Michael Cohen Is The 33rd Person Mueller Has Charged — And Could Be Among The Most Important

After a quiet period, there was a potential blockbuster development in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign this morning, when the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made a surprise appearance in a Manhattan courtroom to plead guilty to making false statements to Congress.

According to the formal charging document, Cohen lied about a Trump real-estate deal in Russia — specifically, the “Trump Tower Moscow” project. This doesn’t prove that members of Trump’s 2016 campaign coordinated with Russia. But according to the document, discussions of the Trump Tower Moscow project went on for longer than Cohen had previously indicated, and Trump was aware of the discussions. According to Cohen’s plea deal, he is cooperating with the special counsel investigation.

This brings the total number of people charged in Mueller’s investigation to 33.

In the document describing Cohen’s alleged conduct, Mueller’s team says that contrary to Cohen’s congressional testimony in 2017 that the deal to build Trump Tower Moscow had concluded early in 2016, negotiations around Trump Tower Moscow were still going as late as June 2016, when Trump was the presumptive Republican nominee.

Cohen also testified that he only spoke to Trump about the project on three occasions and didn’t brief the Trump family on it, that he never personally agreed to travel to Russia or considered a Russia trip for Trump in relation to the project, and that he didn’t recall any response from the Russian government to the project — all of which was challenged in the Mueller team’s charging document. According to the document, the “status and progress” of the project was discussed more than three times with then-candidate Trump and that Cohen also talked to family members about the project’s trajectory. It also says that Cohen did agree to go to Russia (although the trip never happened) and even considered a potential trip to Russia by Trump. And the document says that Cohen reached Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesperson to ask for help reviving the deal.

Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn this morning, Trump repeatedly said that Cohen was lying in the hope of receiving a shorter prison sentence.

This is the first time that the Trump Tower Moscow project has been mentioned in a charge filed by Mueller’s team. The deal ultimately collapsed but has been scrutinized as a possible point of connection between Trump and high-level Russian operatives. According to some reports, Cohen has provided more than 70 hours of testimony to the special counsel, including about contacts between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, questions related to obstruction of justice by the president, and Trump’s previous business dealings in Russia.

Mueller hasn’t charged Cohen before, but this is the second time in three months that Cohen has appeared in a Manhattan courtroom to plead guilty to a federal crime. In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal charges filed by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, including a violation of campaign finance laws that appeared to implicate Trump.

Now, Cohen’s cooperation could have big implications for the way Mueller’s investigation continues to unfold. Trump submitted written answers to questions from Mueller’s team last week; they reportedly included queries about the Trump Tower Moscow project. If Trump’s responses differ from Cohen’s testimony to Mueller, that could spell trouble for the president.

The Patriots Aren’t Quite Their Usual Dominant Selves This Year

Here’s a surprise: The New England Patriots are 8-3, leading the AFC East, with some of the best odds in the conference of winning the Super Bowl.

Oh, right. I’ve just described basically every Pats season in recent memory. This is the ninth consecutive season that New England has won at least eight of its first 11 games. The team’s current Elo rating of 1641, however, is the lowest it’s been through the same stage of the season since 2009 (and we don’t talk about that season).

So what are we to make of these Patriots, then? After overcoming the typical early season hiccups, is this year’s version ready to build championship momentum down the stretch like normal? Or is there still something a little bit off about a team that was showering its punter (of all players) with praise after an uncharacteristically modest win over the lowly New York Jets last week?

In advance of New England’s showdown Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, let’s take a look at some of the Patriots’ calling-card metrics to see whether this season is business as usual in Foxboro.

Road warriors?

One of the Pats’ most eye-catching statistics during Bill Belichick’s time as head coach has been their near-invincibility at home, where they’ve won 87 percent of their games this decade. But their road record — winning more than 70 percent of the time away from Gillette Stadium — could be even more remarkable. From 2010 to 2017, the Pats’ winning percentage on the road was about 10.5 percentage points higher than what we’d expect from their home record — the third biggest gap in the NFL (behind the Cowboys and Eagles):

This year, though, New England is a perfect 5-0 at home but only 3-3 on the road — respectable but nowhere near the league’s best. (The Pats have also been outscored by 11 points in away games, against a road schedule that ranks just 28th in average opposing Elo.) And this might come up in the playoffs, unlike so many seasons in which the Pats had home-field advantage through the AFC title game.1 Right now, New England is in line for the AFC’s No. 2 seed behind the Kansas City Chiefs, but only a half-game separates them from the fourth-seeded Steelers.

Owning the turnover battle

Turnover margin is one of the most important factors in determining who wins or loses any football game. Conventional stathead wisdom, though, tells us that outlier turnover seasons — whether avoiding them on offense, forcing them on defense, or both — are unsustainable. While there are some ways a team can influence its tendency to have more takeaways than giveaways, a lot of it also comes down to luck.

Unless, of course, you’re the Patriots. New England perennially dominates this category, ranking first by a mile from 2010 through 2017 with a +116 turnover differential, almost double that of the next-best team. A lot of that is a function of having Tom Brady at QB; he’s tied for the second-lowest interception percentage of any passer in NFL history. But the Pats are also great at avoiding fumbles — only the Falcons had coughed it up fewer times since 2010, and no team had lost fewer fumbles than the Pats. And their defense had forced the second-most turnovers of any team this decade (behind the Giants), ranking second in interceptions and tied for third in fumbles recovered.

Such opportunism has historically paid big dividends for New England, but this year’s squad is still trying to recapture that formula. The Pats are currently +5 in turnovers, which ranks ninth in the league but is nothing special by their standards. Brady has his highest interception rate since 2013 (his seven picks already are only one off of his full-season total from last year), driving a big overall increase in giveaways per game, though the team is being more careful in recent weeks. And while the Pats have forced at least one turnover in all but one game this season, they are tied for eighth-to-last in the league in games with three or more takeaways, six behind the league-leading Bears.

Yards and points

In addition to — and correlated with — their dominant turnover differential, the Patriots have always had another trick up their sleeves in terms of winning extra games. It involves their yards per point (YPP): essentially, how efficiently they turn field position into scores on offense and how inefficiently they force opponents to do the same. By definition, when you have a lower YPP than the opponent, you will win more often because you’re trading field position for points at a more favorable rate than they are.

Like turnover margin, YPP is supposed to be pretty inconsistent from year to year, bouncing around with a team’s luck at picking up key first downs and converting red zone chances, along with the all-important knack for “bending but not breaking” on defense. Yet the Pats dominate this category so thoroughly and so consistently, it might be the single biggest factor in their ongoing success. Not only had they ranked first in both offensive and defensive YPP since 2010, but their net YPP differential of +5.6 was more than double the No. 2 Packers’ +2.5 mark over that span.

(This is one of the big reasons that worries about the Patriots’ defense always need to be tempered. Belichick’s team has traditionally punched above its weight in terms of points allowed, just because it always makes opponents work so hard to turn gains on the field into rewards on the scoreboard.)

This season, the Pats remain among the top net YPP teams, ranking fourth, but they are not quite dominating like usual. They rank just seventh in offensive YPP and sixth on defense, with a net YPP of +2.8, which trails the Bears, Saints and Chiefs. On top of the increase in turnovers per game from above, New England’s efficiency rankings on third down and in the red zone are worse, and the team has slipped in those same “situational” categories on defense. And if you want another cause for the Patriots’ YPP decline, their net starting field position is -2.6 yards per drive this season (meaning the opponent starts 2.6 yards closer to the end zone than the Pats), after a decade in which that number was a league-best +4.6.

