terça-feira, 27 de novembro de 2018

Why Carlsen offered a draw? (English version)

The SURPRISING FINAL of the twelfth game of the world chess championship stunned everyone watching the match in the world's VIP lounge in London, England.
When they saw the handshake between the chess players, on a board still full of pieces, some people thought that the challenger Fabiano Caruana (United States) had resigned the game. Many were extremely surprised when they realized that, in fact, it was tri-champion Magnus Carlsen (Norway) who had offered a draw.
It is the first time, in centuries of this sport's history, that the most important chess match ends with no win for either side. After a total balance (6 to 6) in the 12 classic games, the title will be decided in the playoffs of blitz matches, a kind of "penalty shootout" if compared to football/soccer.
The perplexity of fans and experts with the result of the last game in London soon spread among the thousands of people who follow the internet around the world. The majority opinion is that, because of the distribution of the pieces on the board and the time remaining in the clocks for the chess players to complete the match, everything indicated for a final full of emotions and with a winner.
However, surprisingly, Carlsen made an unusual offer to finish tied that match, even in a superior position and advantage of time (43 minutes against 16 minutes for Caruana). Even Caruana was suspicious and thought for several minutes before accepting the strange "gift".

The astonishment increases in proportion because Carlsen is admittedly such a voracious competitor that he made no proposal to draw his opponents (against Anand twice and Karjakin once) in the three matches he won previously, regardless of the position of the pieces on the board.
This time, however, it was his initiative to extend a hand offering "truce" to the American, precisely in a position where the experts (including computers) pointed as promising and with real chances of victory.
The Norwegian, who was once considered the "Mozart of chess", does not usually give peace to his opponents even in theoretically equal positions. Many of his victories arose precisely from balanced positions in which he "squeezed" opponents, sometimes for more than seven hours, until he grasps a small advantage, which - genially - he can turn into victory.
What, then, would have happened? Why did the champion raise the white flag and chose to decide the title in the tie-breaks?

In the ranking of blitz chess, in which the tiebreaker will be played, there is a certain favoritism for Magnus Carlsen. He has more than 100 ELO points ahead of his opponent and has never lost a fight with this time control: 9 matches and 9 wins (one of them, even against Caruana himself).
Thus, a more conservative analysis indicates that Carlsen is making the right decision, that is, taking the game to a scenario in which he holds the most chances of winning.
Not that the force between them is so uneven - only 3 points separate the Grand Masters in the International Chess Federation's classic ranking, a slight advantage for Carlsen, though analysts say the current phase of Caruana at classic chess rate is higher.
The strange fact is, according to the experts, that such a brilliant champion, who has already achieved everything in his career, so willingly give up an opportunity to escape to someone he wants to destroy. Why did he do it? "When you save the wolf, the sheep are in danger," an amateur warned at the end of the game.

The fans were not the only ones astonished, many critics came after the draw.
Former world champion Garry Kasparov (Russia) did not spare Carlsen in his Twitter account. "He's clearly getting nervous," he said.
Kasparov also said that accepting the draw in the condition of playing for victory is proof of an emotional shock. Another former Russian world champion, Vladimir Kramnik, was also blatant: "To offer a draw in this position is shameful."
Even people close to Carlsen clashed with his decision. "It was extremely cowardly," confessed his friend and teammate in the Norwegian team, Grandmaster Jon Hammer, to journalist Tarjei Svensen.
Even his manager and agent, Espen Agdestein, one of the people who knows the champion better, was surprised: "it's the biggest shock in the world," he told the Norwegian chronicler.

In fact, if we look coldly at the position of the board on which Carlsen agreed to tie, the Norwegian had advantages of space and initiative, as well as better harmony between the pieces, which are rare in the elite game.
Add to that a huge time difference: Magnus had more than double the minutes of his opponent to finish the match, that is, Caruana would have to play in a totally precise form in the defense not to lose. And we know that when the clock strikes us, the head fades...
So why did the world champion, formerly known as a murderous tyrannosaur looking to slay his victims on the board, agree to the white and serene flag of draw?

