Beirut — Magnus Carlsen, the top-ranked chess player in the world, enjoyed a quiet second day of his championship title defense after a match that went into overtime in four out of five rounds.
In a bidding battle at the end of Game 4, the Norwegian star pulled off the win without giving away any of his own pieces.
The big cheers at the Hague event were reserved for China’s Ding Liren, who won with a draw, and Raza Idrees, the Malaysian defending champion. “Well played!” one spectator offered when Chinese coach Guo Jingjun dropped the envelope containing Ding’s winning piece.
“That was a pretty good move there,” said Sir Bobby Fischer, Carlsen’s idol and perhaps the best-known player in the world.
At 15, Ding is the youngest player ever to reach No. 1 on the Chess World Rankings. His win brought his personal fortunes to match his new status: He ended the day with the match almost even, thanks in part to the absence of games that tied up his white pieces. Only once in five days had Ding held a game heading to an overtime period.
The five-round break has given players an opportunity to recharge and rediscover the stamina that went missing during two days of long, costly games. But as Carlsen showed in Game 4, even without the challenge of forcing the other player to hold out against him with his pieces, the Norwegian can work the same balance of opportunity and force.
Still, the brief break from long, exhausting games gave Ding, 21, a chance to make a “home stretch” of sorts to the championship. He began Game 5 playing with 12 pieces, putting all of his pieces in danger and relying on six chess pieces in advance, as Fischer used to do. But without his white pieces, Ding — who has not always been a fan of intense opening pairings — was completely out of his element.
Ultimately, he ended the game with his last piece intact, but on a contract of 1379, without Carlsen’s king piece either way. This means he is in a position where he can still avoid yielding a pawn against Carlsen, and is probably looking at a chance to emerge from the break with a win.
Carlsen, meanwhile, faced another tough draw that exposed his sharp loss of patience and play. His sixth position in the match put Carlsen in an 8-and-a-half position, with five pawns and his queen. Two white men were both positioned to hold their king pawn and two pawns, while a white’s queen and queens were on opposite sides of the board.
Again, if one were to consider the on-board queen pawn allocation, a healthy position was possible. But players who play hard like Carlsen have learned that sacrificing pawns or playing precariously can significantly weaken a material force — not to mention higher-ranked players such as Magnus.
Instead, Carlsen made a series of errors that allowed an opponent to move the pawns and kings out of a solid position. This does not bode well for Carlsen, since the world champion looks to be slumping after impressive openings in a few of the previous rounds.
But his coach Bert Campbeltreve, his previous coach, said that losing patience is not only an individual problem, but a chess team activity.
“One player makes a mistake,” he said. “Then, we are off. We all make mistakes on the way to the goal.”
In fact, one of his training exercises often features the players sitting on chairs as they do push-ups. But when Carlsen makes his way to the board, he is not sacrificing pieces to make ends meet. Instead, he is attempting to force opponents to double- or even triple-check their games or bluff to open windows for a counterattack.
Carlsen’s overall performance at the start of the event was impressive: Three of his four players went beyond draws, and three won. This followed hot on the heels of the earlier win of Oppar Hessdorff, who got on the board with an easy-to-win position.
But Carlsen suffered, too. His lone draw on Day 1 left him 2-and-a-half ahead of his opponent. He didn’t play again until the fifth game, and with another draw, he moved into first place. That was a surprisingly weak performance considering that while that point may appear secure, there is still the possibility of draw.
And even second place is not a bad thing, according to Ding, a respectful competitor but a champion who plans to move on to higher prizes.
“Usually we can play in better positions, but Magnus will defend his championship today,