Just like the other three games before in this situation, Carlsen responded with the Sicilian Defence. Unlike the previous three games, Caruana played an Open Sicilian. Carlsen responded with the Sveshnikov Variation.
By move 20 the position was very open and sharp with Black's king feeling a little exposed. Caruana found the very good 21.c5!, sacrificing a pawn to further open the center and create a passed d-pawn. Engine analysis showed this position to be winning for White. Unfortunately for Caruana, 23.Rad1 was a little too slow for this position (23.Rae1 seizing the open e-file immediately was preferred, although some engines disagreed) and 24.h3? gave away all of his advantage. Four-time U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura reacted immediately and negatively to 24.h3, with disapproving facial expressions and harsh comments that he didn't like the move at all. Eight-time Russian champion and chess commentator Peter Svidler was also shocked by the move, suggesting this move was an attempt by White to deny Black any counterplay by preventing him from advancing his g-pawn, but engine analysis showed the position to be equal after Carlsen responded with 24...Qe8. Caruana soon realised that he had lost his advantage, and forced a draw before Black's bishop pair and extra pawn could make an impact. Play eventually ended after 38 moves in a draw after 3 hours and 43 minutes of play, with equal material and Caruana unable to promote his passed d-pawn.
Position after 24...g6. White enjoys a positional advantage and can continue a slow buildup of pressure with 25.Bc6, 25.Bf3 or 25.Kg2, although Black might still be able to set up a fortress with ...h5, ...f5, ...Kg7 and ...Qf6. Instead, White rushed to break open Black's kingside with 25.h5? This move allowed Black the surprising resource of 25...gxh5! 26.Qc4 f5! 27.Bf3 h4! Now White's king was also exposed, and the game proceeded to rook and queen exchanges and a drawn opposite-coloured bishops ending.
Game 9 began with the English Opening, Four Knights, Kingside Fianchetto variation, following Game 4 until Carlsen deviated with 9.Bg5. Although Black's position was not terrible, it soon became clear that White had much easier plans and Black didn't have much counterplay. As a result, Caruana played the exchange 17...Bxf3?! Sesse gave Carlsen a +0.75 advantage after this move, which was also criticised by human commentators such as U.S. grandmaster Robert Hess. However, both Caruana and Carlsen later defended the move. While it leads to a lasting and comfortable White advantage, Black manages to simplify the position, as well as gains the chance to reach an opposite-coloured bishops endgame.
After the exchanges, White had good attacking chances, thanks to a safer king and opposite-coloured bishops. Carlsen advanced his h-pawn, trying to pry open Black's king position. However, 25.h5? was too hasty, and Caruana responded with 25...gxh5! followed by pawn thrusts 26...f5! and 27...h4! that also exposed White's king. Black now had enough counterplay and the two players exchanged off rooks and queens into a drawn opposite-coloured bishops endgame. Carlsen kept playing on but there was never any realistic hope for a win unless Caruana blundered catastrophically. With this draw, the match set a new record for most consecutive draws to begin a World Championship match. The 1995 Classical match began with eight consecutive draws before Viswanathan Anand broke through against Garry Kasparov for a win.
Position after 21...b5! Black has a menacing number of pieces and pawns lined up against White's king. If White plays 22.axb6 e.p., Black trades rooks and removes a defender of the f3-square for a later f3 pawn thrust. Although not necessarily winning, the attack is psychologically frightening.
This game began with the Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian Defence, and followed Game 8 until Caruana deviated with 12.b4. The game entered a complicated middlegame where both sides had a lot of possibilities, and then became even more complicated when Carlsen played 21...b5! Both sides took risks and it was possible that either side could win, with Black launching a strong kingside attack while White gained a passed pawn on the queenside, a potential endgame trump if he survives the attack. Carlsen was able to force Caruana to weaken his king position, but was not able to break through the pawn shield. Although the attack failed, Carlsen had forced White's pieces to passive squares, and was able to neutralise White's passed b-pawn as a result. After Carlsen liquidated the b-pawn, Caruana emerged with an extra pawn in the endgame, but there were too few pawns remaining for White to hope to break through.
Position after 18...Ne5! White has no way to avoid the opposite-coloured bishop endgame, which also kills all his winning chances.
Carlsen opened with e4 for the second time in the match, with Caruana once again playing Petrov's Defence. Caruana was very well prepared, and Carlsen was unable to get an opening advantage, despite the fact the variation with 9...Nf6 being visible in the leaked opening preparation video. After an early queen trade, Caruana forced an opposite-coloured bishops endgame with 18...Ne5! After further liquidating the d6-pawn, his only weakness, Caruana even had the liberty to give up a pawn. Carlsen kept playing, but his only chance to win was for Caruana to blunder, which he did not. The game was drawn in 55 moves.
