The expression “on tilt” is a term usually associated with poker – though it originated from playing pinball – to describe a negative emotional state that clouds a person’s judgement and leads them to continue to make mistakes that grow in magnitude as frustration mounts. And this perfectly describes Ian Nepomniachtchi’s mood right now as he inexplicably tilts to a third defeat to Magnus Carlsen in their $2m World Championship Match in Dubai.
After a solid-looking and confident 3-3 start, Nepomniachtchi’s world has literally fallen apart in the space of just four games, as the Russian challenger tumbles to a tennis-like score of 6-3 with just five games remaining in the 14-game match – and many of the talking-heads and media now wondering if this is game, set and match for a rampant Carlsen, as he closes in on a fifth title, needing now just to score 1½ out of the remaining five games, to retain his title.
“I have to expect that the match will enter a phase that will be a bit different — a desperate opponent is a very dangerous opponent!” Speculated Carlsen on the eve of Game 9, but he more than likely didn’t think the danger would turn out to be a self-inflicted one for his now de-bunned challenger!
In typical chess player superstitious sentiments, after losing two games and going into the rest day, Nepomniachtchi had decided to change things up by cutting off his man bun that came with his rise to the Top 5 and a World Championship challenge. Sadly, even that failed to work, as Nepomniachtchi inexplicably turned a tense game into another personal tragedy.
Game 10 takes place Wednesday with the rest day on Thursday. Play starts at 12.30pm GMT (07:30 EST | 04:30 PST), which can be followed live and free online at Chess24, with commentaries from elite stars Judit Polgar and Anish Giri, or the Champions Chess Tour team of Kaja Snare, GM David Howell and WGM Jovanka Houska.
Carlsen 6-3 Nepomniachtchi
Photo: Magnus will take the wins whichever way they come, as he closes in on a fifth title | © Eric Rosen / FIDE World Championship
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi – GM Magnus Carlsen
2021 World Chess Championship, (9)
1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 d4!? Ambitious, and first played by Akiba Rubinstein back in 1911. 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.0-0 Bc5 The position is a little like a Modern Benoni reversed, with Black looking to push e5 to support d4, and White looking to expand on the queenside with a tactical b4. 6.d3 Nf6 7.Nbd2 a5 Black has to be careful about supporting the d4-pawn. For example, if 7…e5?! 8.b4! all the tactics work out fine for White: 8…Bxb4 (8…Nxb4 9.Nb3! Qd6 (9…Bd6? 10.c5! Be7 11.Nxe5 with a big advantage.) 10.Nxc5 Qxc5 11.Nxe5 and the knight can’t be captured because of 12.Qa4+.) 9.Nxe5 Nxe5 10.Qa4+ Bd7 11.Qxb4 and White is clearly much better. 8.Nb3 Be7 And definitely not 8…Ba7?! 9.a4! and with Bd2 coming next, Black’s a-pawn is going to either be lost, or he’s going to have to play the ugly…b6 entombing his own bishop on a7. 9.e3 dxe3 10.Bxe3 Ng4 11.Bc5 0-0 12.d4 a4! Carlsen is just a little better; nothing much, but certainly not a position Nepo can hope to complicate to pull himself back into the match. 13.Bxe7 Qxe7 14.Nc5 a3 15.bxa3 Forced. If 15.b3?! then 15…Rd8 16.Qe2 Nxd4! 17.Nxd4 Qxc5 and Black has the extra pawn and a solid position. 15…Rd8 16.Nb3 Nf6 17.Re1 Qxa3 Nepo has a small bit of comfort with his central pawns, but Carlsen has lots of play against a-pawn – and this means there’s no dynamics left in the position for Nepo to to strike back into the match. 18.Qe2 h6 19.h4 Bd7 20.Ne5 Be8 21.Qe3 Qb4 22.Reb1 Nxe5 23.dxe5 Ng4 24.Qe1 If 24.Qe2 h5 25.Bf3 Ba4! Carlsen is going to undermine the queenside pawns. 24…Qxe1+ 25.Rxe1 h5 26.Bxb7 Ra4 Nepo has won a pawn, but he has too many weaknesses on the queenside to even think about a position he can hope for an advantage from. 27.c5?? [see diagram] “Is he nuts, that is insane!” said Anish Giri on the Chess24 commentary, just after showing this possible blunder when it appeared on the board. Just like Bobby Fischer in 1972, Nepo blunders away his bishop, oblivious to the fact that it can be trapped. But unlike Fischer who went 2-0 down after two games of a 24-game title match, the American had time to recover and go on to win the title. But here, Nepo crashes to a third loss, going 3-0 down with just five games to play. 27…c6 28.f3 Nh6 29.Re4 Ra7! Is it as simple as Nepo missing this rook retreat? If so, then it’s one hell of a miss that compounds the Russian challengers misery in this match. 30.Rb4 Rb8 31.a4 Raxb7 32.Rb6 Rxb6 33.cxb6 Rxb6 34.Nc5 Right now with the knight on c5, Carlsen can’t get his extra bishop out – but that wont last long. 34…Nf5 35.a5 Rb8 36.a6 The only slim hope Nepo has is if Carlsen makes a mistake with the a-pawn running up the board – but slim has long left the building. But hanging onto the g-pawn just prolonged the agony a little, as 36.Kf2 Ra8 37.a6 Nd4 38.Ra4 Nb5 39.Ke3 Nc7 40.f4 f6 the bishop is free and Black will eventually pick-off the a-pawn. 36…Nxg3 37.Na4 c5! The bishop is free, and Nepo is in dire straits, as there’s no tricks with the a-pawn. 38.a7 Rd8 39.Nxc5 Ra8 0-1