After the storm of two chaotic and exciting drawn games from Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi, that got their $2m World Championship Match in Dubai off to a bang, Game 3 similarly also ended in a draw, but this one proved to be a more calming, sedate affair, relatively painless and over and done with in less than three hours of play – and with not much for the scribes to write about, except for the adding to an unwelcome streak developing in recent title matches.
It was pointed out to the title combatants during their joint presser after the game that this was now the 17th successive draw in regular play in the last three World Championship Matches (Carlsen’s 2018 title match against Fabiano Caruana ended in 12 draws, with the Norwegian only retaining his title after winning the speed tiebreaker), and some wondered when, or even if, the streak would be broken?
“We try,” was Carlsen cryptic answer. And when asked how he’ll be remembered when he retires, Carlsen came back – as only Carlsen can – with the wry riposte: “Talking about legacy during a match is a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down, but hopefully he will be someone who won a classical game in a World Championship match after the year 2016!”
Many believe the draw to be killing the game because it can be abused by the so-called quick “grandmaster draw”. But not many know that up until 1867, draws didn’t even count in chess as a score. Instead, the players would continue to battle on with various replays that could last for days until one emerged victorious either through skill or – more often than likely – through the misfortunes of an over-exhausted opponent. Tournaments would thus last for well over a month or more.
This all changed with the draw officially being allowed to count as a score of half a point for the first time at the great Dundee International of 1867 in Scotland, that featured the future first world champion Wilhelm Steinitz. The experiment proved to be a landmark event for the evolution of chess praxis, and there was no going back again after its successful debut.
But unlike the swashbuckling days of yore, chess at World Championship-level in today’s game is played by two of the world’s strongest players – professionals at their peak – aided by a professional backroom team, and armed with databases of millions of games and access to sophisticated supercomputers, who put in months of intense training before they play for the title, and they rarely commit errors – so yes, a majority of the games can indeed end in draws.
It is what it is, and the pundits, journalists and fans just have to accept that the draw is a big part of today’s very professional game – and after the chaos and excitement of the first two games, it was kind of expected that Game 3, just before Monday’s first rest day of the match, would prove to be a quieter affair. But nevertheless, this was no “grandmaster draw”.
Games 4 & 5 takes place on Tuesday & Wednesday. Play starts at 12.30pm GMT (07:30 EST | 04:30 PST), which can be followed live and free online at Chess24, with expert commentaries from elite stars Judit Polgar and Anish Giri, or the Champions Chess Tour Oslo studio team of Kaja Snare, GM David Howell and WGM Jovanka Houska.
Photo: © Eric Rosen /FIDE World Championship
Carlsen 1½ – 1½ Nepomniachtchi
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi – GM Magnus Carlsen
2021 World Chess Championship, (3)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a4 Back to the more usual Anti-Marshall approach to Frank J. Marshall’s eponymous gambit/attack after 8.c3 d5 – all of which confirms the strength of Carlsen’s powerful new novelty 8.h3 Na5!? from the opening game of the match, as Nepo returns to the standard Anti-Marshall system recommended by Soviet openings guru, Efim Geller, to Garry Kasparov, ahead of his 1993 World Championship Match with Nigel Short. According to Kasparov, Geller’s view was that White had “nothing” taking on the mainline Marshall Attack. 8…Bb7 9.d3 d6 10.Nbd2 Re8!? Carlsen continues to test his Russian challenger with yet another rare move; this particular sideline not seen at elite-level for over a decade. 11.Nf1 h6 12.Bd2 Bf8 13.Ne3 Ne7 14.c4 According to Anish Giri on the Chess24 commentary, the real testing move here for Black is 14.g4!? – but he assumed, probably correctly, that Nepo may well have smelt a rat, and didn’t wish to discover what Team Carlsen had cooked up for him. 14…bxc4 15.Nxc4 Nc6 16.Rc1 a5 17.Bc3 Bc8 18.d4 exd4 19.Nxd4 Nxd4 20.Qxd4 Be6 21.h3 c6 As Giri was quick to point out during his lively commentary stint with Judit Polgar on Chess24: “That’s one of the things that separates Magnus from other top players – that when he has equalised with Black and has a choice between the vacuum mode or keeping the tension, he keeps the tension.” But it does allow a possible nasty knight incursion into d6, so he he wondered whether Carlsen had missed a trick by not going for the immediate 21…d5!? that more or less forces 22.exd5 Qxd5 23.Qf4 Rab8! and Black has a freer and slightly easier position than what he now gets in the game. 22.Bc2 d5 23.e5 dxc4 The only move now, despite it damaging Black’s kingside pawn structure. The problem is that in many lines, such as 23…Nd7, White has 24.Nd6! with a big advantage – something that, as noted above, could have been avoided by going for the immediate 21…d5!? The other alternative is 23…c5 but Polgar & Giri felt after 24.Qf4 White had a promising kingside attack brewing. 24.Qxd8 Rexd8 25.exf6 Bb4! [see diagram] If not for this, Carlsen would have been in big trouble – but 25…Bb4 leads to an equal ending and the game petering out to a draw. 26.fxg7 Bxc3 27.bxc3 Kxg7 28.Kf1 Rab8 29.Rb1 Kf6 30.Rxb8 Rxb8 31.Rb1 Nepo’s only slim hope of squeezing something out of this position has to involve the rooks coming off and heading to the bishop ending – but Carlsen has his weaknesses covered. 31…Rxb1+ 32.Bxb1 Ke5! Carlsen’s active king more than makes up for his crippled pawn structure. 33.Ke2 f5 34.Bc2 f4 35.Bb1 c5 For a player who once famously said he didn’t believe in fortresses, Carlsen is relying on one now! And he could even have achieve the same fortress without the need of his c5-pawn. Fortresses, Magnus, believe! 36.Bc2 Bd7 The key to the fortress, as White has to find a way to cover the weak a4-pawn, either with his bishop or king. 37.f3 Kf6 38.h4 Ke5 39.Kf2 Kf6 Neither king can make a breakthrough, and the players just play out a few moves to get past the time control before shaking hands. 40.Ke2 Ke5 41.Kf2 ½-½