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Another Draw Is A Win For Magnus Carlsen

This article is part of our 2021 World Chess Championship series.

A peaceful draw was widely predicted for Saturday in the World Chess Championship — a respite just hours after Game 6, the longest game in the history of the championship and the first decisive result in the event in over five years. And the two players delivered: Magnus Carlsen, the defending world chess champion, maintained his lead over challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi on Saturday, as the two played a tidy — and rather perfunctory — 41-move draw in a quick 2.5 hours in Game 7. Halfway through the best-of-14-game match, Carlsen is up 4-3.

The first eight moves on Saturday matched those of Games 3 and 5, as Nepomniachtchi, playing white, insisted once again on sifting the sands of an opening known as an anti-Marshall, searching for specks of gold. Nepomniachtchi’s position seemed promising early on, with a strong bishop patrolling acres of space and a rook policing the a-file, the column spanning the western edge of the board.

Play was plodding, as both grandmasters took long soaks in the think tank and often left their seats, disappearing from the stage. 

Carlsen looked briefly concerned as the white pieces oversaw the center of the board and might have penned his black pieces against a wall. But he escaped, orchestrating trades and defanging the position, if it ever held venom at all. If you blinked, you may have missed approximately a kilogram of chess pieces evaporate — starting on Move 23, bishops, knights, rooks and queens disappeared in a flurry. The rest was academic, and the two shook hands on Move 41 with just a couple of rooks and a handful of pawns on the board.

Here’s how all the games have gone thus far, according to the superhuman chess engine Stockfish.

Chart showing a line chart of Game 7 of the World Chess Championship and a small multiple grid of line charts for all the games so far. Each line chart shows the advantage by player after each move. Ian Nepomniachtchi held a slight advantage until Move 19. In Move 23, the position simplified as pieces were traded off. Game 7 ended with a draw, bringing the overall record to 1 win from Carlsen and 6 draws.

The draw, cursory though it was, is a statistical win for Carlsen — time, and attacking opportunities with the white pieces, are waning for Nepomniachtchi. One popular model, Chess by the Numbers, pegs Carlsen at nearly 93 percent to defend his title, and therefore stake a strong claim as the greatest to ever play.

“It’s going pretty well,” Carlsen said after the game.

A reporter asked Nepomniachtchi when he was going to attack. “When the time comes,” he answered.

Game 8 starts Sunday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern — we’ll be covering it here and on Twitter, hoping that the time has come.

Seven Games by Oliver Roeder

For even more writing on chess and other games, check out Roeder’s new book, “Seven Games: A Human History,” available in January.

Oliver Roeder was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied game theory and political competition.