What’s It Gonna Take For Somebody To Win A Chess Game?

Game 5 of the World Chess Championship began under a cloud. Not a literal cloud, though there were those in London, too. Rather it was the lingering hubbub of a published and deleted video. Since that video was released, a prominent chess writer resigned and, oddly, the event’s organizing body announced that it had hired a security firm that was ready to sweep for illicit electronic devices and deploy polygraphs on the players if necessary. Was the latter related to the video? To some other bit of intrigue yet to fully emerge? Or just because chess’s governing body is, how do you say, filled with plenty of intrigue of its own?

I have no answers for you. But I do have some chess to relay. To catch you up if you’re just joining us: Magnus Carlsen of Norway is seeking his fourth world title. His challenger Fabiano Caruana of the U.S. is trying to become the first American world champion since Bobby Fischer in 1972. The pair began the day’s game tied 2-2 in the best-of-12 title match.1 It didn’t end much differently.

The two grandmasters started Thursday’s game with the Rossolimo variation of the Sicilian Defence — the third time they’ve opened with that sequence of moves in the match’s five encounters. But then came a lightning bolt that briefly illuminated the match. It was known as “6. b4!?”

Caruana’s sixth move — his white pawn to b4 — electrified the encounter. This is what the board looked like after it struck.

r1bqk1nr/pp1p1pbp/2n3p1/1Bp1p3/1P2P3/5N2/P1PP1PPP/RNBQR1K1 b kq – 0 0
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This is a rare move in this position at the game’s highest levels, and it’s an aggressive one — one often reserved for speed-chess games, rather than the lengthy, classically timed games of a world championship. Carlsen had faced this move with the black pieces only once before, according to ChessBase — in a 2005 game against the Dutch grandmaster Daniël Stellwagen, when Carlsen was just 14. (That game ended in a draw.) Given Carlsen’s prodigious memory for positions, it would be no surprise if he remembered that game well. And he claimed not to be troubled.

“To be honest, I was pretty happy about the opening,” Carlsen said after the game.

Lichess’s analysis tool calls that sixth move the “Sicilian Defense: Nyezhmetdinov-Rossolimo Attack, Gurgenidze Variation.” Gurgenidze was the Georgian grandmaster Bukhuti Gurgenidze, and “one of the most original and striking players of the Soviet era,” wrote ChessBase upon his death in 2008. The early part of Thursday’s game was striking, too. Grandmasters called it the sharpest opening they’d seen in world championship history.

Generically, this sort of move, a pawn to b4, is called a wing gambit, and it can be ventured in a few different openings. White sacrifices a pawn to potentially gain an advantage in the center of the board and in the mobilization of his pieces — the claiming of territory and the arming of his troops. Indeed, it was perhaps the first time in the match that the player with the white pieces had been able to sustain anything one might be able to call an attacking advantage.

Yet Carlsen was able to parry the threats. He appeared calm throughout the game, occasionally throwing one arm over the back of his chair, ever so suave in his gray suit.

By Caruana’s 19th move, he was perhaps regretting that his brief advantage had fizzled. And indeed it had. He spent nearly 32 minutes on that move, head often in both of his hands, pondering the board. Carlsen and Caruana agreed to a draw after 34 moves and just over 3 hours, in the position below. The match now sits level, 2.5-2.5.

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Given the way the championship’s scheduling works, Carlsen will play with the white pieces — and its first-move advantage — for the next two games. It will prove a critical gauntlet for Caruana’s title hopes. Here’s a visualization of how things have gone, and we’ll keep the chart below updated throughout the match.

Game 6 begins Friday at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time — that’s 10 a.m. Eastern. I’ll be covering it here and on Twitter.

Villanova Won A Title. Now It Must Start Over From Scratch.

The Villanova Wildcats produced one of the most dominant seasons in NCAA history last year, going 36-4, including a complete dissection of a strong Michigan team to win the championship game. The Wildcats scorched teams on offense, ranking No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage, according to college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy. This helped them beat the Wolverines by 17 points.

But the team that is defending that title — currently ranked eighth heading into Wednesday’s rematch with Michigan — is hardly recognizable eight months later, as four of coach Jay Wright’s stalwarts from a season ago are now in the NBA.

The departure of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges — a pair of juniors left over from the 2015-16 national title-winning team — has left a crater in Wright’s lineup. Along with the exits of Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman, the outgoing quartet combined for a whopping 26.1 win shares last season1.

