Halfway through the regulation portion of the match, neither the World Champion nor the challenger has been able to win a game
To paraphrase a saying often attributed to Sigmund Freud, sometimes a draw is just a draw.
After three tense draws in which Magnus Carlsen, the reigning World Champion from Norway, and Sergey Karjakin, the Russian challenger, each missed chances to score a full point, Game 6 of the World Championship match in New York City also ended in a draw. But unlike the three previous games, this game was short and relatively lacking in any real tension or drama.
The best-of-12 match is tied at 3 points apiece, with all six games to this point ending in draws. The match, which has a prize fund of about $1.1 million, is being held in the South Street Seaport in New York City.
In Game 6, Karjakin had White and, as he had in Games 2 and 4, opened with 1 e4. (Ken Rogoff, the Havard economist and best-selling author, made the ceremonial first move.) Carlsen replied as he had in those two earlier games by steering for the classical Ruy Lopez, or Spanish, opening. After Carlsen castled on move 7, Karjakin played the canny 8 h3, which avoided the usual path to the Marshall Gambit, which can arise after 8 c3.
But Carlsen nevertheless chose to sacrifice a pawn with 9… d5. His compensation was that he was able to trade off Karjakin’s light-squared bishop and grab space on the queenside.
At this point, the game seemed to be heading in an exciting direction and the possibilities for a decisive result briefly seemed to rise after an aggressive sequence of moves starting on move 16.
But Karjakin’s 22nd move, c3, started a forced series of exchanges and after the last set of rooks were traded by move 26, the remaining pieces (queens, opposite-colored bishops, and weakened pawn structures) left both players with few options to create winning possibilities. Sure enough, after only 32 moves, and barely an hour-and-a-half into the game, the players agreed to a draw.
In the press conference afterward, both players were in a good mood, in marked contrast to the day before when Carlsen had been quite upset with himself. Interestingly, Carlsen, who on previous days had said that he preferred to continue playing without rest days, seemed to welcome a day off, which the players will have Saturday.
Though a series of six draws to open a World Championship match is not unprecedented (as noted in the report for Game 5), it is certainly unexpected. Many experts have predicted that Carlsen will win the match and he remains the favorite. But by this point in his two previous matches, both against Viswanathan Anand, Carlsen had already won two games. Probably no one, including Carlsen most of all, expected him to winless at this point.
Game 7 is Sunday at 2 PM EST. The game can be viewed live on WorldChess.com, 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 WorldChess.com. He is a FIDE master as well.