Fabiano Caruana managed to get out of the jaws of a bloodthirsty champion just when the lethal bite seemed inevitable. Despite playing with the black pieces, Magnus Carlsen got a clear advantage, pressed and caused huge hurricane time from the American, who nevertheless found a heroic defense to force a balsamic draw in the first round. of the London World after seven hours of torture. The Norwegian will have White's initiative this Saturday in the second round of the scheduled twelve.
The tension was very visible when both entered a scenario invaded by photojournalists (several per square meter); especially, Caruana, inexperienced in long duels. To make matters worse, his heart must have been overturned, judging by the face he put, when American actor Woody Harrelson, invited to take the kick-off, decided to play a joke playing 1 d4 instead 1 e4, as his compatriot had asked. Carlsen loved the joke, but the challenger made it very clear that he was not joking and protested to the referee, the Frenchman Stephane Escafre.
Since Harrelson, well known for his role in the series Cheers and several movies, is an ardent defender of the legalization of marijuana, perhaps some amateur who does not know in depth the games of the champion think that he had smoked a joint, in view of his strange defensive scheme. But there was a logical explanation: first, the Norwegian deviated from two own games (one against Caruana, in 2015, and the other before Anand, last August) to avoid the homemade preparation of his opponent. And then, because he is a genius, he chose a strategic plan that does not occur to any amateur and almost no great teacher. But computer programs blessed Carlsen's idea, as extravagant as it is effective.
The result was worrisome for Caruana: his position was somewhat lower after only 16 moves, Carlsen took him 20 minutes ahead, and he had 32 left for 24 moves (the first control is on move 40). Shortly after, when Caruana only had ten minutes left for 19 plays, Carlsen made another genius: a pawn sacrifice as unnecessary as surprising for his rival, who nevertheless reacted well and quickly.
But the pressure of the clock passed a very painful invoice. With so little time – he made move 34 with five seconds on the clock – no human being can be as precise as a machine; Although his position was sustainable in theory, his inaccuracies led him little by little to a losing position.
However, Caruana demonstrated at that time his tremendous competitive strength and managed to get out of the coffin when his burial seemed imminent. It is true that Carlsen was not accurate under the pressure of the clock, but that does not detract from the impressive heroic resistance of the aspirant.
The situation in the press room was a bit surreal. After an epic and high quality fight for seven hours, the gladiators could not even with their soul and just wanted to go to the hotel. But journalists needed interesting phrases to put the icing on the chronicle of a memorable combat.
Hardly, dragging his words, Carlsen expressed "contradictory feelings." And it was explained: "It's early to draw conclusions, but I feel like I'm playing better than in the recent European Cup of Clubs; From that point of view, everything goes well. But it is obvious that today I was very close to winning Fabiano, but again it has escaped me, as happened in August at the San Luis tournament [EEUU]. So, instead of being happy to make tables with blacks, I leave with those bittersweet feelings. "
Caruana was self-critical: "I did not play the opening well, and then I had to suffer a lot. But it's the final of the World Championship, and I have to be prepared for these situations. " At that moment, Carlsen decided to lend a hand: "Who expected a boring draw today will be very happy. And I do not rule out that in this duel there are many long games. "
The champion continued to press three more hours, but without enough advantage to win. What could have been a very painful blow in the first round turned into frustration, thanks to Caruana's resilience. The bad thing for Carlsen is that this year he has suffered similar disappointments several times, even against the American. And that repetition can cause anxiety and lack of confidence, two very dangerous problems for a world champion.