It’s typical for reigning national champions to lose a large chunk of their talent the following season, especially in the one-and-done era. And while the Wildcats may not have lost the most win shares of past champions, the immediate exodus of talent will have huge consequences for their prospects to repeat as champions this season. This is perhaps a long way of saying winning back-to-back titles, or even coming close, has become very difficult in college basketball — and for good reason.

Villanova’s departures have left a sizable hole

Total win share of players who left NCAA championship teams the season after their championship, since the beginning of college basketball’s one-and-done era

Departing players
Season Champion Number Win Share
2017-18 Villanova 7 26.1
2016-17 North Carolina 7 21.8
2015-16 Villanova 5 11.4
2014-15 Duke 4 25.5
2013-14 Connecticut 7 19.8
2012-13 Louisville 4 12.3
2011-12 Kentucky 7 36.3
2010-11 Connecticut 5 13.4
2009-10 Duke 6 20.7
2008-09 North Carolina 9 26.6
2007-08 Kansas 9 35.3
2006-07 Florida 10 33.7
2005-06 Florida 2 1.5

Source: Sports-reference.com

Billy Donovan’s 2007 Florida Gators are the only team in the past 45 years to repeat as NCAA men’s basketball champions, after John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins capped off seven consecutive titles. Back then, Wooden had the luxury of coaching future NBA Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar2 and Bill Walton for three seasons, something that is largely unheard of in today’s game.3

And when it comes to the one-and-done era, the Gators are an anomaly themselves, as Donovan managed to persuade the likes of Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer to remain in Gainesville for their junior years before winning another title and then moving to lengthy careers in the NBA.

For most champions, winning a national title usually means saying goodbye to their best talent — the nation’s top freshman are forced to use college as a stopgap for a year before jumping to the NBA, and upperclassmen often ride their team’s success to test the NBA’s waters. For his part, Wright did well to keep Brunson and Bridges in Philadelphia for another two years after winning their first title, which built a bridge to that second championship.

But the team that cut down the nets last year has been gutted, particularly on the offensive side. Among the top four players of each champion since 2006, when the one-and-done began, Villanova’s departed quartet leave the greatest offensive hole for a reigning champion, a hole that might be too great to overcome.

Villanova fans might choose to view things in a more optimistic way, instead thinking themselves as fortunate that they only lost four players, especially seeing the Wildcats of Kentucky lose an unimaginable six players after their championship in 2012 and then stumbling into the NIT a year later. Nova’s relatively tiny rotation last year — Villanova ranked 302nd in total bench usage, according to KenPom — could be a blessing in disguise as the likes of Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are still available to make the leap to the top of the college ranks and potentially beyond.

Still, Villanova fans thinking of a repeat might want to curb the enthusiasm.

Any team not named Duke, Kentucky or Kansas — whose recruiting prowess means a revolving door of NBA-bound super freshmen — has struggled to be relevant again immediately. If you look past these three blue bloods, Louisville is the only reigning champion to reach the Sweet 16 the year following championship in the last dozen years. It’s why the 2010 North Carolina Tar Heels couldn’t even make the NCAA Tournament after winning the whole thing a year earlier. It’s why last year’s Tar Heels were swept aside in the second round of the tournament by Texas A&M.

Back-to-back has become a pipe dream

How men’s NCAA champions have fared the following season in college basketball’s one-and-done era

Season after championship …
Season Champion Wins Losses Postseason
2017-18 Villanova 2
0 ?
2016-17 North Carolina 26
2nd Round
2015-16 Villanova 32
2nd Round
2014-15 Duke 25
Sweet 16
2013-14 Connecticut 20
2012-13 Louisville 31
Sweet 16
2011-12 Kentucky 21
2010-11 Connecticut 20
2nd Round
2009-10 Duke 32
Sweet 16
2008-09 North Carolina 20
2007-08 Kansas 27
Sweet 16
2006-07 Florida 24
2005-06 Florida 35

The NCAA Tournament’s First Four was known as the First Round until the 2015 tournament.

Source: Sports-Reference.com

Joining senior Paschall, who’s being touted as a first-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and redshirt senior Booth, who netted 23 in his season debut last week, is the 12th best recruiting class, according to ESPN. Five-star recruit Jahvon Quinerly is considered one of the best freshman point guards in the nation, and four-star forwards Cole Swider and Brendan Slater both also have a place on the ESPN 100. Whenever this is enough for Wright’s team to make waves again in March is a question for the season ahead. However, with currently the fifth-best ranked recruiting class for next year, Wildcats fans may have another title-winning team in the not-too-distant future, maybe just not in the immediate one.

