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Caruana ‘Suffers Successfully’ In Game 11 Of The World Chess Championship

With his last chance to command the white pieces in a regulation game in the World Chess Championship, defending champion Magnus Carlsen was unable to drum up any attacking chances. Game 11 — like the 10 that preceded it — ended in a draw. Carlsen’s challenger, Fabiano Caruana, defended admirably and the two are tied 5.5-5.5 with one regulation game to go.

Saturday’s game began with the Petroff Defense, Caruana’s favorite opening with the black pieces. Not surprisingly, this was familiar mental territory for the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world. Within 90 seconds, they’d blitzed out their first 10 moves, arriving at the position below.

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This specific choice of opening was interesting for two reasons. One, Sergey Karjakin, the 2016 championship challenger, won a game with the white pieces from this exact position in 2016, against the elite Indian grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna. Two, the infamous deleted video that appeared to show secret aspects of Caruana’s pre-match preparation once again reared its head. That video showed a laptop screen with a variation of the Petroff that included the move “9…Nf6.” And indeed, on his ninth move, Caruana moved his knight to the f6 square.

But little else was interesting on Saturday. That “leaked” variation led to nothing sharp from either player and the secretive preparation unleashed no interesting secrets.

Karjakin happened to be in attendance at the venue in London on Saturday, and he provided some early commentary for the viewers that has also become the mantric chant of this match: “It looks very drawish,” he said. He was right. The queens came off the board by the 14th move. Only a pair of bishops and some pawns remained by the 26th. Thirty fruitless moves later, Carlsen and Caruana shook hands.

This is what an uneventful world championship draw looks like at high speeds. Come for the Petroff, stay for the bishop dance.

“Not much really happened today,” Caruana said after the game, to a bit of uncomfortable laughter from the crowd.

While Caruana may have very briefly felt some unpleasantness in the middlegame, “he may suffer successfully,” said Sam Shankland, the U.S. national champion, on a Chess.com broadcast. (To suffer successfully — what a lovely idea.) And indeed Caruana did. Indeed we all have over these past two weeks. Here’s exactly how, according to the computer’s unblinking eye:

“Chess in its present form will die the death of the draw,” wrote Emanuel Lasker, a former world champion, nearly 100 years ago. Yet here we are! Draws “are ingrained in the fabric of the game, a part of chess theory and culture,” another former national champ, Joel Benjamin, wrote in 2006. “Grandmasters play the opening better and make fewer mistakes. Willpower alone cannot ensure a decisive result.”

There is an austere beauty in the equilibrium of draws that this match has reached: Two goliaths, pushing each other with all their might, yet moving nowhere. At any moment, though, the ground can shift.

The mounting draws bring both good and bad news for the American challenger. On one hand, Caruana has proved beyond a doubt his ability to hang with and even outplay Carlsen, perhaps the best player of all time, in lengthy games under the sport’s brightest lights. On the other, should the match remain tied after the final game, the two will move on to speedier tie-breaking games. I wrote about what those look like in 2016. Carlsen is rated No. 1 in the world in both speedy chess formats that will be used, and he is almost universally thought to be a heavy favorite in the tiebreaker.

The match rests tomorrow. Game 12 — the final game of regulation and in which Caruana will have the white pieces — begins Monday at 10 a.m. Eastern. The tie-breaking games, if necessary, will happen on Tuesday. I’ll be covering it all here and on Twitter.

It Was Finally Fabiano Caruana’s Turn To Survive At The World Chess Championship

Magnus Carlsen got a black eye before Game 9 of the World Chess Championship. But it didn’t hinder his vision of the board as Wednesday’s play began.

For the first time in nearly two weeks of play, Carlsen, the defending champion, was able to successfully command the white pieces to an attacking advantage. Throughout much of Game 9, Carlsen outdueled his challenger, Fabiano Caruana. Caruana, the world No. 2, appeared to reel at points, and his allocated time melted off his clock as he pondered his defense.

But Carlsen’s advantage melted, too. The game was drawn after 56 moves over 3.5 hours of play. It was the ninth consecutive draw and the best-of-12 match sits level at 4.5-4.5.

Before the game Wednesday, the list of colorful stories orbiting the match ballooned to two. First came the infamous deleted YouTube video appearing to show elements of Caruana’s pre-match strategic preparation. Now we had the black eye.

NRK, the Norwegian broadcaster, reported that Carlsen collided — excuse me, “kolliderte” — with one of its own journalists while playing soccer on Tuesday, a rest day from the chess. Questions were raised about Carlsen’s mental soundness — a grandmaster should do nothing but grandmastering, apparently. Per Google’s translation of NRK, he was reportedly “dumbfounded” after the crash. “If he has to use pain relief, there may be a potential problem,” NRK wrote.

But those neurological questions seemed quickly answered at the board and Carlsen said he felt no pain while playing.