I met Magnus Carlsen personally in 2011 when he was in Brazil to play (and win) the Grand Slam of Chess in São Paulo. He was already number 1 in the world rankings, although he would only defeat Viswanathan Anand (India) and become the world champion some time later.
Shy and of few words, Carlsen lived up to Mozart's nickname of the chess that the press gave him. He seemed always absorbed in his own thoughts, expressed few emotions and almost no interest in the dozens of girls and boys who lined up around him to take a picture with the idol.
At a lively cocktail party hosted by the organizers of the event, I could see that Magnus was the least comfortable. Many of them drank, talking, joking, and watching the other guests, while Carlsen kept to himself locked in a small circle with his manager, his father, and few friends.
When he spoke of chess, however, everything changed. His eyes glittered as he surveyed a position or received a compliment for his moves. He wanted to prove all the time that he was at his peak, that he was the best in the world.
In that 2011 tournament in São Paulo, he had an unexpected set back and his intentions were threatened. He lost a game theoretically tied for the considered weakest player of the tournament, the Spaniard Paco Vallejo.
His aura changed rapidly. He left the lounge without giving interviews, kicking the air, disgusted. From then on, many came to call him "spoiled". He only talked when he won, only smiled or signed autographs when things went well.
He was doing well in the tournament and that defeat could drive him away from the goal of becoming the challenger for the champion title. The only way to regain the lead of the race was to defeat, with the black pieces, the new leader Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) in the next round.
Could Magnus Carlsen, the Mozart, learn a quick lesson from his defeat? Would he handle his weaknesses and recognize that he underestimated his competitor?
If he had not succeeded in the next match, his career could have taken a different course and we would not be writing about his exploits, his nerves of steel and his machine's moves today.
Of course he did. The next day, he beated Ivanchuk brilliantly, and with the black pieces! And he did not want to give interviews after the duel. But by a rare fortune, I was positioned just behind the stage of the games when he left without talking to the press.
They were magical seconds for me, a young sports journalist covering that world competition. It was as if, for a moment, I had invaded the innermost sphere of a genius and shared that moment with him in his mind.
Without noticing that I was observing his solitary walk of about 40 meters to the car in which Espen Agdestein was waiting to take him back to the hotel, Carlsen jumped up into the air like a child. His joy was contagious, he threw his arms up with his fists clenched, just like Pelé celebrating his goals.
Always so serious, timid and cooldly compared to machines, that was a rare and exceptional spill of the champion. Carlsen proved to me that afternoon, in his early twenties, that he was just human boy happy to defeat what frightened him most: his own defeat.
From there, as much as his incredible victories and world titles have elevated him to the status of "extraterrestrial", I am sure that he still has his human dreams and fears like all of us. I am sure that, back at the London hotel alone, he celebrated the achievement of the goal of that twelfth game: "just" not to lose.

Carlsen knows what he's capable of on the board, although he does not have the same ambition as he did at the beginning of his career. Asked about which past player he liked best, he had a rare and humorous recollection of those ruthless times by suggesting "myself (Carlsen) three or four years ago."
Perhaps the lack of the his initial ambition is the reason to have offered a draw in the last game. Maybe it's just part of the strategy based on self-confidence that you'll win in quick games. The truth is that Kasparov himself, in a similar situation in the 1990s, said it was "very difficult to change the mentality to a victory when you set out to play for a draw."
Upon being warned at the press conference after the tie with Caruana that the computer gave him a great advantage in the game, the spoiled boy reacted with a few friends face, like any of us would have when feeling threatened by a machine who does not feel cold or afraid: "I do not care! I'll win the tiebreaks."
It was clear, at least to me, that drawing was his strategy from the start. The question still to be answered is another: and will such a strategy work? We'll find out tomorrow.

Written by Tiago Augusto - Nov/27/2018
Translated by Dr. Ruben Carlo Benante

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