The Biggest Blunder Of The World Chess Championship Is A Deleted YouTube Video

Game 4 of the World Chess Championship in London began with a fitting surprise: the “English Opening.”

Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the three-time defending world champion and world No. 1, began the game by pushing the white pawn in front of his left bishop to the c4 square — a relatively rare move at the game’s highest levels. Fabiano Caruana, the U.S. challenger and world No. 2 trying to become the first American world champion since Bobby Fischer in 1972, pushed a black pawn to e5. And with that, the English had come. Few bells would be rung for the rest of the game.

Game 4 ended in a draw, just as the three previous games had. It was an uninspired 34-move, 2.5-hour episode. The match for the game’s highest prize remains level, at 2 points apiece in a race to 6.5.1 The boring result failed to overshadow the real drama of the day: the Zapruder film of this world championship.

But first, the chess.

“Carlsen is trying to avoid that really annoying Petroff,” Robert Hess, a grandmaster, said during a broadcast on Twitch. The Petroff Defence is one of Caruana’s favorite chess tools when he has the black pieces, but he can deploy it only when white cooperates by opening with a pawn to e4. Carlsen’s opening move, therefore, was preventive — or “prophylactic,” as chess players like to say. (Bards of the game, one and all.)

The pattern of pieces that developed on the board is called, rather delightfully, a “Reverse Dragon.” The Sicilian Defence has a variation called the Dragon — named after the resemblance of the pawns to the constellation Draco — except in this case its colors were reversed. But the position breathed no fire on Tuesday.

After 10 moves, the game was an exact match of a game that Caruana played against Wesley So, another top American grandmaster, earlier this year — the only such game that had ever featured this position, according to ChessBase. Given how recent and high-profile it was, this was a game that Caruana and Carlsen almost certainly both remembered well.

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After that, the two entered previously unseen territory. But the uncharted wilderness did not provide much in the way of excitement. Carlsen and Caruana agreed to a draw after 34 moves, in the position below. Despite the many pieces on the board, the grandmasters’ expertise told them that there was only one way this was likely to go.

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Here’s how things have gone on the chessboard thus far, and we’ll keep the chart below updated throughout the match.

The day’s humdrum play was overshadowed by some excitement off the board, though. A chess-world controversy — or at least what qualifies as one — erupted. Before the game, the posh Saint Louis Chess Club posted, and quickly deleted, a YouTube video appearing to show aspects of Caruana’s pre-championship preparation sessions. The club is Caruana’s de facto office and was founded by the billionaire retired financier Rex Sinquefield, who also helps fund Caruana’s chess career — both the club and Caruana are totems of Sinquefield’s deep pockets and deep love of chess. A chess columnist named John Hartmann tweeted this screenshot from the video.

It shows a laptop screen, complete with chess ideas in progress — a “Fianchetto Grunfeld,” various Queen’s Gambits Declined (an opening that was played in Game 2), and a number of ideas related to the favorite Petroff. It also shows a number of games from the 2016 world championship, to which Caruana was surely paying close attention.

A clip of the video shows Caruana leafing through a book of Carlsen’s past championship games and then handing it across a chessboard to his grandmaster coach and “second,” Rustam Kasimdzhanov, while grandmaster Alejandro Ramírez sits nearby.

Scandalous, I know.

Some chess commentators suggested that it was a huge blunder; others suggested that it was a deft piece of a disinformation campaign. The Saint Louis Chess Club did not respond to my emailed requests for comment, and Caruana’s manager declined to comment. Caruana himself declined to comment at a post-game news conference, and Carlsen claimed that he hadn’t seen it but was aware of its existence.

World Chess Championship preparation is always closely guarded. Kasimdzhanov warned me last spring that anything I might write about Caruana’s prep would be pored over by his Norwegian opponent and his team of hired chess guns for any shred of usable information. A player readying for a championship match typically enters seclusion with a small, handpicked crew of grandmaster aides and other associates. Even revealing their identities could be risky, I was told, because different grandmasters have different chess tendencies, and revealing the grandmasters might signal a game plan to the opponent. When Fischer was readying for his championship match, at a resort in upstate New York where prizefighters trained, he told an interloping New York Times reporter to “shove off” and stopped answering the phone.

In April, FiveThirtyEight was promised access to Caruana’s training camp by Caruana’s managers — a promise that was rescinded in July. That change of heart was not unique to this website. At least one other major online outlet was promised exclusive access to his training camps — another promise that was rescinded in July.

