World champion Magnus Carlsen will defend his title against Fabiano Caruana as the two top players in the world face off in the World Chess Championship in London.

World Chess Championship 2018
Magnus Carlsen looks to defend his World Chess Championship starting Friday in London against American challenger Fabian Caruana. (Image: Chess.com)

The 12-game match begins on Friday, with Caruana having the advantage of the white pieces in the first game.

Carlsen Has Held Title Since 2013

The match will see one game played daily, with a rest day after every two games, as well as an additional rest day before Game 12. Players receive one point for a win or a half-point for a draw, with the first player to reach 6.5 points winning the match. Should the players tie 6-6, tiebreaker games played at a faster pace will be contested until a champion can be determined.

The current champion is 27-year-old Magnus Carlsen of Norway. Widely considered the best player in the world – and one of the top players of all time – Carlsen was recognized as a potential World Champion early on in his chess career, and became the youngest player ever to become No. 1 in the FIDE (World Chess Federation) rankings in 2010.

In 2013, Carlsen defeated Indian grandmaster Viswanathan Anand to become World Champion, a title he has held ever since, defending it successfully in both 2014 and 2016.

Carlsen hasn’t been quite as sharp in recent play, and has said publically that he’ll have to step up his game if he wants to hold on to his title.

“Fabiano is a tremendous player,” Carlsen told The Guardian. “His results this year speak for themselves. I know if I continue to play in the same way I have been playing recently, I will probably not win, so I need to step it up. But I have great confidence in my powers to do exactly that.”

Caruana First American Challenger Since Fischer

This year’s match is seeing a boost in attention, and while Carlsen has earned some name recognition outside of the chess world, it is Caruana who has the bigger potential to bring in new audiences. The 26-year-old is the first American to challenge for the World Chess Championship since Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in 1972, and many believe he has the potential to spark another boom in popularity for the game in the United States – if he can bring home the championship.

“I can win the world title,” Caruana told Sports Illustrated. “I don’t want to miss the opportunity. There’s a very strong personal desire to make the most of it and actually win the title.”

The coming match marks the first time the world No. 1 and No. 2 have faced off for the title since 1990, when Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov clashed for the title for the fifth time in a decade. In terms of their prior meetings, the two have played 33 times at classical time controls, with Carlsen leading 10 wins to five with 18 draws.

That history, along with Carlsen’s status as the long-standing champion, have made him the betting favorite. Carlsen is listed as a -200 pick by Bwin, with Caruana offered as a +160 underdog to take the chess crown. But from Caruana’s perspective, there’s little to choose from between the two young players.

“I feel like it is more or less a 50/50 contest,” Caruana told the Guardian. “It sounds like a bit of a cop-out, but in terms of playing strength we are so evenly matched that it’s also fair.”

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