London - The
2018 World Chess Championship between three-time defending champion
Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, the first American to compete since
the legendary Bobby Fischer in 1972, kicks off in London on Friday.
Norwegian master Carlsen, 27, is seeking to cement his reputation as
history's greatest chess player, while 26-year-old Caruana is a prodigy
helping to return mass appeal to the highbrow game.
The pair will face off a maximum of 12 times from Friday until
November 26 - with games scheduled to start at 17:00 SA time - in the
bi-annual contest held in a former London art and design school
Chess has its own unique scoring system that awards the winner of
each game one point, while a draw sees the contenders get half a point
The title goes to the first person to reach 6.5 points, with a rapid
series of tiebreakers played in case the two are level after the first
Carlsen - a superstar at home in Norway who is also a part-time
model - excels in such playoffs, as he demonstrated in 2016 in New York
against Russia's Sergey Karjakin.
Introduced to the game at a young age by his father, he was a "great
international master" by 13 - holding Garry Kasparov, the Soviet and
Russian legend whose record ranking Carlsen eventually broke, to a draw.
"There is no doubt that Carlsen is one of the best chess players ever," British Chess Magazine editor Milan Dinic told AFP.
Carlsen, the reigning
champion since 2013 and one of the faces of a street-smart Dutch apparel
brand, is seen as a nearly flawless chess player who has helped make
the game's image more fun.
Dubbed "the Thor of chess", he is credited with having a formidable
intuition and a prodigious memory that allow him to have a vast
repertoire of moves.
"I don't think that Magnus has any clear weaknesses," Caruana told a joint news conference Thursday.
"That being said, he still makes mistakes and we all do and the only challenge is to be ready to take them when they come."
Carlsen conceded he has not been playing at his highest level lately but said he was "confident" he could turn his form around.
"Fabiano is a tremendous player, his results this year speak for themselves," he added.
"I know if I continue to play in the same vein I've been playing recently, I will probably not win, so I need to step it up."
Caruana earned his
shot against Carlsen by winning the Candidates Tournament earlier this
year in Berlin, and the Italian-American from Miami will take heart from
having held his opponent to a draw in August.
He has climbed up the FIDE chess federation's rankings in recent
years to occupy the number two spot - just three points off Carlsen's
total of 2 835.
Americans have not had a chess hero since Fischer stunned Soviet
champion Boris Spassky in an epic series in 1972 that epitomised the
Cold War rivalry between the two superpowers.
But any comparison with the US legend would be premature at this stage, Caruana cautioned.
"If I become world champion the comparison will be more apt," he
said, noting he has a markedly different chess style and life story to
Fischer, who lived out his later life in isolation in Iceland.
With Carlsen's modelling profile and Caruana's appeal in America,
tournament organisers World Chess are hoping to conquer new audiences
with the match-up and future board battles.
Many believe the 1 500-year-old game can adapt well to the digital
age, with a plethora of dedicated websites and apps awaiting a bigger
"There's a lot of people in the celebrity world, movies and music, who have an interest in chess," said Caruana.
"I think chess is definitely becoming cooler."