But the players will have to play their moves in public eventually. Perhaps one of them will even win a game of chess.

The match rests on Wednesday, but Game 5 begins Thursday at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time — that’s 10 a.m. Eastern. I’ll be covering it here and on Twitter.

Can You Stave Off A Cold With Willpower?

cwick (Chadwick Matlin, deputy editor): :sniffle: Maggie, Anna and Christie, I’ve gathered you all to discuss the kind of question that could change EVERYTHING (and one well-timed for flu season): When I know it’s really important for me not to be sick for a day or two (say, if there’s an election coming), can I stop myself from feeling sick? Does my mind really have power over my matter? Is my brain that dope?

You’re not doctors, but in my book, you’re close enough: journalists who talk to doctors. So tell me: Do I have the power???

slackbot: I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well. There is Advil and Tylenol in the cabinet in front of Nate’s office/Vanessa’s desk.

cwick: Readers, that’s an auto-response triggered every time one of us says “sick” anywhere in our chat app. But if you ever need an Advil in the FiveThirtyEight office, now you know where to find it.

christie (Christie Aschwanden, lead writer for science): Hi, Chad! I love it when an editor sends writers off to get an answer to his personal medical problem.

maggiekb (Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science writer): I get where he’s coming from, though. This is a pretty common belief. I mean, my super skeptic engineer husband is convinced that he saved all his illnesses for the end of the semester in college. Last test done. And then the deluge.

cwick: I suffered through a 102-degree fever the day after my wedding. I don’t think anything you say will convince me that I WASN’T holding it at bay the whole weekend.

christie: Because I like you, Chad, I asked a few experts. I have a few pet theories myself. But first, the expert opinion: “Sorry. No evidence of the willpower effect!” That’s according to Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

anna (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, senior reporter): Was that a “no evidence for or against” the willpower effect, Christie?

christie: I think he meant there was no evidence that there is a willpower effect.

And Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard, said the same thing that several others did: “I don’t know of any research one way or another about these things.”

anna: (Thank you for that prescient answer to my at-that-point unasked question, Mr. Lipsitch.)

christie: One of my theories: It’s all about attention and focus. When you’re stressed about something else or hyperfocused on getting through finals week or meeting a deadline or getting out a grant proposal, all of your attention is going to that other task. When you get through it, you have more attention to pay to your symptoms, and you can kind of bask in them. So it’s not that you’re not sick (while you’re supposedly holding it off), it’s just that you’re in denial or you’re ignoring the symptoms.

anna: I can buy that (though I assume you’re talking about mild colds here).

christie: Yeah, I’m talking about the usual winter crud. Not the kind of illness that you can’t possibly ignore, like a heart attack.

anna: The one interesting thing I found was some research about colds and placebo. But before we get to that, there seems to be very little research on warding off illness altogether or delaying it and a lot more on reducing symptoms or shortening how long you are sick. Part of the problem there is that mild colds come and go, making them difficult to study.

christie: Good point, Anna. And that’s also what makes placebos so good at treating them.

anna: But a study from 2011 really intrigued me. It’s one study and it’s small … It looked at echinacea, an herbaceous flower commonly used to treat colds (the National Institutes of Health says some preparations may potentially treat colds, but the evidence is weak). The study essentially found that people who believed in the power of echinacea and were given a placebo pill had shorter colds (by a lot, 2.5 days!) than those who didn’t believe. Placebo: It’s a hell of a drug.

christie: If you take the placebo when you are feeling your worst, which is usually the low point no matter what, then what is really just the illness’s natural course appears like an effective treatment. (When it’s at its worst, it can only get better.)

anna: What about my favorite cold placebo, vitamins in the form of a fizzy additive to water? I take that before I get on a plane. Or ride the NYC subway.

christie: Oh, the fizzy vitamin water? People love those! And they’re a great placebo. But … a Cochrane review found that vitamin C did not reduce the incidence of colds and that “trials of high doses of vitamin C administered therapeutically, starting after the onset of symptoms, showed no consistent effect on the duration or severity of common cold symptoms.”

anna: Oh, I know that there isn’t particularly convincing evidence about the effect of vitamin C on colds. It is literally my favorite placebo, not pharmaceutical. The placebo effect is real.

christie: I wonder how they measured the duration of the cold in the echinacea study. Because if it’s derived from a self-reported “how do you feel?” question, there’s a lot of wiggle room. If you expect to feel better, you might in fact rate yourself as feeling better. Because how you feel is a rating of your experience. It’s open to suggestion.