In other words, many of the little things that usually add up to that massive YPP advantage for New England aren’t quite working as well so far this year. But the good news for the Pats is that their turnover margin and net YPP tend to improve radically from this point in the season onward, in no small part because Belichick specifically tries to build a tough, physical team that thrives in bad weather. So even in a relative down season by their key indicators, don’t be surprised if the Patriots build them up at least some before season’s end.

Gronk smash!

Tight end Rob Gronkowski has long been the Pats’ not-so-secret weapon on offense, helping the team transition seamlessly from the powerful Randy Moss-Wes Welker offense of a previous era to the version that’s been terrorizing the league for most of this decade.

But the famously fragile Gronk has appeared to show his age and mileage this season more than perhaps ever before. He’s missed three games with various ailments, and when he has played, he’s been limited to just 63.0 yards per game with a career-low 0.25 touchdown catches per contest. Gronkowski’s reduced mobility has hurt his trademark ability to rumble after the catch for spectacular gains, and it’s made him much less of a focal point in the offense than he’s accustomed to being. When on the field, Gronk has seen only 18.7 percent of the targets in the Pats’ passing game, his lowest number since getting 17.7 percent as a rookie.

But Gronk’s influence on the Patriots’ offense remains undeniable. In the eight games the star tight end has played in 2018, Brady’s passer rating is 98.2; in the three he missed, it dropped to 91.6 (league average is 94.9). Even with Gronkowski playing in a more limited physical condition than usual, producing less of a statistical footprint than before, this is confirmation that he’s still one of the biggest engines driving the Patriots’ success. The biggest question might simply be what kind of durability Gronkowski’s banged-up body will have over the rest of the season.

Brady stays ageless … sort of

Along with Belichick, the one constant in New England’s dynasty has been No. 12 under center. Brady has probably been the single most valuable player in the NFL this century, and he’s been crucial in engineering five Super Bowl titles for the Patriots with his consistency, leadership and ability to rally the team back from seemingly insurmountable deficits.

But at 41 — an age at which almost no other QB has ever been productive — there is a near-constant watch for any sign of slippage in Brady’s performance. And he has been a bit less sharp statistically than in years past. His adjusted net yards per attempt index at Pro-Football-Reference.com, which measures passing efficiency relative to the league (where 100 is average), is 111 this year, down from 117 last season and 138 the year before that. It hadn’t been so low since Brady was barely above average (102) in 2013.

Of course, there are reasons for Brady’s decline that go beyond his advanced age, from Gronk’s aforementioned absences to a four-game suspension for top target Julian Edelman at the start of the season and a WR corps in flux early on before adding Josh Gordon and shuffling roles for the likes of Phillip Dorsett and (WR-turned-RB) Cordarrelle Patterson. But Brady has managed to work around weird receiving situations before — and, in fact, his passer rating was better over the season’s first four games (94.0) than it’s been over the four most recent ones (90.8).

Combine that with a ProFootballFocus grade that’s down a bit from last season (though still sixth-best among QBs) and those ubiquitous stats about Brady’s off-target throws (at 22.1 percent, no qualified passer has thrown an errant pass more frequently this year), and it’s fair to ask whether Brady is playing at quite the same level as he did over the past few seasons. Whether because of Brady or the receivers, the Pats are currently tied for eighth in adjusted net yards per attempt — their worst showing since (again) 2013, a season that saw New England fall short in the AFC title game.2


Taken altogether, these numbers reveal a Patriots squad that is not fully playing at the level it’s used to at this stage of the season. And that shows up in big-picture indicators such as Elo or even point differential, where the Pats’ +58 margin is its weakest of the decade through 11 contests. But even so, a lessened version of the Patriots still ranks among the league’s top teams. And as we mentioned above, the Vikings will be a good opponent for Belichick to use as a measuring stick for his roster. According to our combination of matchup quality (i.e., the harmonic mean of the teams’ Elo ratings in each game) and game importance (how likely it is to swing either team’s odds of making the playoffs), this will be the fourth-best game of the week:

The best matchups of Week 13

Week 13 games by ranking of average Elo ratings (using the harmonic mean) plus ranking of total potential swing for the two teams’ playoff chances, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL predictions

Playoff % Playoff %
Team A Current Avg. Chg* Team B Current Avg. Chg* Total Change Game Quality
WSH 38.9% +/-19.5 PHI 23.7% +/-11.1 30.6 1525
BAL 46.1 18.0 ATL 4.2 3.1 21.0 1539
DAL 60.3 13.3 NO >99.9 0.1 13.3 1635
MIN 62.8 13.6 NE 99.1 1.0 14.6 1610
LAC 88.2 7.0 PIT 93.9 5.6 12.6 1619
CAR 30.9 14.9 TB 0.7 0.8 15.7 1492
IND 29.5 14.5 JAX 0.1 0.1 14.7 1468
DEN 13.0 10.7 CIN 6.4 5.3 16.0 1453
DET 1.3 1.6 LAR >99.9 <0.1 1.6 1550
SEA 74.9 10.5 SF <0.1 <0.1 10.5 1460
CHI 96.3 3.9 NYG <0.1 <0.1 3.9 1474
HOU 95.7 3.8 CLE 1.3 1.4 5.2 1462
KC 99.9 0.2 OAK <0.1 <0.1 0.2 1479
TEN 20.5 7.2 NYJ <0.1 <0.1 7.2 1417
MIA 5.1 3.9 BUF 1.3 1.3 5.2 1425
GB 6.1 3.0 ARI <0.1 <0.1 3.0 1412

Game quality is the harmonic mean of the Elo ratings for the two teams in a given matchup.

*Average change is weighted by the likelihood of a win or loss. (Ties are excluded.)

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

While the game has a lot more at stake for Minnesota, whose spot in the playoffs is still not fully locked in, there is still plenty for the Patriots to play for as well. Not only will this game affect seeding for the postseason (Elo says the Pats currently have a 60 percent chance of securing a first-round playoff bye), but it will also be another telling data point as to whether the Pats can get back to their mega-dominant form of the recent past, or if they’ll be merely good — but mortal — according to their signature metrics.

FiveThirtyEight vs. the readers

If you want to know where your team stands, FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings are a good indicator. You can check them out in our NFL prediction interactive, which simulates the rest of the season 100,000 times and tracks how often each team should make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. Did you know you can also pick against the Elo algorithm in our prediction game? Try it out, and maybe you can climb up our giant leaderboard.

Here are the games in which Elo made its best — and worst — predictions against the reader picks last week:

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 12

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 12 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

OUR PREDICTION (ELO) READERS’ PREDICTION
PICK WIN PROB. PICK WIN PROB. Result READERS’ NET PTS
CIN 75% CIN 63% CLE 35, CIN 20 +13.4
CAR 62 CAR 57 SEA 30, CAR 27 +4.1
CHI 53 CHI 59 CHI 23, DET 16 +2.9
HOU 58 HOU 63 HOU 34, TEN 17 +2.3
NE 77 NE 82 NE 27, NYJ 13 +0.4
PIT 70 PIT 69 DEN 24, PIT 17 +0.0
DAL 65 DAL 67 DAL 31, WSH 23 -0.5
IND 68 IND 70 IND 27, MIA 24 -0.6
NO 81 NO 83 NO 31, ATL 17 -0.9
LAC 84 LAC 85 LAC 45, ARI 10 -0.9
BAL 83 BAL 81 BAL 34, OAK 17 -2.3
TB 63 TB 58 TB 27, SF 9 -5.7
PHI 80 PHI 69 PHI 25, NYG 22 -8.1
MIN 71 MIN 60 MIN 24, GB 17 -10.0
BUF 56 JAX 55 BUF 24, JAX 21 -13.0

Home teams are in bold.

