World Chess Championship, Game 3: Norway fights to keep its shit together

Posted: November 12, 2018 in chess
Tags: , , , ,

Today, World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the challenger, Fabiano Caruana, maneuvered but could not out-maneuver each other for four hours and 49 moves. That’s three games and three draws.

It could be that the chess championship has never seen two players so closely matched, as if the Boston Red Sox, who won 108 games this season, were playing their mirror images from the alternate universe where Spock wears a beard and Uhuru wears a dagger in a holster on her thigh.

At this level, every square, every piece, every occupied and every empty space, has a value, and every value waxes and wanes as the game proceeds. Fabio and Mag Wheels are looking for micro advantages, tiny pluses they can pile up to make positive integers. (A commentator called Carlsen “nano-aggressive.”) The two men played an endgame I’ve often found myself in and often ruined, but though Mag Wheels, playing black, pressed as he always did, Fabio easily parried and in fact forced the draw with a neat sacrifice that left Mag Wheels’ remaining pawns stuck in a block of frozen carbonite.

Are draws typical at this level? They are. In this case, it’s because Carlsen and Caruana are Transformers with roughly equal powers. Not all draws are battles. In the 1960s, Bobby Fischer accused the Russians of agreeing ahead of time to draw with each other in tournaments but playing to win against non-Russians (true) and fixing world championships that featured two Russians (again, true). Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean the Russians aren’t out to get you.

Carlsen strut
Magnus Carlsen or Justin Bieber? Photo courtesy of ChessBase.com.

Meanwhile, in Norway, where they never had a world champion before Carlsen, where no one has ever played for the world championship before Carlsen, where no master has ever made a dent in the history of chess before Carlsen, the national blood pressure is 160 over 110. (Which reminds me, I believe Mag Wheels and Fabio are wearing heart monitors for the benefit of the Norwegian viewing public.)

What if Carlsen loses? What will happen to Norway? Television and internet coverage there has been wall-to-wall, with football scores relegated to the crawl at the bottom of the screen. The Twitter stream of NRK, which appears to be Norway’s answer to ESPN, has become histrionic, and I can’t read Norwegian. Carlsen’s sister gave an interview that was so revealing of her brother’s inner torments that the citizens marched with torches and pitchforks and King Harald V asked NATO to intervene.

This is an exciting time to love chess, with grandmasters jumping from airplanes, cracks and fissures appearing in the earth, and TV networks concocting promos for a chess match as if we were still living in the heyday of MTV. Pump up the volume. Buckle up for Game 4.

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