Position after 29.Re1. White is clearly under pressure, while Black threatens both the lethal pawn break 29...b5 as well as the very strong 29...Ba4. However after 29...a4? 30.Qb4! the pawn break is stopped, costing Black much of his advantage. Black could still prepare the advance with ...Bd7 or ...Rcb8, but Carlsen elected to offer a draw to focus on the tiebreaks instead.
This game began with the Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian Defence, and followed Games 8 and 10 until Carlsen deviated with 8...Ne7. The game entered a complicated middlegame which Carlsen showed better understanding of than Caruana. Former world champions Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik both disapproved of Caruana's 18.f3 and 21.Rh2 idea, thinking that it just created weaknesses for Black to play against. Indeed, Carlsen was able to quickly push his central pawn majority while stalling Caruana's queenside. By move 25 he had a better position. However, Carlsen was unwilling to take risks. He did not play the challenging 25...b5, opting for the more prudent 25...a5 instead. Although White's position remained miserable, after 29...a4? Caruana was able to place his queen on b4 and stop the b5 pawn thrust. Black still had a superior position and a clear plan while White remained passive, but Carlsen offered a draw, opting to go to the tiebreaks.
It surprised some that the game ended with Carlsen having a stable long-term advantage with no risks, as well as more time on the clock. Kramnik was especially critical, saying he was shocked that Carlsen could decline to play on. At the press conference, Carlsen explained his decision with an earlier recommendation of his team to avoid any potential risks.
Before the tiebreak, it was expected that Carlsen would be advantaged because of his prowess at rapid time controls. Although the rating gap between Carlsen and Caruana in classical chess was a mere 3 points, in rapid chess it was 91 points. However, Carlsen's showing in the classical games, and the way in which he offered a draw in a favourable position in game 12 led Kasparov to opine that Carlsen appeared to be losing his nerve.
A random drawing determined that Carlsen would play White in the first tie-break game.
Game 13: Carlsen–Caruana, 1–0
Carlsen–Caruana tiebreak Game 1
Position after 19.Rcd1. Caruana played 19...Nb5?, after which his position was collapsing with 20.Nc5 Rxb2 and the ensuing exchanges. Instead, the retreat 19...Nb7 offered better chances to hold the position.
The game began with the English Opening as with Games 4 and 9, with Carlsen deviating with 3.g3, entering the Bremen, Smyslov system. Carlsen offered the c4-pawn for more active queenside play, and, by move 12, had compromised Black's queenside pawn structure. By Black's 25th move, Carlsen was able to regain the sacrificed pawn and trade into an endgame with an extra pawn. However, the position was still not winning until Caruana's 37...Kxe4 mistake allowed Carlsen to create two connected passed pawns on the kingside and win the game.
Position after 21.c5. Carlsen correctly calculated that the c-pawn advance posed no immediate threat to Black's position, and castled.
This game began again with the Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian Defence and followed Game 12 until Carlsen deviated with 11...Qb8. The game developed into a complex middlegame. Caruana, behind in the tiebreak, played courageously with the pawn break 21.c5, opening the position before having castled. However, Carlsen coolly navigated the complications and then pounced when Caruana blundered, first with 26.c7? and then 28.Nd5? which, after 28...Kh7 avoiding the threatened knight fork, led to a position in which White could not defend his major pieces on the c-file. Caruana resigned.
With his back to the wall, Caruana responded to 1.e4 with the Sicilian Defense, the only time he played the opening in the match. Carlsen, however, deftly used the fact that a draw was equivalent to a loss for Caruana, constantly forcing Caruana to avoid simplifications. Around move 34, Caruana had plenty of ways to draw the game at his disposal, but could not play them. In the end Caruana's desperate attempts to stir up complications led to a final mistake 43...Ne6?, allowing Carlsen to push his c-pawn through to promotion. Caruana resigned one move after the promotion.
Both players were gracious in the press conference after the match, and paid tribute to their opponent. Caruana said the results showed that Carlsen is the strongest player in the world, while Carlsen said Caruana had just as much right as he has to call himself the best player in the world in classical chess. Carlsen's strategy to draw game 12 and win the tiebreaks had been vindicated, a point he emphasized in the press conference. Both players recognized that the other was a formidable opponent. Carlsen said he was very happy for having overcome such a strong obstacle, and would work to get better in the future. For his part, Caruana lamented the fact that one needs to find one's best form to win a tiebreak, which he wasn't able to do, but looked forward to making another title attempt in the future.