The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction.

On average, Elo beat our readers by 18.9 points in the game last week, bringing its record to 11 wins and one loss so far this season. Readers had the best pick of Week 12 — rightly pumping the brakes on Cincinnati’s chances of beating the Browns — but they were punished for picking against Elo in the Bills’ upset over the Jaguars, and they didn’t show enough faith in the victorious Vikings, Eagles and Bucs.

Among individual users who did better than average, congrats are in order to Ryan Gnizak, who led all users in Week 12 with 263.5 points, and to Greg Chili Van Hollebeke, who held on to a slim lead for the entire season with 934.5 points. Thanks to everyone who has been playing — and if you haven’t, be sure to get in on the action! You can make picks now and still try your luck against Elo, even if you haven’t played yet.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Carlsen’s Bizarre Decision Has Sent The World Chess Championship To Overtime

For hours, the play in Monday’s Game 12 of the World Chess Championship was filthy. Then it was weird. Things did not look drawish! But because of a remarkable decision by the world’s top grandmaster, they ended in a draw anyway.

Over more than two weeks, more than 600 moves, 48 hours of play, one scandalous video and one black eye, the world’s top two grandmasters have now fought to a dozen straight draws. The World Chess Championship match between Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and the U.S.’s Fabiano Caruana remains deadlocked at the end of regulation, and the title will be now be decided by speedy tie-breaking games including, perhaps, a sudden-death format known as Armageddon.

But before the tiebreakers came a wild, oscillating Game 12. Carlsen, with the black pieces, and Caruana, with the white, began with the Sveshnikov Sicilian, just as they had in Game 8 and Game 10. Carlsen was the first to deviate from the earlier contests, perhaps a stratagem to take Caruana out of his seemingly excellent preparation for the championship, and to angle for a decisive result at last. By the 12th move, the two were in uncharted territory, looking at a board that that no two people had created before at this level of chess.1

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“This is going to get really dirty, really soon,” said Levon Aronian, the world No. 11, on a Chess.com broadcast. Sharp, gnarly and double-edged attacks appeared to be arriving soon, and the game was surely bound to be the first decisive result of the match. Surely!

Caruana thought for about 25 minutes before making his 17th move. It’s hard to blame him, as the position on the board was very complicated. Worse for Caruana, it soon became complicated in a way that favored the Norwegian. “It looks like black is having all the fun in the position,” the grandmaster Robert Hess said after Caruana’s 21st move. All of black’s cavalry was mounted and armored and ready to charge. Black had more space in which to prepare its plans, and its bishops would likely soon eye an attack on the kingside.

Undeterred, with his 21st and 22nd moves — rook to h2 and castling on the queenside, readying a heavy battery — Caruana signaled his willingness to fight.

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It was a willingness that led to real trouble. After Caruana’s 25th move, he was down more than 30 minutes on the clock and the equivalent of nearly two pawns, according to a supercomputer analyzing the game. The middlegame became a wild rumpus, and a scary one for fans of the American, one that neither human grandmasters nor chess superengines could make all that much sense of. Swings in advantage were wild, and time pressure was mounting. After Carlsen’s 31st move, Caruana had less than nine minutes remaining and faced this position.

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An attack was coming Caruana’s way, his time was dangerously low, and he was about to make the eight most important moves of his life2 under various flavors of high pressure. But Carlsen reached out his hand before Caruana could move and offered a draw — a pacifistic bolt from the blue. Caruana happily shook it.

I’m not a grandmaster — far from it — but the position above looks nothing like a draw to me. There are, to put it professionally, soooooo many pieces left, including a ton of firepower, plus a pawn rolling down the left flank for black and various pieces that are under attack. And yet, a draw. Another draw.

“I wasn’t in a mood to find the punch,” Carlsen said by way of explanation after the game.

“I should be really happy with a draw,” Caruana said. “My position had no chances to win.”

Caruana said he was surprised by the draw offer. So was everyone else.

Let’s leave a deeper discussion of whether Carlsen’s shocking gesture is good for chess for later (it’s absolutely not) and take a look at how we got here.

Our championship computer analysis chart is now completed, but its contents weren’t enough to determine a winner. According to the match rules, here’s what the grandmasters will do on Wednesday:

  • They’ll play a mini-match of four rapid games, in which each player gets 25 minutes plus 10 bonus seconds after each move. Points will be awarded as they were during regulation: 1 point for a win, half a point each for a draw.
  • If the score is still tied after those four games, they’ll play a mini-match of two blitz games, in which each player gets five minutes plus three bonus seconds after each move. If that’s tied, they’ll play another and another and so on, for up to five mini-matches, or 10 total blitz games.
  • If all of those two-game blitz matches are tied, they’ll play a single game of Armageddon. In this format, white gets five minutes, black gets four minutes, and a draw counts as a win for black. Lots are drawn (no pun intended) to determine who gets which color.

For the risk averse grandmaster, there was an incentive to head to tiebreakers: The 1 million pound prize fund is divided 60-40 to the winner, unless the match is decided in tiebreakers, in which case, it’s 55-45.

But who will win 55 percent of the money? Probably Carlsen, and the faster the tiebreakers get, the bigger Carlsen’s advantage.

To see why, let’s do a little math to calculate each player’s win probability in each potential round of tiebreakers. First, we need some measure of the players’ strengths in the speedier formats — I’ll use FIDE’s Elo ratings. Carlsen’s rapid rating is 2880, and his blitz rating is 2939; Caruana’s rapid rating is 2789, and his blitz rating is 2767. We also need a measure of how likely draws are in these faster formats. I’ll use historical data. In last year’s World Rapid Championship, for example, about 30 percent of the games were draws. In last year’s World Blitz Championship (which Carlsen won), about 20 percent of the games were draws.

Combining those facts and running a bunch of simulations give the following probabilistic picture of the world championship tiebreakers. Carlsen is a roughly 80 percent favorite — again, based only on the quantitative factors mentioned above. These simulations do not care about Caruana’s strong form in the 12 lengthy games that have been played so far or his confident utterances during recent post-game press conferences. (In real life, the two have played 23 speedier games against each other, according to Chessgames.com — Carlsen won 13, Caruana won six and four were draws.)

When will the chess end? And will it end in Armageddon?
Cumulative chance of winning championship
Tiebreak Round Chances of playing Carlsen 🇳🇴
Caruana 🇺🇸
Rapid game 1 100.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Rapid game 2 100.0 0.0 0.0
Rapid game 3 100.0 31.6 5.5
Rapid game 4 62.9 63.8 17.1
Blitz match 1 19.1 76.2 19.0
Blitz match 2 4.8 79.3 19.5
Blitz match 3 1.2 80.1 19.6
Blitz match 4 0.3 80.3 19.6
Blitz match 5 0.1 80.4 19.6
Armageddon 🔥
0.0 80.4 19.6

While I hate to disappoint, these somewhat crude calculations suggest only a 0.02 percent — or 1-in-5,000 — chance of Armageddon at the World Chess Championship.