The first eight moves on Wednesday exactly matched the first eight from Game 4 — their name sounds like something out of Tolkien, an English opening that became a Reverse Dragon. But the game took a radical and aggressive turn on move 9, when Carlsen scrambled his bishop to the g5 square, into enemy territory and with its mitre directly pointed at Caruana’s queen.

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This specific position has only ever materialized on a tournament chessboard once before, according to the ChessBase database, in an otherwise uncelebrated game in 2008 between two Croatian non-grandmasters. (Though black won that one.) The attack was on, and Caruana contributed with a misstep on his 17th move, capturing a knight in Carlsen’s territory that he oughtn’t have. That capture sparked a series of moves that eventually allowed Carlsen’s bishop to escape, flying across the board to capture the black pawn on b7.

As deep into the game as the 18th move, Carlsen hadn’t spent more than a minute on any one move and quickly opened up a 40-minute advantage on the clock. One knock against the champ in this match has been his apparently lackadaisical preparation. But he was solidly prepared for his aggressive line on Wednesday, sailing through his moves. Caruana, meanwhile, took 9 minutes to make his 12th move, 21 minutes on his 13th, 8 on his 14th and 13 on his 17th.

The fruits of the Norwegian’s preparation appeared to be a comfortable position: Either he would win or he would draw. Before Carlsen’s 24th move, the position looked like this.

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“I think there are some long-term dangers here for black,” said Hikaru Nakamura, a top American grandmaster commentating for Chess.com. Carlsen’s white bishop, for example, was far more active than Caruana’s. “If Caruana doesn’t find the right moves, he will lose.”

It appeared to all the world that the Norwegian chess superstar would finally make real progress in the match, and indeed that a victory in the moves to come would effectively decide the match — and the world title — itself. “There are certain types of positions where Magnus is stronger than a computer,” said Anish Giri, the world No. 5, on a chess24 broadcast.

It’s an evocative claim, but it was not true on Wednesday. Carlsen may have rushed his attack on move 25, shortly after the position above. He pushed his pawn up the flank on the edge of the board, to h4 and toward Caruana’s king. He then pushed it again, to h5. It may have been a square too far, or at least too soon. (The computer engine Stockfish preferred involving that active white bishop instead.)

“He’s just not playing his best chess,” added Peter Svidler, the world No. 19, on that very same broadcast. The position simplified dramatically and the two shook hands — which they must be getting very good at — after 56 moves.

Ah, chess is cruel. Here’s a chart to quantify that cruelty — and we’ll keep it updated throughout the rest of the match. There are three regular games left, and speedier tiebreaker games will follow on Nov. 27, if necessary.

This match has been different for Carlsen than his 2016 World Chess Championship encounter against Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin, which began with seven consecutive draws. Many of those found Karjakin on the backfoot, escaping like Houdini from the shackles of the world champion. Caruana, however, has rarely been in real trouble until Wednesday, and this year Carlsen has been forced to play the part of escape artist.

Carlsen would, however, be an enormous favorite should the tiebreakers become necessary.

“I’m really not thinking about the tiebreak now,” Caruana said after the game. “I really don’t agree with most people about my chances in the tiebreak.”

Game 10 begins Thursday at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time — that’s 10 a.m. Eastern. But that’s also Thanksgiving. As a result, our next dispatch will come on Friday. Chess waits for no turkey, but FiveThirtyEight does. I’ll be covering the rest of the match here and on Twitter.

Politics Podcast: Will Pelosi Be Replaced?

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The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast crew discusses whether Rep. Nancy Pelosi will be re-elected as Speaker of the House, now that Democrats have won back the majority, and what the opposition to her says about the party. They also look at new election results out of Florida, Georgia and Arizona and reflect on the significance of the “year of the woman.”

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

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Chess World Rattled As Someone Nearly Wins Game

Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the world’s No. 1 chess player, fended off a vicious siege at the hands of U.S. grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, the world No. 2, in London Friday. It was the sixth frame of the World Chess Championship, and one that for hours appeared likely to give the American a critical lead. But Carlsen escaped, and the match remains level, 3-3. Each of the six games so far have been a draw.

“It’s a miracle save,” said Robert Hess, an American grandmaster commentating on the match for Chess.com.

To catch you up: Carlsen is seeking his fourth world title while his challenger Caruana is trying for the first American world championship since Bobby Fischer in 1972. Their horns are locked in the middle of a best-of-12-game match for the game’s most important title.

The two began Friday’s Game 6 in one of Caruana’s favorite openings: the Petroff. (Specific lines of this opening were featured in the deleted video that scandalized the match days ago.) Game 6’s first three moves appear in 12,289 other games in the ChessBase database. In 11,802 — or 96 percent — of those, white moves its knight to f3 on its fourth move. In 17 of those — or 0.1 percent — white moves its knight to d3.

