Pawns are the Rubber Soul of the World Human Chess Championship

‘Pawns are the soul of chess’ wrote François-André Danican Philidor;

or did he? According to Edward Winter, Philidor wrote something to that effect. It is now commonly accepted in the English speaking Chess world as what François-André meant. (

The eighth game of the ongoing World Human Chess Championship reached this position with the current champion, Magnus Carsen

of Norway, to move:

The champ moved his bishop from e7 to d6 in order to institute a blockade of the passed white d pawn. This is all according to the rules of Chess every chess player learns when beginning to play the game. This position was reached:

It is now the challenger, Fabiano Caruana,

to move. When little Fabi was learning how to play the Royal game one of his first teachers, such as Bruce Pandolfini,

certainly taught Caruana about eliminating a blockading minor piece especially if the piece taking its place is the Queen because the Queen is the very worst piece to maintain a blockade. Any Chess teacher seeing this position from a student would explain this Chess principle while hoping the student would then see the obvious move Nbc4.

Unfortunately for Fabi fans this was not played…Caruana played 24 h3:

Say it ain’t so, Fab!

If a Chess teacher were reviewing a game and the student produced the move h3 the teacher would patiently explain the Chess axiom about never moving a pawn in front of the King when under attack.

In the tenth game of the WHCC Caruana again sat behind the white pieces and after Carlsen played 23…Qg5, a vacillating move, this position was reached:

Fabiano Caruana produced the move 24 g3. Current US Chess Champion Sam Shankland

annotated the game for Chessbase. After 23…Qg5 Sam writes, “Technically, this move loses the game against best play, but it comes with a very nasty idea of playing Rf6-h6 and delivering mate on the h-file. A machine with its nerves of steel would have no trouble grabbing h5, but for a human, it looks absurdly dangerous.”

After 24 g3 Sam writes, “Caruana’s move makes a lot of sense. Taking on f4 and bringing the rook to g3 should dispel any mating dreams.” (

Does this sound like an objective comment to the reader? The best Chess players on the planet at the moment are called “engines,” and all of the “engines” consider 24 g3 a mistake. What makes Sam’s comment strange is that he has written a book recently about how to “Master Pawn Play in Chess.”

Fabiano Caruana is one of the two best human Chess players on the planet at the moment. Only he can explain why he unnecessarily moved his pawns in the two critical games.

Not to be outdone, the human champion of the world reached this position sitting behind the white pieces:

and decided to jettison his h-pawn by moving it forward one square. I kid you not. The challenger accepted the Norwegian gift with alacrity and managed to draw the game.