Then again, maybe the conventional wisdom is all wrong. For what it’s worth, the longtime world champion Garry Kasparov reassessed his own prediction of the tiebreakers following Monday’s draw.

The tie-breaking games begin Wednesday at 10 a.m. Eastern, and a world champion will be crowned. I’ll be covering them here and on Twitter.

Caruana ‘Suffers Successfully’ In Game 11 Of The World Chess Championship

With his last chance to command the white pieces in a regulation game in the World Chess Championship, defending champion Magnus Carlsen was unable to drum up any attacking chances. Game 11 — like the 10 that preceded it — ended in a draw. Carlsen’s challenger, Fabiano Caruana, defended admirably and the two are tied 5.5-5.5 with one regulation game to go.

Saturday’s game began with the Petroff Defense, Caruana’s favorite opening with the black pieces. Not surprisingly, this was familiar mental territory for the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world. Within 90 seconds, they’d blitzed out their first 10 moves, arriving at the position below.

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This specific choice of opening was interesting for two reasons. One, Sergey Karjakin, the 2016 championship challenger, won a game with the white pieces from this exact position in 2016, against the elite Indian grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna. Two, the infamous deleted video that appeared to show secret aspects of Caruana’s pre-match preparation once again reared its head. That video showed a laptop screen with a variation of the Petroff that included the move “9…Nf6.” And indeed, on his ninth move, Caruana moved his knight to the f6 square.

But little else was interesting on Saturday. That “leaked” variation led to nothing sharp from either player and the secretive preparation unleashed no interesting secrets.

Karjakin happened to be in attendance at the venue in London on Saturday, and he provided some early commentary for the viewers that has also become the mantric chant of this match: “It looks very drawish,” he said. He was right. The queens came off the board by the 14th move. Only a pair of bishops and some pawns remained by the 26th. Thirty fruitless moves later, Carlsen and Caruana shook hands.

This is what an uneventful world championship draw looks like at high speeds. Come for the Petroff, stay for the bishop dance.

“Not much really happened today,” Caruana said after the game, to a bit of uncomfortable laughter from the crowd.

While Caruana may have very briefly felt some unpleasantness in the middlegame, “he may suffer successfully,” said Sam Shankland, the U.S. national champion, on a Chess.com broadcast. (To suffer successfully — what a lovely idea.) And indeed Caruana did. Indeed we all have over these past two weeks. Here’s exactly how, according to the computer’s unblinking eye:

“Chess in its present form will die the death of the draw,” wrote Emanuel Lasker, a former world champion, nearly 100 years ago. Yet here we are! Draws “are ingrained in the fabric of the game, a part of chess theory and culture,” another former national champ, Joel Benjamin, wrote in 2006. “Grandmasters play the opening better and make fewer mistakes. Willpower alone cannot ensure a decisive result.”

There is an austere beauty in the equilibrium of draws that this match has reached: Two goliaths, pushing each other with all their might, yet moving nowhere. At any moment, though, the ground can shift.

The mounting draws bring both good and bad news for the American challenger. On one hand, Caruana has proved beyond a doubt his ability to hang with and even outplay Carlsen, perhaps the best player of all time, in lengthy games under the sport’s brightest lights. On the other, should the match remain tied after the final game, the two will move on to speedier tie-breaking games. I wrote about what those look like in 2016. Carlsen is rated No. 1 in the world in both speedy chess formats that will be used, and he is almost universally thought to be a heavy favorite in the tiebreaker.

The match rests tomorrow. Game 12 — the final game of regulation and in which Caruana will have the white pieces — begins Monday at 10 a.m. Eastern. The tie-breaking games, if necessary, will happen on Tuesday. I’ll be covering it all here and on Twitter.

Chess World Celebrates A ‘Sensational’ Move … That Leads To A Championship Draw

Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, the world’s top two grandmasters, spent Thanksgiving in London in a soundproof glass box, staring at a small table, guzzling bottled water and continuing their deadlocked battle for the World Chess Championship.

The match was already a record-breaker, having started with more consecutive draws than any championship on the books. As the holiday began, the best-of-12 race for the title sat level 4.5-4.5. Tensions ran high. #LooksDrawish was trending on Twitter (I assume/dream).

I awoke in my Brooklyn apartment early Thursday morning, put on some heavy-duty coffee and watched as the grandmasters opened Game 10 with another Sveshnikov Sicilian, just as they’d done in Game 8. Caruana steered out of Game 8’s lane on his 12th move, with a novel “pawn to b4,” and they were left with the position below.

r1bq1rk1/pp1nbppp/3p4/1N1Pp3/PP6/8/2P1BPPP/R1BQ1RK1 b – – 0 0
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“It’s going to be a complicated game,” said the grandmaster Judit Polgár, providing the official match commentary.

And indeed it was going to be — for the players and your humble chess correspondent. My parents were in town, my sister was sweating over an oven, and forgotten provisions had to be procured. A table had to be set. Mashed potatoes had to be eaten. I tore away from the match and headed into the city.

Having nervously missed a handful of moves on my train ride, I ascended from the serviceless subway station in time to witness something special from Carlsen, the defending world champion who had yet to do much special at all. One grandmaster told me his move was “phenomenal.” Another tweeted that it was “incredible.” A chess writer called it “sensational.” A chess instructor called it “fascinating.”

So just what was it that Carlsen did with the black pieces here?

r1b2rk1/1pBnb1pp/3p2q1/P2P4/2N1pp2/R7/2P1BPPP/3Q1R1K b – – 0 0
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It was pawn to b5.

Erwin l’Ami, the grandmaster who called it “incredible,” described the idea behind the move, which ostensibly loses a pawn for Carlsen, as follows: Once Carlsen pushes that pawn to b5, Caruana can win it by moving his pawn to b6. (That may not appear to be a legal move, but it’s a special capture known as en passant, in which a pawn can diagonally capture another pawn that has just hopped up two squares next to it.) Carlsen could then take the rook on a3 with his rook, and Caruana could take that rook with his knight. Carlsen could then push his pawn to f3, encroaching further into white’s territory. Two pawn captures then ensue on that same square, followed by Caruana capturing there with his bishop. And then Carlsen could bring his knight into the action on e5. The result of that hypothetical line would have looked like this — a “huge attack” on Caruana’s king.

2b2rk1/2B1b1pp/1P1p2q1/3Pn3/8/N4B2/2P2P1P/3Q1R1K w – – 0 0
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After snacking nervously with this chess idea in our heads, my parents and I emerged from a serviceless restaurant worried (or at least I was) that we may have missed the final Norwegian triumph and the de facto end of the world championship. Someone may have won! We found instead that we hadn’t missed many moves and that Caruana hadn’t bit on Carlsen’s aggressive pawn sacrifice. No devastating attack had come. The position (my phone told me) was once again level. It looked drawish.

Wine store: drawish. Whole Foods: drawish. Elevator: drawish.

When we arrived at last at my sister’s apartment, her boyfriend already had both the chess game and the football game on large screens, thereby forever cementing his value to the family. He’s not much of a chess player, but he did have some interesting thoughts on rook endgames. Lucky thing, too, because by that point the game looked like this.

