It was the fifth consecutive draw to open the match, but Sergey Karjakin, the challenger, briefly had Magnus Carlsen, the champion, in trouble.

Game 5 of the World Chess Championship in New York City ended just as the first four did, with a draw. But, as in Games 3 and 4, the tension was high throughout, and this time it was the reigning titleholder from Norway, Magnus Carlsen, who was in trouble, at least briefly.

Afterward, in the press conference Carlsen was visibly angry, presumably with himself, as the match has not unfolded as he probably thought it would. He finds himself in a dogfight with Sergey Karjakin, the challenger from Russia.

The best-of-12 match, which is being held in the South Street Seaport in New York City, is tied at 2.5 points apiece. The match has a prize fund of about $1.1 million.

Carlsen had White for the third time in the match and, as he had in Game 3, he opened with 1 e4. Karjakin replied 1 e5, as he had before, too. On move 3, Carlsen played 3 Bc4 instead of 3 Bb5, opting for the Italian game, which has become more popular in recent years as players try to avoid some of the very heavily analyzed lines of openings like the Berlin Defense, which Karjakin used in Game 3.

Carlsen expanded rapidly on the queenside and then in the center, but Karjakin was never in any real trouble. After Karjakin exchanged his dark-squared bishop for Carlsen’s knight, the players arrived in a position with opposite-colored bishops in which the likeliest result seemed to be a draw.

But then Carlsen became complacent. Just after the first time control, he erred by playing 41 Kg2, allowing Karjakin to sacrifice a pawn to gain enormous activity for his pieces. After 42 … d4, Carlsen was visibly worried, but Karjakin missed the best follow-up. Instead of 43 … Bd5, if he had played 43 … Rh8, Carlsen would have been in big trouble. Karjakin admitted afterward that he missed how potent that move was.

The players agreed to a draw after 51 moves and more than five hours of play.

It was the first time in the match that Karjakin had Carlsen in real trouble, and Carlsen was clearly not happy with his performance. He grimaced and scowled in the press conference, giving curt answers. As soon as the press conference was over, he bolted the stage.

Not surprisingly, Karjakin, who was a 3-to-1 betting underdog prior to the start of the match, was in a much better mood. Though he was in deep trouble in Games 3 and 4, he has managed to avoid any losses thus far.

Five draws to start a World Championship match is far from unprecedented. The first six games of the 2012 title match between Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand were also draws. And the first eight games of the 1995 match between Anand and Garry Kasparov – the last World Championship match to be held in New York City – were also drawn. That match, however, was a best-of-20, not best-of-12.

Karjakin will have White in Game 6 on Friday, which starts at 2 PM EST. The game can be viewed live on, the official site of the  match. 


Dylan Loeb McClain is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He was a staff editor for The New York Times for 18 years and wrote the paper’s chess column from 2006 to 2014. He is now editor-in-chief of He is a FIDE master as well.