anna: “Duration was defined as total time elapsed from enrollment until the last time answering yes to the question, ‘Do you think you still have a cold?’” I think that’s part of why that study intrigued me, Christie. Because it suggested that how people felt depended on whether they thought the treatment could work. I don’t see why that couldn’t in theory translate to keeping a cold at bay, as well.

christie: Agree, Anna. How we actually feel is a conglomeration of a lot of things, which include how we expect to feel.

cwick: So are we really talking about two different questions: Can I stop myself from feeling sick for a bit? (No, you dummy.) Can I make myself feel better once I am sick? (Maybe if you truly believe.)

maggiekb: I’m going to add one more question here, Chad. Instead of asking whether you can hold off your illness until your stressful life events are done, what about the question of whether stressful life events make you sick. And the answer to that, kind of surprisingly, is … well … maybe … yeah.

There’s a line of research — enough individual research papers to make a meta-analysis — that suggests stressful life events can make you more susceptible to things like the common cold.

christie: That’s a good point, Maggie. And that leads me to another theory: When you’re stressed about that thing in your life, you may be more susceptible to illnesses. You may be skimping on sleep, not eating well, drinking too much, skipping exercise, etc. The illness just catches up to you.

maggiekb: The studies on this are super interesting because they actually involve getting these sample groups of people, doing inventories about their stressful life events, and then exposing them all to cold virus intentionally. So for instance, in one 2012 study, the people who reported stress and stressful life events were twice as likely to get sick.

cwick: Wait, what does purposeful exposure to cold virus look like? Do I get misted? Do I get slobbered on? Does someone wipe their snotty hand on my face?

anna: In the nose, Chad.

cwick: 👃!!!!

christie: In one study, Chad, they gave nasal drops containing rhinovirus. Turns out, people who were sleep deprived were most likely to get sick.

maggiekb: Misting in some of these studies. Swabbing in others.

cwick: My nose is twitching just thinking about it.

anna: Which is to say, don’t pick your nose after riding the subway.

christie: And don’t touch your nose, eyes or mouth ever during flu season if you want to stay well. Seriously, good hygiene practices are your very best defense. Wash your hands with soap and water. Don’t cough on people (or get coughed on).

maggiekb: It’s not just cold/flu, either. There are some papers that show connections between stress and worse outcomes for HIV/AIDS. Including higher levels of virus in the bloodstream, an increased risk of picking up other infections, and increased risk of death.

I’m kind of fascinated now by this researcher at Carnegie Mellon who has basically made it his life’s work to figure out WHY stress is able to increase your risk of contracting a communicable disease. And you guys are going to love this … he’s the American Psychosomatic Society’s 2018 distinguished scientist.

christie: Wow, there’s an American Psychosomatic Society?

anna: Pardon, what?

cwick: Cheap joke: They dreamed it into reality

maggiekb: Anyway, his theory is that the receptors that bind to stress hormones can become resistant to those hormones. The more resistance, the worse your body is at suppressing inflammation. The more chronic inflammation, the worse things work … in terms of preventing illness.

anna: Chad, you really just want to know if you can will yourself into not getting sick, right? Do you care at all about what you can do to make that sickness … shorter, less … sick?

cwick: IDK, once I am sick, I sort of revel in complaining about it. If you shorten my colds, what would I have to talk about?

christie: Go ahead and joke, Chad, but I think we should be careful about stigmatizing the connection between mind and body health.

maggiekb: It’s not hokum. At least not completely.

christie: The mind is a crucial part of the body, so it’s not surprising that one’s psychological state of being can affect physical symptoms. Instead of joking that it’s “all in their heads,” we might be better off trying to harness this connection.

anna: Related: A recent New York Times magazine story delves into the new science of placebo and after reading it, it’s hard not to feel like a whole new era of treatment could be upon us. But it means completely revamping how we think about things like placebo.

christie: You know where this is leading, right, Chad? To my perpetual mantra: It’s complicated, and science is hard.

cwick: When will science get easier?

christie: Never! Sorry.

cwick: Lame.

The World Chess Championship Is Deadlocked After Game 2

Heavy rain showers, a gentle breeze and 57 degrees in London, the BBC reported this morning. The top American grandmaster Fabiano Caruana was unprepared for such weather, arriving for Game 2 of the World Chess Championship sporting a wet blazer.

Never mind the sartorial dampness, however. He arrived excellently prepared for the chess.