5rk1/1r4pp/1P6/3p4/4p3/4RpP1/1RP2P1P/7K w – – 0 0
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With my attention divided between how-to-carve-a-turkey videos on YouTube, a glass of Cabernet, and the soundproof glass box in London, I was nevertheless unsurprised to see Carlsen and Caruana shake hands for the 10th game in a row, agreeing to a draw on the 54th move. The match — needless to say — sits level at 5-5 with two games to go.

Brin-Jonathan Butler, a Canadian journalist who was therefore presumably unencumbered by Thanksgiving, had been keeping a close eye on the match and called me to say that it has been “as eventful as a bus keeping its schedule.” And indeed, that schedule continues: Game 11 begins Saturday at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time — that’s 10 a.m. Eastern. I’ll be covering it here and on Twitter.

It Was Finally Fabiano Caruana’s Turn To Survive At The World Chess Championship

Magnus Carlsen got a black eye before Game 9 of the World Chess Championship. But it didn’t hinder his vision of the board as Wednesday’s play began.

For the first time in nearly two weeks of play, Carlsen, the defending champion, was able to successfully command the white pieces to an attacking advantage. Throughout much of Game 9, Carlsen outdueled his challenger, Fabiano Caruana. Caruana, the world No. 2, appeared to reel at points, and his allocated time melted off his clock as he pondered his defense.

But Carlsen’s advantage melted, too. The game was drawn after 56 moves over 3.5 hours of play. It was the ninth consecutive draw and the best-of-12 match sits level at 4.5-4.5.

Before the game Wednesday, the list of colorful stories orbiting the match ballooned to two. First came the infamous deleted YouTube video appearing to show elements of Caruana’s pre-match strategic preparation. Now we had the black eye.

Instagram Photo

NRK, the Norwegian broadcaster, reported that Carlsen collided — excuse me, “kolliderte” — with one of its own journalists while playing soccer on Tuesday, a rest day from the chess. Questions were raised about Carlsen’s mental soundness — a grandmaster should do nothing but grandmastering, apparently. Per Google’s translation of NRK, he was reportedly “dumbfounded” after the crash. “If he has to use pain relief, there may be a potential problem,” NRK wrote.

But those neurological questions seemed quickly answered at the board and Carlsen said he felt no pain while playing.

The first eight moves on Wednesday exactly matched the first eight from Game 4 — their name sounds like something out of Tolkien, an English opening that became a Reverse Dragon. But the game took a radical and aggressive turn on move 9, when Carlsen scrambled his bishop to the g5 square, into enemy territory and with its mitre directly pointed at Caruana’s queen.

r1bqr1k1/ppp2ppp/2n5/2bnp1B1/8/2NP1NP1/PP2PPBP/R2Q1RK1 b – – 0 0
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This specific position has only ever materialized on a tournament chessboard once before, according to the ChessBase database, in an otherwise uncelebrated game in 2008 between two Croatian non-grandmasters. (Though black won that one.) The attack was on, and Caruana contributed with a misstep on his 17th move, capturing a knight in Carlsen’s territory that he oughtn’t have. That capture sparked a series of moves that eventually allowed Carlsen’s bishop to escape, flying across the board to capture the black pawn on b7.

As deep into the game as the 18th move, Carlsen hadn’t spent more than a minute on any one move and quickly opened up a 40-minute advantage on the clock. One knock against the champ in this match has been his apparently lackadaisical preparation. But he was solidly prepared for his aggressive line on Wednesday, sailing through his moves. Caruana, meanwhile, took 9 minutes to make his 12th move, 21 minutes on his 13th, 8 on his 14th and 13 on his 17th.

The fruits of the Norwegian’s preparation appeared to be a comfortable position: Either he would win or he would draw. Before Carlsen’s 24th move, the position looked like this.

3rr2k/pBp1q1pp/1b3p2/8/8/1Q2P1P1/P4P1P/3R1RK1 w – – 0 0
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“I think there are some long-term dangers here for black,” said Hikaru Nakamura, a top American grandmaster commentating for Chess.com. Carlsen’s white bishop, for example, was far more active than Caruana’s. “If Caruana doesn’t find the right moves, he will lose.”

It appeared to all the world that the Norwegian chess superstar would finally make real progress in the match, and indeed that a victory in the moves to come would effectively decide the match — and the world title — itself. “There are certain types of positions where Magnus is stronger than a computer,” said Anish Giri, the world No. 5, on a chess24 broadcast.

It’s an evocative claim, but it was not true on Wednesday. Carlsen may have rushed his attack on move 25, shortly after the position above. He pushed his pawn up the flank on the edge of the board, to h4 and toward Caruana’s king. He then pushed it again, to h5. It may have been a square too far, or at least too soon. (The computer engine Stockfish preferred involving that active white bishop instead.)

“He’s just not playing his best chess,” added Peter Svidler, the world No. 19, on that very same broadcast. The position simplified dramatically and the two shook hands — which they must be getting very good at — after 56 moves.

Ah, chess is cruel. Here’s a chart to quantify that cruelty — and we’ll keep it updated throughout the rest of the match. There are three regular games left, and speedier tiebreaker games will follow on Nov. 27, if necessary.

This match has been different for Carlsen than his 2016 World Chess Championship encounter against Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin, which began with seven consecutive draws. Many of those found Karjakin on the backfoot, escaping like Houdini from the shackles of the world champion. Caruana, however, has rarely been in real trouble until Wednesday, and this year Carlsen has been forced to play the part of escape artist.

Carlsen would, however, be an enormous favorite should the tiebreakers become necessary.

“I’m really not thinking about the tiebreak now,” Caruana said after the game. “I really don’t agree with most people about my chances in the tiebreak.”

Game 10 begins Thursday at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time — that’s 10 a.m. Eastern. But that’s also Thanksgiving. As a result, our next dispatch will come on Friday. Chess waits for no turkey, but FiveThirtyEight does. I’ll be covering the rest of the match here and on Twitter.

Trump’s Base Isn’t Enough

There shouldn’t be much question about whether 2018 was a wave election. Of course it was a wave. You could endlessly debate the wave’s magnitude, depending on how much you focus on the number of votes versus the number of seats, the House versus the Senate versus governorships, and so forth. Personally, I’d rank the 2018 wave a tick behind both 1994, which represented a historic shift after years of Democratic dominance of the House, and 2010, which reflected an especially ferocious shift against then-President Barack Obama after he’d been elected in a landslide two years earlier. But I’d put 2018 a bit ahead of most other modern wave elections, such as 2006 and 1982. Your mileage may vary.

In another important respect, however, the 2018 wave was indisputably unlike any other in recent midterm history: It came with exceptionally high turnout. Turnout is currently estimated at 116 million voters, or 49.4 percent of the voting-eligible population. That’s an astounding number; only 83 million people voted in 2014, by contrast.

This high turnout makes for some rather unusual accomplishments. For instance, Democratic candidates for the House will receive almost as many votes this year as the 63 million that President Trump received in 2016, when he won the Electoral College (but lost the popular vote). As of Tuesday midday, Democratic House candidates had received 58.9 million votes, according to the latest tally by David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. However, 1.6 million ballots remain to be counted in California, and those are likely to be extremely Democratic. Other states also have more ballots to count, and they’re often provisional ballots that tend to lean Democratic. In 2016, Democratic candidates for the House added about 4 million votes from this point in the vote count to their final numbers. So this year, an eventual total of anywhere between 60 million and 63 million Democratic votes wouldn’t be too surprising.