Carlsen moved his knight to d3.

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Chess players are second only to maybe biological taxonomists in their proclivity to elaborately name things, and sure enough even this rare position has its own proper name: the Karklins-Martinovsky Variation. But neither player was troubled by Karklins-Martinovsky, they said after the game. Its theory is well known to these elite players.

And so they played on. The powerful queens came off the board by move 8, but this loss took no edge off the fight. For a while, the game looked less like a battle and more like a dressage competition, as 66 percent or more of each player’s first 12 moves were knight moves.

Many moves later, as the game cantered through its middlegame, winning chances emerged and swelled for Caruana’s black pieces, according to both the computer engine and human grandmaster commentators. (Surprisingly, black, which is usually at a disadvantage, has often had an advantage over white in this match.) While there was no single blunder for Carlsen, there was an accumulation of … what to call them? “Mistakes” seems too serious. “Slip-ups” make them sound like pratfalls. Let’s go with “inaccuracies.” Carlen admitted after the game that he’d made a number of imperfect moves. By move 34, knights and bishops were the only firepower left on the board, and they threatened salvo after salvo in a crucial struggle over the pawns.

By the 47th move, Carlsen was down a knight but up three pawns, which gave him a few slim hopes. Two had open routes to the end of the board, where they could become queens. Much delicate, asymmetrical and impossibly complex maneuvering commenced, as Caruana tried to prevent the pawns’ promotion.

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A dozen moves later, Caruana had captured three of Carlsen’s pawns, including those aspiring to become queens, and still had one of his own. That left him in a victorious position — if only he could see it. On the 68th move, a supercomputer analyzing the game found a guaranteed checkmate a distant 30 moves down the road — down a lengthy bridle path, say.

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Caruana is an unbelievably strong player — though not that strong. As play continued, the silicon’s guarantee quickly went away. If only Carlsen could eliminate the pawns, he’d survive: a bishop and a knight versus a bishop is a theoretically guaranteed draw.

Finally, through many feats, Carlsen was able to spirit away his king to a fortress on black’s side of the board.

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Despite black’s apparent material advantage, there was no progress to be made. The players agreed to a draw on the 80th move.

Carlsen had walked a slippery bridge and survived. His escape act drew attention. As the tension built toward the end of the game, the match became the most-viewed stream on the popular game-streaming site Twitch. Books could be written about this endgame. (Though not by me.)

So, another draw, huh? Yawn, am I right? Not so fast. Today’s Game 6 was an instant classic. Journalist David Hill, who’s been in London reporting on the match, tweeted that there can be beauty in draws. Not all of them are created equal.

And while the six consecutive draws we’ve seen thus far is a lot, it’s certainly not a record. Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin began their 2016 world championship match with seven draws. Garry Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand fought to eight in a row to open their 1995 match. And at one point in Kasparov’s 1984 championship match against Anatoly Karpov, there were 17 straight draws. “There was a 20-second burst of applause” after a decisive game broke the grueling streak, the New York Times reported. That match, which began in September, was finally halted in February of the following year — 40 of its 48 games were draws.

The data scientist Randal Olson analyzed hundreds of thousands of chess games in an article a few years ago. The closer players are in rating, he found, the longer games tend to go. And as the players get better, draws become far more common. Carlsen and Caruana are as good — and about as close in rating — as you can get. Indeed, they are even beyond the scope of Olson’s chart below, with Elo ratings (which measure the strength of players given the opponents they’ve played) north of 2800.

We’ll keep the draw-filled chart below updated throughout the match. And perhaps we’ll be able to add a decisive result to it at some point. Or perhaps not. And that could be exciting, too.1

The match rests tomorrow. Game 7 — in which Caruana will once again have the black pieces — begins Sunday at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time. That’s 10 a.m. Eastern. I’ll be covering it here and on Twitter.

Villanova Won A Title. Now It Must Start Over From Scratch.

The Villanova Wildcats produced one of the most dominant seasons in NCAA history last year, going 36-4, including a complete dissection of a strong Michigan team to win the championship game. The Wildcats scorched teams on offense, ranking No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage, according to college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy. This helped them beat the Wolverines by 17 points.

But the team that is defending that title — currently ranked eighth heading into Wednesday’s rematch with Michigan — is hardly recognizable eight months later, as four of coach Jay Wright’s stalwarts from a season ago are now in the NBA.

The departure of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges — a pair of juniors left over from the 2015-16 national title-winning team — has left a crater in Wright’s lineup. Along with the exits of Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman, the outgoing quartet combined for a whopping 26.1 win shares last season1.

It’s typical for reigning national champions to lose a large chunk of their talent the following season, especially in the one-and-done era. And while the Wildcats may not have lost the most win shares of past champions, the immediate exodus of talent will have huge consequences for their prospects to repeat as champions this season. This is perhaps a long way of saying winning back-to-back titles, or even coming close, has become very difficult in college basketball — and for good reason.