His opponent is Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the three-time defending world champion and world No. 1. Caruana, the world No. 2, is vying to become the first American world champ since Bobby Fischer won the title in 1972. The pair had already played an epic, 7-hour, 115-move draw in Game 1 on Friday, and the best-of-12-game match sat level, 0.5 points apiece.1

The result in Game 2 on Saturday was the same — but the path to it was much shorter. After a 49-move, three-hour draw, the grandmasters are level at 1 point apiece, and the championship remains deadlocked.

Carlsen and Caruana began Game 2 — Carlsen with the white pieces, Caruana with the black — in an opening called the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Everything went according to well-established chess theory until Caruana’s 10th move, which can be rendered in chess notation as “10…Rd8!?”

The “!?” denotes an “interesting move.” (The “10” means it’s the 10th move, the “…” means we’re talking about the black pieces, the “R” means the rook, and the “d8” indicates the square the piece is bound for.)

“Surprise is very important,” said Judit Polgar, a grandmaster commentating the match.

The surprise appeared to pay off, as Carlsen, playing the white pieces, thought for 17 minutes, head in his hand, looking rather perturbed. This is what he saw:

r1br2k1/pp3ppp/2n1pn2/q1bp4/2P2B2/P1N1PN2/1PQ2PPP/3RKB1R w K – 0 0
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Tick tock.

Tick tock.

“Magnus almost touched a piece!” yelled Anna Rudolf, another match commentator, capturing quite faithfully the causes of — and level of — excitement that accompanied Game 2 of the World Chess Championship.

Carlsen eventually did actually touch a piece, breaking the unbearable tension, moving his bishop to e2. And by this point, this particular chess position had only ever been seen once before in a competitive game according to ChessBase — in an obscure contest between two English players in 2014 in Aberystwyth, Wales.

Nevertheless, Caruana appeared ready for everything, moving quickly through the novelty. He was prepared for the chess, if not the rain.

This trend continued. Carlsen thought for another 12 minutes before making his 12th move, 9 minutes for his 15th move, 15.5 minutes for his 16th move, 9 minutes for his 19th move and, well, you get the idea. In many ways, the roles were reversed from the first game. Caruana, whose own time had ticked down to mere seconds in Game 1, opened up an hour advantage on the clock in Game 2, and looked rather comfortable.

Carlsen faced another ?! — er, I mean interesting — position while contemplating his 17th move, shown below.

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The chess computer engine that keeps me warm during the games suggested a rather dramatic sacrifice: taking black’s pawn on f7 with the white knight. Black’s king would take the white knight, but white would gain exciting but complex attacking chances. Carlsen opted against the gambit — instead developing a bishop to f3 — perhaps because his clock was loudly ticking in his ear.

Caruana started scratching his own head at this point — but the tension soon slackened. By move 26, the queens and remaining bishops had been traded off the board, leaving the two in another endgame involving only rooks and pawns, just like they had on Friday. This version, however, ended much more quickly than the marathon that came before.

1r4k1/pp3pp1/3Pp2p/P7/8/2P2P2/5P1P/1R4K1 b – – 0 0
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Carlsen and Caruana played around here for a bit, but shook hands and agreed to draw after 49 moves.

The match now sits at 1-1 in this race to 6.5, and will likely stretch to the end of the month. We’ll be keeping the chart below updated throughout.

Sunday is a rest day, and Game 3 begins Monday at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time — that’s 10 a.m. Eastern. I’ll be covering it here and on Twitter.

The World Chess Championship Opened With A Wild Draw

It was 55 degrees and lightly raining in London, just as I imagine it always is, as the grandmasters Magnus Carlsen of Norway and Fabiano Caruana of the United States sat down to begin playing for the 2018 World Chess Championship. The gray meteorology belied the volcanic and lengthy chess on Day 1 of the World Chess Championship. Over seven hours and 115 moves, the players fought a fiery and oscillating battle to open the match, which will likely stretch to the end of the month. The American was lucky to emerge, largely unscathed, with a draw.

The players’ venue is in central London, in a place called The College, about a 15-minute walk north of the Thames. Carlsen, 27, and Caruana, 26, are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, respectively. Carlsen is the three-time defending world champion. Caruana is vying for the first American title since Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky in 1972.

Following a drawing of lots, Carlsen chose to begin the best-of-12-game match on defense with the black pieces. Wins here are worth 1 point, draws a half-point for each, and losses zero points. If the 12th game ends with each player having 6 points, a series of tiebreaker games will ensue. And that’s exactly what happened at the last world championship, in 2016, when Carlsen edged out Sergey Karjakin of Russia. There may still be a lot of chess left.