There isn’t really any precedent for the opposition party at the midterm coming so close to the president’s vote total. The closest thing to an exception is 1970, when Democratic candidates for the House got 92 percent of Richard Nixon’s vote total from 1968, when he was elected president with only 43 percent of the vote. Even in wave elections, the opposition party usually comes nowhere near to replicating the president’s vote from two years earlier. In 2010, for instance, Republican candidates received 44.8 million votes for the House — a then-record total for a midterm but far fewer than Barack Obama’s 69.5 million votes in 2008.

Democratic candidates for the House in 2018 received almost as many votes as President Trump in 2016

Opposition party’s total popular vote in midterm House elections as a share of the president’s popular vote in the previous election, 1938-2018

Popular vote
Election house opp. party For House Opp. party for President in prev. election Opp. party’s house vote as share of pres. vote
2018 D 60-63m 63.0m 95-100%
1970 D 29.1 31.8 92
1994 R 36.6 44.9 82
1950 R 19.7 24.2 81
1982 D 35.3 43.9 80
1958 D 25.6 35.6 72
1946 R 18.4 25.6 72
1962 R 24.2 34.2 71
2006 D 42.3 62.0 68
1998 R 32.2 47.4 68
2002 D 33.8 50.5 67
1990 D 32.5 48.9 66
1954 D 22.4 34.1 66
2010 R 44.8 69.5 64
1974 D 30.0 47.2 64
1938 R 17.3 27.7 62
2014 R 40.0 65.9 61
1978 R 24.5 40.8 60
1986 D 32.4 54.5 59
1966 R 25.5 43.1 59
1942 R 14.3 27.3 52

“The resistance” turned out voters in astonishing numbers, performing well in both traditional swing states in the Midwest — including the states (Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania) that essentially lost Hillary Clinton the presidential election in 2016 — and new-fangled swing states such as Arizona and Texas. Turnout among young voters was high by the standards of a midterm, and voters aged 18 to 29 chose Democratic candidates for the House by 35 points, a record margin for the youth vote in the exit-poll era. The Hispanic share of the electorate increased to 11 percent from 8 percent in the previous midterm, according to exit polls. To some extent, these are stories the media missed when it was chasing down all those dispatches from Trump Country. In a descriptive sense, this was a really big story.

In a predictive sense, what it means is less clear. Sometimes — as was the case in 2006, 1974 and 1930 — midterm waves are followed by turnover in the presidency two years later. But most presidents win re-election, including those who endured rough midterms (such as Obama in 2010, Bill Clinton in 1994 and Ronald Reagan in 1982). Nor is there any obvious relationship between how high turnout was at the midterm and how the incumbent president performed two years later. Democrats’ high turnout in 1970 presaged a landslide loss in 1972, when they nominated George McGovern.

This year’s results do serve as a warning to Trump in one important sense, however: His base alone will not be enough to win a second term. Throughout the stretch run of the 2018 midterm campaign, Trump and Republicans highlighted highly charged partisan issues, from the Central American migrant caravan to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. And Republican voters did indeed turn out in very high numbers: GOP candidates for the House received more than 50 million votes, more than the roughly 45 million they got in 2010.

But it wasn’t enough, or even close to enough. Problem No. 1 is that Republicans lost among swing voters: Independent voters went for Democrats by a 12-point margin, and voters who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016 went to Democrats by 13 points.

Trump and Republicans also have Problem No. 2, however: Their base is smaller than the Democratic one. This isn’t quite as much of a disadvantage as it might seem; the Democratic base is less cohesive and therefore harder to govern. Democratic voters are sometimes less likely to turn out, although that wasn’t a problem this year. And because Republican voters are concentrated in rural, agrarian states, the GOP has a big advantage in the Senate.7

Nonetheless, it does mean that Republicans can’t win the presidency by turning out their base alone, a strategy that sometimes is available to Democrats. (Obama won re-election in 2012 despite losing independents by 5 points because his base was larger.) In the exit polling era, Republicans have never once had an advantage in party identification among voters in presidential years. George W. Bush’s Republicans were able to fight Democrats to a draw in 2004, when party identification was even, but that was the exception rather than the rule.

There are usually more Democrats than Republicans

Share of respondents to presidential election exit polls who identify as a member of each party

Year Democrats Republicans Independents Advantage
2016 37% 33% 31% D+4
2012 38 32 29 D+6
2008 39 32 29 D+7
2004 37 37 26 EVEN
2000 39 35 26 D+4
1996 40 35 22 D+5
1992 38 35 27 D+3
1988 37 35 26 D+2
1984 38 35 26 D+3
1980 43 28 23 D+15
1976 37 22 41 D+15

Source: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

I don’t want to go too far out on a limb in terms of any sort of prediction for 2020. In fact, lest you think that the midterms were the first step toward an inevitable one-term Trump presidency, several facts bear repeating: Most incumbent presidents win re-election, and although Democrats had a strong midterm this year, midterm election results aren’t strongly correlated with what happens in the presidential election two years later. Moreover, presidential approval numbers can shift significantly over two years, so while Trump would probably lose an election today on the basis of his approval ratings, his ratings today aren’t strongly predictive of what they’ll be in November 2020.

But presidents such as Reagan, Clinton and Obama, who recovered to win re-election after difficult midterms, didn’t do it without making some adjustments. Both Reagan and Clinton took a more explicitly bipartisan approach after their midterm losses. Obama at least acknowledged the scope of his defeat, owning up to his “shellacking” after 2010, although an initially bipartisan tone in 2011 had given way to a more combative approach by 2012. All three presidents also benefited from recovering economies — and although the economy is very strong now, there is arguably more downside than upside for Trump (voters have high expectations, but growth is more likely than not to slow a bit).

Trump’s political instincts, as strong as they are in certain ways, may also be miscalibrated. Trump would hate to acknowledge it, but he got most of the breaks in the 2016 election. He ran against a highly unpopular opponent in Clinton and benefited from the Comey letter in the campaign’s final days. He won the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote — an advantage that may or may not carry over to 2020, depending on whether voters in the Midwest are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt again. Meanwhile, this year’s midterms — as well as the various congressional special elections that were contested this year and last year — were fought largely on red turf, especially in the Senate, where Trump may well have helped Republican candidates in states such as Indiana and North Dakota. The Republican play-to-the-base strategy was a disaster in the elections in Virginia in 2017 and in most swing states and suburban congressional districts this year, however.

At the least, odds are that Trump needs a course-correction, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll be willing to take one. While there’s some speculation that Trump could move in a more bipartisan direction, that hasn’t really been apparent yet in his actions since the midterms, or at least not on a consistent basis. Instead, he’s spent the first fortnight after the midterms firing his attorney general, implying that Democrats were trying to steal elections in Florida, and bragging about how he’d give himself an A-plus rating as president. The next two years will less be a test of Trump’s willpower than one of his dexterity and even his humility — not qualities he’s been known to have in great measure.

One Bad Pawn Move Has Kept The World Chess Championship Deadlocked

One has to be better than good to win at the World Chess Championship. One has to be nearly perfect.