Villanova’s departures have left a sizable hole

Total win share of players who left NCAA championship teams the season after their championship, since the beginning of college basketball’s one-and-done era

Departing players
Season Champion Number Win Share
2017-18 Villanova 7 26.1
2016-17 North Carolina 7 21.8
2015-16 Villanova 5 11.4
2014-15 Duke 4 25.5
2013-14 Connecticut 7 19.8
2012-13 Louisville 4 12.3
2011-12 Kentucky 7 36.3
2010-11 Connecticut 5 13.4
2009-10 Duke 6 20.7
2008-09 North Carolina 9 26.6
2007-08 Kansas 9 35.3
2006-07 Florida 10 33.7
2005-06 Florida 2 1.5

Source: Sports-reference.com

The Florida Gators, in 2006 and 2007, and the Duke Blue Devils, in 1991 and 1992, are the only programs in the past 45 years to repeat as NCAA men’s basketball champions, after John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins capped off seven consecutive titles. Back then, Wooden had the luxury of coaching future NBA Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar2 and Bill Walton for three seasons, something that is largely unheard of in today’s game.3 Likewise, Mike Krzyzewski was able to develop chemistry with college stars like Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, and Bobby Hurley — all of whom stayed a full four years.

And when it comes to the one-and-done era, the Gators are an anomaly themselves, as Donovan managed to persuade the likes of Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer to remain in Gainesville for their junior years before winning another title and then moving to lengthy careers in the NBA.

For most champions, winning a national title usually means saying goodbye to their best talent — the nation’s top freshman are forced to use college as a stopgap for a year before jumping to the NBA, and upperclassmen often ride their team’s success to test the NBA’s waters. For his part, Wright did well to keep Brunson and Bridges in Philadelphia for another two years after winning their first title, which built a bridge to that second championship.

But the team that cut down the nets last year has been gutted, particularly on the offensive side. Among the top four players of each champion since 2006, when the one-and-done began, Villanova’s departed quartet leave the greatest offensive hole for a reigning champion, a hole that might be too great to overcome.

Villanova fans might choose to view things in a more optimistic way, instead thinking themselves as fortunate that they only lost four players, especially seeing the Wildcats of Kentucky lose an unimaginable six players after their championship in 2012 and then stumbling into the NIT a year later. Nova’s relatively tiny rotation last year — Villanova ranked 302nd in total bench usage, according to KenPom — could be a blessing in disguise as the likes of Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are still available to make the leap to the top of the college ranks and potentially beyond.

Still, Villanova fans thinking of a repeat might want to curb the enthusiasm.

Any team not named Duke, Kentucky or Kansas — whose recruiting prowess means a revolving door of NBA-bound super freshmen — has struggled to be relevant again immediately. If you look past these three blue bloods, Louisville is the only reigning champion to reach the Sweet 16 the year following championship in the last dozen years. It’s why the 2010 North Carolina Tar Heels couldn’t even make the NCAA Tournament after winning the whole thing a year earlier. It’s why last year’s Tar Heels were swept aside in the second round of the tournament by Texas A&M.

Back-to-back has become a pipe dream

How men’s NCAA champions have fared the following season in college basketball’s one-and-done era

Season after championship …
Season Champion Wins Losses Postseason
2017-18 Villanova 2 0 ?
2016-17 North Carolina 26 11 2nd Round
2015-16 Villanova 32 4 2nd Round
2014-15 Duke 25 11 Sweet 16
2013-14 Connecticut 20 15 NIT
2012-13 Louisville 31 6 Sweet 16
2011-12 Kentucky 21 12 NIT
2010-11 Connecticut 20 14 2nd Round
2009-10 Duke 32 5 Sweet 16
2008-09 North Carolina 20 17 NIT
2007-08 Kansas 27 8 Sweet 16
2006-07 Florida 24 12 NIT
2005-06 Florida 35 5 Champion

The NCAA Tournament’s First Four was known as the First Round until the 2015 tournament.

Source: Sports-Reference.com

Joining senior Paschall, who’s being touted as a first-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and redshirt senior Booth, who netted 23 in his season debut last week, is the 12th best recruiting class, according to ESPN. Five-star recruit Jahvon Quinerly is considered one of the best freshman point guards in the nation, and four-star forwards Cole Swider and Brendan Slater both also have a place on the ESPN 100. Whenever this is enough for Wright’s team to make waves again in March is a question for the season ahead. However, with currently the fifth-best ranked recruiting class for next year, Wildcats fans may have another title-winning team in the not-too-distant future, maybe just not in the immediate one.

CORRECTION (Nov. 14, 2018, 3:30 p.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the Florida Gators were the only team in 45 years to repeat as national champions in men’s college basketball. Duke also did, winning back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992.