But there was a lot of chess Friday, too. Carlsen began with the combative Sicilian Defence, and the two entered into something called its Rossolimo Variation. Carlsen was likely pleased — he had beaten Caruana in this very variation in an attacking game in 2015.

After move 9, Caruana went into what the official match broadcast called the first “deep think” of the match, and the game ground to a near-halt as the position ventured into uncharted territory. By Caruana’s 11th move, a board like this had never been seen before at the game’s high levels, according to ChessBase’s database.

Carlsen donned a puffy jacket. Caruana removed his blazer.

Time soon became an issue. The players each get 100 minutes for their first 40 moves, with 30 bonus seconds after each move. After that, they get 50 minutes for the next 20 moves and 15 minutes for any moves after that. Nevertheless, while contemplating his 22nd move, Caruana’s clock ticked down to less than 10 minutes. Carlsen, across the board, moved quickly. With his 25th move, Caruana’s clock had dropped to six minutes. On his 32nd move, less than two minutes. On his 34th move, 6 seconds. If his clock had hit zero, he would have forfeited the game instantly.

Forestalling the end, Caruana fought for his life in the lower right corner of the board. The time pressure — and the pressure from the powerful pieces controlled by the best player in the world — were obviously too much to handle. It was over, and the players would surely head to an early dinner. The computer engines and the chess cognoscenti assessed Carlsen’s position as “surely winning” and Caruana’s as “sad.”

Carlsen’s troops were standing over Caruana’s king, ready to kill and take a devastating early lead in the championship.

But black slipped. The Norwegian champ captured a juicy-looking pawn he oughtn’t have, giving the American a chance to scurry to safety with seconds to spare. You can see what happened below. Carlsen, playing black, captured the pawn on c3 with his bishop. The better move, according to a chess engine whirring on my laptop, would have been to venture deep into the American’s territory, moving the black queen to g1. Carlsen’s advantage, according to the computer, dropped from roughly three pawns to roughly nothing.

6r1/pk4q1/1pp5/2p1b3/4Pp1p/1PPP1Q1P/P1K2R1N/8 b – – 0 0
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By the 43rd move, the two grandmasters had traded queens, clearing the board significantly, and they entered an intricate endgame that stretched on — for hours.

8/p5r1/kpp5/2p5/3bP2p/1P1P3P/P1K2R1N/8 w – – 0 0
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The rooks and kings traveled around for what seemed like an eternity. But the lava that had flowed over the game earlier in the day had finally cooled — and finally (finally!) hardened into a draw. Here’s the whole dang thing, compressed into less than a minute:

Despite the draw, Robert Hess, an American grandmaster, called it a “dominant start for Magnus.”

The championship is level at a half-point each in this race to 6.5. We’ll keep the chart below updated throughout the match.

Game 2 begins tomorrow at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time — that’s 10 a.m. Eastern. I’ll be covering it here and on Twitter.

Read more: The American Grandmaster Who Could Become World Champion

Something Looks Weird In Broward County. Here’s What We Know About A Possible Florida Recount.

The Florida U.S. Senate race is still too close to call. According to unofficial results on the Florida Department of State website at 11:45 a.m. Eastern on Friday, Nov. 9, Republican Gov. Rick Scott led Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by 15,046 votes — or 0.18 percentage points. We’re watching that margin closely because if it stays about that small, it will trigger a recount. It’s already narrowed since election night, when Scott initially declared victory with a 56,000-vote lead.

The changing margin is due to continued vote-counting in Broward and Palm Beach counties, two of Florida’s largest and more Democratic-leaning counties. On Thursday evening, the supervisors of elections in the two counties told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that vote counting there was mostly complete. Under Florida law, counties have to report unofficial election results to the secretary of state by Saturday at noon, but Nelson’s campaign is suing to extend that deadline. Scott’s campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are also suing both counties for not disclosing more information about the ongoing count, and Scott called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Broward’s handling of ballots.

Unusually, the votes tabulated in Broward County so far exhibit a high rate of something called “undervoting,” or not voting in all the races on the ballot. Countywide, 26,060 fewer votes were cast in the U.S. Senate race than in the governor race.1 Put another way, turnout in the Senate race was 3.7 percent lower than in the gubernatorial race.

Broward County’s undervote rate is way out of line with every other county in Florida, which exhibited, at most, a 0.8-percent difference. (There is one outlier — the sparsely populated Liberty County — where votes cast in the Senate race were 1 percent higher than in the governor race, but there we’re talking about a difference of 26 votes, not more than 26,000, as is the case in Broward.)