Fabiano Caruana, the world No. 2, was reminded of that today in his eighth game against the reigning champion and world No. 1, Magnus Carlsen. As he did two games ago, Caruana leapt to an early advantage. If he could only retain it going into the endgame, he’d likely be able to collect a win against Carlsen, who has looked mortal a few times during this match.3

But to capitalize against a player as good as Carlsen requires relentless rightness — one wrong move and a tenuous advantage can slip out of your grasp.

Caruana, so sure-handed for 23 moves on Monday, forgot to dry his hands before the 24th. Just like that, Caruana’s advantage was lost. Game 8 ended the way all the others had. After 38 moves and nearly four hours, the two men agreed to a draw — the eighth in a row. The best-of-12 match is level 4-4.

The two began in the Sicilian Defence, an opening that the book “Modern Chess Openings” assures is “active and unsymmetrical.” (In other words, lots of action, and from very different setups for each player.) That was indeed the case on Monday. Specifically, the players were engaged in the Sicilian Defence: Lasker-Pelikan Variation. Chess fans were hopeful that this pelican would fly on Monday afternoon in London.

And it began to, at least for Caruana and the white pieces. Carlsen’s early moves were thought to be slightly careless, and Caruana nursed an advantage. “I’m a little bit surprised by the opening, especially for Magnus,” said Hikaru Nakamura, the American grandmaster and world No. 16, on a Chess.com broadcast. “I think Fabiano is doing quite well.” And not only that, by the 18th move, Carlsen had backed into a 30-minute deficit on the clock.

Caruana began to mount an attack on the queenside, including an aggressive knight that he’d installed in a forward outpost on b6, which hampered black’s artillery. Meanwhile, Carlsen’s available laser beams were pointed down the kingside, and he began to push his pawns down that flank. One of these moves — pawn to g5 — “was not a Magnus move,” Nakamura said. In other words, it was a mistake.

As Caruana pondered his response a bit later, on the 21st move, the board looked like this:

1r1q1rk1/1p2b2p/pN1p4/P2Pnbp1/2P2p2/2B2B2/1P4PP/R2Q1RK1 w – – 0 0
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Carlsen (playing the black pieces) appeared to be overextended on the kingside, and his king itself sat largely unprotected. The game would come down to the next couple of moves. Carlsen’s time deficit had swelled to an hour. And if Carlsen’s knight on e5 was dislodged from its station, Caruana’s warpaths toward Carlsen’s king would be opened wide.

Would Caruana see “21. c5!”? The chess world waited on the edges of seats and the edges of their boards. If he did, Carlsen would not be able to capture the pawn right away, as that would leave his knight undefended, allowing the bishop on c3 to attack without repercussion. The white pawn could puncture black’s territory, potentially wreaking havoc. It was likely the highest leverage move of the match thus far. Caruana thought, starting at the position above, for nearly 34 minutes.

Then he pushed the pawn. The chess world was jubilant. Maybe overly so.

But pawn moves can give, and pawn moves can take.

Carlsen’s position had been successfully breached, but he responded by putting Caruana on the backfoot, trading pieces with Caruana to keep him occupied and away from the pawn drama.

But then, on Caruana’s 24th move, the American pushed a different pawn, this one to h3. Better, perhaps, was dispatching a queen into Carlsen’s territory, which would have continued to apply the pressure. It was a subtle but crucial misstep — a move too slow and plodding for what a successful attack on the world champion would require.

“No, no. He’s done something wrong,” Nakamura said. “This does not feel right.”

And, poof — Caruana’s enormous two-pawn advantage, at least according to a supercomputer analyzing the game, evaporated. The position quickly simplified, as the queens and a pair of rooks were traded. The two grandmasters entered a rooks-and-bishops endgame that looked like this:

4r1k1/1p6/p7/P1pP3p/6bB/8/1P4P1/5RK1 w – – 0 0
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It looked drawish and indeed it was — Carlsen and Caruana shook hands on the 38th move, agreeing to the match’s eighth consecutive draw. These are the ebbs and flows that have kept the match deadlocked so far. “There’s a lot of chess to be played,” Carlsen said after the match. “For today, I’m happy with a draw with the black pieces.”

Four games of the regulation 12 remain, and quicker tie-breaking games will follow if necessary. The match rests tomorrow and resumes with Game 9 on Wednesday at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time — that’s 10 a.m. Eastern. I’ll be covering it here and on Twitter.

Split-Ticket Voting Hit A New Low In 2018 Senate And Governor Races

We went into Election Day with a hypothesis: Most Americans would cast a straight-ticket ballot — with some notable exceptions, which we’ll address in a moment. And we decided a good way to test this was to look at statewide races most likely to drive turnout in a midterm election cycle: U.S. Senate and governor contests.

There were 22 states that had races for both the Senate and governor on the ballot this election cycle. And what we found was the same party swept both offices in 16 of the 21 states where each race has been called23, with Democrats capturing both races in 12 states and Republicans doing so in four. Or, in other words, our hypothesis was mostly right — most Americans did vote for the same party in their Senate and governors race. But there were five states — Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio and Vermont — where voters chose a Republican governor and a Democratic senator.

And while we were interested in what happened in these five states (more in a moment), we also wanted to look at every state that had both a Senate and governor race on the ballot to see just how far apart the voting margins were. The idea was this will help us understand how uncommon — or common — split-ticket voting was in 2018. And we could then situate what happened in 2018 by looking at previous midterms to see if there was a trend in how much split-ticket voting occurred between these two offices. (Spoiler: Split-ticket voting hit a new low.)

To do this, I calculated the difference between the margin of victory in the Senate and gubernatorial races for each state using the Democratic and Republican vote shares in each contest.24 And as the table below shows, Massachusetts had the biggest difference between its vote share margin in its races for Senate and governor. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker won reelection by about 32 percentage points and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren garnered a second term with a roughly 26-point margin, producing a gap of 57 points. So, in other words, in hyper-blue Massachusetts roughly 25 to 30 percent of voters cast ballots for both Baker and Warren.25 Two other states, Vermont and Maryland, also had very large differences between their Senate and governor races — about 55 and 47 points, respectively. Along with Massachusetts, these races all featured relatively popular incumbent Republican governors — Phil Scott in Vermont and Larry Hogan in Maryland — running in strongly Democratic states that easily reelected incumbent Democratic senators. The popularity and independent streaks of these GOP governors clearly helped them overcome the sharply Democratic leans of their states.

Split ticket voting in statewide races is pretty rare

Difference between the size of the margin of victory in 2018 Senate and governor races

Senate Governor
State Winner Incumb. Margin Winner Incumb. Margin Difference
MA Warren +25.5 Baker +31.9 57.4
VT Sanders* +40.3 Scott +14.6 54.9
MD Cardin +33.4 Hogan +13.4 46.8
CT Murphy +20.2 Lamont +3.1 17
AZ Sinema +2.0 Ducey +14.4 16.5
HI Hirono +42.3 Ige +29.0 13.3
MN‡ Klobuchar +24.1 Walz +11.4 12.7
ME King* +19.0 Mills +7.6 11.5
TX Cruz +2.6 Abbott +13.3 10.7
NY Gillibrand +33.0 Cuomo +22.3 10.7
OH Brown +6.4 DeWine +4.2 10.6
TN Blackburn +10.8 Lee +21.1 10.2
WI Baldwin +10.9 Evers +1.1 9.7
NM Heinrich +23.5 Grisham +14.3 9.2
RI Whitehouse +23.0 Raimondo +15.5 7.6
PA Casey +12.8 Wolf +16.8 4
MI Stabenow +6.4 Whitmer +9.5 3
WY Barrasso +36.9 Gordon +39.8 2.9
NV Rosen +5.0 Sisolak +4.1 0.9
MN‡ Smith +10.6 Walz +11.4 0.8
NE Fischer +19.2 Ricketts +18.9 0.4

Election data as of 10 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2018. Only states with both a Senate and gubernatorial election that featured candidates from both major parties are included. This means California is excluded because no Republican candidate qualified for its Senate election. Florida is also not included because both its Senate and gubernatorial elections are still uncalled. Some data may not add up due to rounding.

*Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Maine Sen. Angus King are included as Democrats because they caucus with the party in the Senate.

‡Minnesota is included twice because it had two Senate elections this year.

Source: ABC NEWS

But these three states were notable outliers — no other state had a difference between their Senate and governor races that was greater than 17 points. That said, these less divided contests can still show you where a stronger candidate for one party may have made a difference. Take Tennessee’s Senate race, for instance. Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democrat Phil Bredesen there, but Bredesen — a popular former governormade the Senate contest notably closer than the gubernatorial election.

Incumbency may have been a factor, too. Both the Tennessee Senate and gubernatorial races were open seats, but in another GOP-leaning state like Ohio, there was one incumbent on the ballot, which might help explain why Ohioans elected a Democratic senator and a Republican governor. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won his race by about 6 points and Republican Mike DeWine won the open-seat governor race by 4 points. Given that Ohio is 7 points to the right of the country, Brown probably benefited at least some from an incumbency advantage The two races ran relatively close together — the difference was 11 points — suggesting that most voters voted for the same party in both contests.

But we were also interested in what would happen if we took a step back and zoomed out, looking at other midterm cycles and split-ticket voting. How would 2018 compare? It turns out that 2018 is part of a trend that shows fewer Americans are splitting their tickets (at least in races for the Senate and governors in midterm elections). This election had the smallest median difference of any midterm cycle going back to at least 1990 — 10 points.26

As you can see, even though 2018 has the lowest mark in the past three decades, the median difference from election cycle to election cycle has bounced around. Still, the overall trend is one of decline, at least since 1998. You might wonder why there are fairly regular ups and downs in the chart, but this can be explained by the number of elected governors running for re-election in each cycle.

For example, only eight incumbent governors ran in the 24 states included in my calculations for 2010, whereas in the 2014 cycle there were 16 states with incumbent governors. And what I found was cycles with fewer incumbent governors running tended to show less evidence of split-ticket voting (a lower median) while cycles with more incumbents demonstrated more evidence of split-ticket voting (a slightly higher median). Part of this is because governors often benefit from an incumbency advantage. As my colleague Nate Silver pointed out in his introduction to FiveThirtyEight’s governor forecast, partisanship explains less in gubernatorial elections than it does in federal contests, and therefore, incumbency might matter slightly more for governors than it does in either the House or Senate.

No matter which way you cut it, the difference between the margins in a state’s gubernatorial and Senate races has shrunk. More voters are casting straight-ticket ballots. There are exceptions, of course, but this shift matches what we know about the larger electoral picture: voters are more partisan and the country is more divided than it’s ever been in the modern era of U.S. politics.

CORRECTION (Nov. 19, 2018, 2:30 p.m.): A table in an earlier version of this article incorrectly indicated that the Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, was the incumbent. The race was for the seat that Republican Sen. Jeff Flake is retiring from.

Another World Chess Championship Draw — It’s Time For Caruana To Attack

Seven games. Seven draws. And the World Chess Championship in London, between the two top-rated grandmasters in the world, remains level with five games to go.

Magnus Carlsen of Norway, 27, is No. 1 and trying to successfully defend his title for the third time. Fabiano Caruana of the U.S., 26, is No. 2 and trying to become the first American world champion since Bobby Fischer in 1972. On Sunday, Carlsen marshalled the white pieces and Caruana the black.

The first nine moves of Game 7 exactly matched those of Game 2, which ended in a 49-move draw this past weekend. These moves fall into a category of chess opening called the Queen’s Gambit Declined, Harrwitz Attack. In 1858 in Paris, Daniel Harrwitz deployed his eponymous attack to victorious effect in a game against Paul Morphy, the great American player and unofficial world champion. But “Attack,” in Sunday’s case, was a bit of a misnomer.

“What I did was just way too soft,” Carlsen said after the game.

Caruana’s 10th move — retreating his queen back to its home on d8 after it essayed an aggressive journey to a5 — was a rarity. And after the 11th move, the two grandmasters were in completely uncharted chess territory, according to the ChessBase database. That looked like this:

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The game’s brakes locked in this complex position, and moves 12, 13 and 14 alone took an hour and a half to complete as the players each contemplated a number of plans.

But the game never really appeared to anyone like anything but a draw. (I’ll renew my pro tip here: If you want to sound smart about a championship chess game, just say it “looks drawish.”) In an interview at the venue in London, Demis Hassabis, the co-founder of DeepMind and co-creator of the impossibly strong chess-playing program AlphaZero, predicted a draw at this point. Bookmakers put the live chances of a draw at around 97 percent. The supercomputer assessed it at 0.00 — dead level. And Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the world No. 6, predicted a draw within the next half hour on a Chess.com broadcast.

But Carlsen wasn’t quite done yet.

“Magnus likes to play these positions until he’s sucked the life out of them,” Vachier-Lagrave said. Such is Carlsen’s reputation at the board. The position in question was a bishop-versus-knight endgame with constellation of pawns that looked like this after the 36th move:

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The sucking took more than half an hour, but the vampiric approach drew no blood on Sunday. All four rooks had came off the board in quick succession around move 20, and the queens were cleared a dozen moves later. Caruana, for his part, was playing like he was happy with a draw, and why not? He’d survived a mid-series gauntlet where he had to play two games in a row against Carlsen and the white pieces and their first-move advantage.

Carlsen and Caruana agreed to a draw on the 40th move after about 3.5 hours of play. We’ll keep the chart below updated throughout the match.

Someone will win eventually. If the 12 games end with the score tied — a possibility that is drifting toward a probability — the two grandmasters will play a tie-breaking series of much faster “rapid” and possibly “blitz” games — and possibly even an “Armageddon” game. According to the live world ratings, Carlsen is the No. 1 rapid player and the No. 1 blitz player in the world. Caruana is No. 8 and No. 16, respectively. Given that Carlsen would be the heavy favorite in the tiebreakers, meta-match strategy seems to dictate that Caruana should favor the gas pedal in the five lengthy games to come. If he has any secret attacking weapons, the time has come to fire them.

Watching every second of this match has taken on the cast of a Buddhist meditation — the games are drawn and the mind is cleared and the mantra is repeated. It is, frankly, a rather lovely routine and a cheap bit of self-care. I’ve also been starting to dream about this match. Last night’s installment featured Caruana and an unidentified friend sitting on the ground in the center of a large complex of tennis courts, with me on the outside of its chain link fence, looking in. Players on these courts were equipped with strange wooden spatulas, rather than racquets, and white tennis balls. Caruana and friend had given up playing this weird quasi-tennis, cast their spatulas aside and sat playing with purple Gameboys. What does this augur for the rest of the match? I do not know. Freudians, get in touch.

Game 8 begins Monday at 3 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time — that’s 10 a.m. Eastern. I’ll be covering it here and on Twitter.