Carlsen defends World Champion title

Photo: Mads Nyborg Støstad / NRK
A great birthday present: Magnus Carlsen hoists the championship trophy high.

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

For the first time in over two decades, New York City hosted the World Chess Championship, and it should be no surprise that Norway’s Magnus Carlsen was invited, determined to defend his title as World Champion.

The Norwegian chess grandmaster first earned the title in 2013 when he defeated Viswanathan Anand of India; in the 2014 championships, Carlsen once again beat Anand.

From November 11 to 30, Carlsen battled 26-year-old opponent Sergey Karjakin of Russia in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport district. Karjakin, who became the youngest ever grandmaster at the age of 12 years and 7 months, was ranked No. 9 at the start of the competition. At 25 and 26 years, the pair was the youngest ever to compete in the World Championship.

“This is the first time that two players who have come of age in the computer era are fighting for the title and represent a generational shift in chess,” claimed worldchess.com, the official site for the championships.

As a result of this generational shift and an increasingly digital society, worldchess.com introduced a new level of chess broadcasting for the championships, developing an app and interactive website with 360-degree video, commentary, game evaluation, and even a virtual reality broadcast.

As the defending World Champion and holder of the No. 1 world ranking since 2010, Carlsen was widely considered the favorite. But defeating Karjakin would not be an easy task.

In order to win the championship, one must win 6.5 points, with one point awarded for a win and half a point for a draw. The competition kicked off with a best-of-12 series, which would progress to a set of tiebreakers in the case of a tie.

Carlsen did not have the best start, leading to a series of draws. In Games 3 and 4, he was outsmarted by Karjakin’s defense, and then he went on to make a mistake in Game 5, although Karjakin didn’t take advantage of it. After seven consecutive draws, Karjakin won Game 8 to take the lead.

Carlsen was visibly distressed at this point but managed to level the score in Game 10, taking advantage of a missed opportunity by his opponent. Now with eight draws, one loss, and one win each, the score was tied 5-5.

Game 11 once again ended in a draw. In the final game of the series, Carlsen was clearly ready to move on to the tiebreaker games and opted to work towards a quick draw; the game ended after only 30 moves and 35 minutes. The score was therefore 6-6 at the end of the regulation games.

The tiebreaker was held on Nov. 30, the final day of the competition and also Carlsen’s 26th birthday. It started with four rapid games, where each player gets 25 minutes per game with 10 seconds added after each move. If they were to remain tied at the end of the four games, Carlsen and Karjakin would have to move on to blitz games and eventually an Armageddon game.

Both Games 1 and 2 ended in a draw, but Karjakin struggled in Game 3 and Carlsen was able to take advantage to win. Now the Norwegian needed only a draw in Game 4 to win the championship. He had no trouble taking control of the final game, however, easily overcoming his opponent and earning the World Chess Champion title once again.

“I would like to thank my opponent again, for a very good fight. It wasn’t easy at any moment and if a couple of crucial moments had gone another way, we’d have a different champion,” said a humble Carlsen.

While Karjakin was satisfied with his performance in the best-of-12 series, he admits that he struggled in the tiebreaker: “somehow after we played 12 classical games, I was completely not ready to play rapid games,” he said. “In the three games out of four I was lost. Of course Magnus took advantage of my mistakes and he deserved to win. My congratulations to him.”

A cheerful Carlsen was met at the press conference to the sounds of the Norwegian press singing him the birthday song and congratulating him.

“A World Championship title is something you fight for over a long time, so it is not fun to lose it. I am very, very relieved to have retained it,” said the World Chess Champion to NRK.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 16, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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