To put in perspective what an eye-popping number of undervotes that is, more Broward County residents voted for the down-ballot constitutional offices of chief financial officer and state agriculture commissioner than U.S. Senate — an extremely high-profile election in which $181 million was spent. Generally, the higher the elected office, the less likely voters are to skip it on their ballots. Something sure does seem off in Broward County; we just don’t know what yet.

One possible reason for the discrepancy is poor ballot design. Broward County ballots listed the U.S. Senate race first, right after the ballot instructions. But that pushed the U.S. Senate race to the far bottom left of the ballot, where voters may have skimmed over it, while the governor’s race appears at the top of the ballot’s center column, immediately to the right of the instructions.

Sun Sentinel reporters talked with a ballot expert, who said that some voters may not have noticed the Senate race (perhaps thinking it was just part of the ballot instructions) and started filling out their ballot with the governor race instead. That theory is supported by a data consultant who’s worked for several political campaigns in Florida, who found that the parts of Broward County that fall in the 24th Congressional District did see higher levels of undervoting than other parts of the county. That might be because the 24th District was uncontested, which according to Florida law means that the congressional race did not appear on the ballot at all. As you can see in the sample ballot above, the congressional race would also appear in the lower-left corner on many ballots, along with the Senate race. In districts where there was no congressional race on the ballot, however, that corner would have looked even emptier, perhaps making it easier for voters to inadvertently skip over the Senate race.

An alternative explanation is that an error with the vote-tabulating machines in Broward County caused them to sometimes not read people’s votes for U.S. Senate. If that’s true, we would probably only find out if there is a manual recount. According to Florida law, any election that’s within half a percentage point (as this one currently is) triggers a machine recount; then, after the machine recount, if the race is within a quarter of a percentage point, it goes to a much more complex manual recount — a.k.a. each ballot is recounted by hand. As long as the machine recount doesn’t change the Senate results too much (barring a surprise in the remaining ballots in Broward and Palm Beach), it looks like that’s where we’re headed. In addition, Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis and Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum are separated by just 0.44 points in the governor’s race, so that could go to a machine recount, too.

But recounts rarely change the outcomes of elections. A FairVote analysis found that the average recount from 2000 to 2015 shifted the election margin by an average of just 0.02 percentage points. The largest margin swing was 1,247 votes — coincidentally also coming in Florida, in the 2000 presidential race. If Nelson is going to stage a comeback in the Sunshine State, he’ll almost certainly have to close the gap between him and Scott even more in the next couple of days.

Top SEO Tools I Use: MonitorBacklinks.com

Series of posts over the next few months to say what I’ve found works and what doesn’t in SEO.  So this is installment 1 in Top SEO Tools I Use.

So this is somewhat of a product endorsement piece but its also worth sharing with others what you’ve found useful and hopefully they’ll let you know what they have found useful. So Tools I use and even a few I don’t and why.

No the first tool has NOTHING to do with keywords but more importantly everything to do with deciding what your keywords are … if you think my life revolves around keywords you really need to catch up.  Backlinks and anchor text are the hardest things to control and often the most impactful.  Consider….back in the 2000s Miserable Failure was backlinked to George W Bush’s White House biography page by so many websites that he ranked number one on Google for Miserable Failure.  Now I guarantee his site had NO SEO or optimization for Miserable Failure but he held that spot until a counter wave of links went to Jimmy Carter.   Then Google manually shut the term war off.  Its backlinks that make or break a sites ranking.

You can optimize all day long on content choices and keywords but if the rest of the world doesn’t think you are that in their links neither will Google.  So the product is essential.  It trends your links and competitors and its just $25 a month.  Here are screenshots I have taken from time to time to include in reports to clients.monitorbacklinks.com


Notice the colored circles at the top break down the links and provide you with metric like CF TF and DA.  Below that image you can see link by link and the strength of each link as well as no follow or follow status.

Below are more links since the site added more features.  Under the status column the G shows if its indexed by Google with green as good and indexed, yellow as not indexed but not out right banned and finally red … the worst link and honestly its like being caught hanging out with the wrong crowd.  Google even allows you to “disavow” the red Gs.

Backlinks ranked

Backlinks ranked

Backlinks Ranking and Traffic

Backlinks Ranking and Traffic

Image above trends you backlinks, your traffic and your keywords.  This graph is also why I dont mind nofollow links and I believe they do affect ranking.  Notice the tower of purple nofollow domains that linked to us when I released a news story.  The orange keyword position swings up from 90 to 50 as the new position.