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A no-nonsense, safety-first approach from Magnus Carlsen against his now beleaguered Russian challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi, saw Game 10 of their $2m World Championship Match in Dubai ending in a tame draw, as the Norwegian defending champion edges ever-closer to a fifth successive world title, now needing just one win or two draws from the remaining four games to retain his crown.

After haemorrhaging three-points from his last four games, Nepomniachtchi managed to stop the bleeding, though it came at the price of the safety zone of playing the Petroff Defence rather than the online fan-baying for a do-or-die Sicilian, a decision that played into Carlsen’s hands, with an easy draw and now on the brink of retaining his title.

But while Nepomniachtchi might want to end his misery by peacefully playing out the remaining games, the defending World Champion might not be so inclined for for personal reasons, and he could go for a fourth win. Carlsen doesn’t like to have deficit scores against his peers, and going into the match, the pseudo-hype was that Nepomniachtchi held a 4-1 classical score advantage over the Norwegian – accumulated when both were leading juniors in the early noughties – and another win will give Carlsen a 5-4 advantage over his longtime Russian rival.

The only remaining obstacle now to Carlsen having a stellar title-year is the sudden cancellation this week of the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championship that was scheduled to be held in Kazakhstan through late December. The reason for the late cancellation is new Covid-19 protocols urgently coming into place in Kazakhstan, with 7 day quarantines, making participation doubtful for many competitors at this late stage.

A regretful though understandable decision, and one which has now left FIDE scrambling to find an alternative new host city for the two speed world crowns. Possible new venues being touted is Spain and even Dubai once again, but with the new Omicron variant on the rise worldwide, finding a new venue at this late stage looks extremely doubtful. Carlsen was hoping once again to win the world title triple-crown in the same calendar year, and he confirmed during the Game 10 presser that, even if a new venue is found at the 11th hour, then he’d most likely play.

Games 11, 12 & 13 (if needed) takes place Friday through Sunday. 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.

Match score:
Carlsen 6½-3½ Nepomniachtchi

Photo: Will Magnus press for a fourth win over his longtime rival? | © Eric Rosen / FIDE World Championship

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Ian Nepomniachtchi
2021 World Championship Match, (10)
Petroff’s Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 Many online felt that Nepo at least had to “do-or-die” in this game, and criticised the challenger for sticking with the Petroff rather than lashing out with a mainline Sicilian. But truth told, when you are haemorrhaging, best to stop the bleeding, and the Petroff was a safe option for Nepo. 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nd3 We’ve seen this all before from Carlsen, who played it against Fabiano Caruana in Game 6 of their 2018 World Championship Match in London. 4…Nxe4 5.Qe2 Being three-zip up, and on the brink of winning a fifth title, this über-safe line would have suited Carlsen just fine – he’s happy just to run the clock down in this game going into the rest day. 5…Qe7 6.Nf4 Nf6 In the aforementioned previous World Championship Match, Caruana opted for 6…Nc6 7.Nd5 Nd4 8.Nxe7 Nxe2 and that game pended in a safe enough draw, albeit that it stretched out to 81 moves. 7.d4 Nc6 This came as a little surprise, as this move order was thought not to be good. The safe move was trading queens with 7…Qxe2+. 8.c3 The consensus among the talking-heads was that if Carlsen really wanted to test Nepo’s nerves, then the best move was 8.Be3! The conspiracy theory though was that rather than it being a new novelty from Nepo, he was still on tilt, and could well have just got the move order mixed up from the Carlsen-Caruana game! 8…d5 9.Nd2 Nd8 10.Nf3 Qxe2+ 11.Bxe2 Bd6 12.0-0 0-0 13.Bd3 Re8 14.Re1 Rxe1+ The game is heading towards Drawsville. 15.Nxe1 Ne6 16.Nxe6 Bxe6 17.g3 g6 18.Ng2 Re8 19.f3 Nh5 20.Kf2 c6 21.g4!? Ng7 22.Bf4 According to Carlsen in the post-game presser, “I was certainly a little bit better at some point, but maybe I was a bit rash in playing g4 and Bf4, maybe I needed to put the bishop on h6 or something instead and be a little bit more patient, because I thought I had a really tiny edge at that point.” 22…Bxf4 23.Nxf4 g5 The only thing Nepo needs to worry about here, is Carlsen getting some play down the h-file for his rook with h4 – but he has a way to quickly counter this by generating his own play. 24.Ne2 f5! [see diagram] This instantly stops Carlsen’s plan of h4 – and with it, any long grinding chances for the champion goes now. 25.h3 Carlsen has a little “something”, but it is so minuscule that he wisely realises there was no need to unnecessarily push the envelope to chase a win here, being 3-0 up, so the game soon peters out to a draw. 25…Kf7 26.Rh1 h6 27.f4 fxg4 28.hxg4 Bxg4 29.Rxh6 Bf5 30.Bxf5 Nxf5 31.Rh7+ Ng7 32.fxg5 Kg6 33.Rh3 Kxg5 The symmetry assures the draw. 34.Rg3+ Kf6 35.Rf3+ Ke7 36.Nf4 Kd6 37.Ng6 Re6 38.Ne5 Ne8 39.Rf7 Rf6+ 40.Rxf6+ Nxf6 41.Ke3 ½-½

 

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