The tension continues to rise with a fifth successive draw between World Champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, and his Russian challenger, Ian Nepominiachtchi, as the two title combatants remain deadlock in their $2m FIDE World Championship Match being held as part of the pandemic-rescheduled “Expo 2020” at the Dubai Exhibition Pavilions in the UAE.
And with a fifth successive draw, we’ve now gone 19 successive games and five years since the last classical win was recorded during a World Championship match, back in 2016 – but as many have pointed out, that’s the price we pay for the level of precise play in today’s modern game between two of the world’s top players, aided by expert backroom teams, and access to sophisticated supercomputers.
But the pressure in Game 5 was firmly on the World Champion for the first time in what’s now shaping up to be a nerve-jangling match. Carlsen struggled in the opening and his body language clearly showed his unease, the weight of the realisation being that just one slip-up, in what’s now become a very close match, could see the Norwegian losing his coveted crown. Carlsen only relaxed when he had reached the time control at move 40, as the game petered out to a draw following a series of pieces being exchanged to leave a symmetrical position on the board with no possible breakthrough for his now growingly confident Russian opponent.
“The tension is rising and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that it’s going to be hard for either of us to break through … it’s not easy,” admitted Carlsen in the post-game presser. Nepomniachtchi felt he could have done more to test his opponent: “Of course I am disappointed. You are not happy, obviously I should have tried harder to use the momentum.”
And as the players head into the second rest day of their scheduled 14-game match, and a chance now to recharge and re-evaluate, time now for a little history lesson that links both the venue and the game, as the World Expos and international chess are both inexorably linked in history!
The first World Expo dates back 170 years to The Great Exhibition held in 1851 at the iconic ‘Crystal Palace’, the giant glass-and-iron exhibition hall in Hyde Park, London. This was the brainchild of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, and was used as a showcase for British industry and technology to the world that had been developed during the Industrial Revolution, that managed to draw an amazing 6 million visitors, making it at the time the world’s biggest-ever attraction.
There were several high-profile side events held at what became known as the first “World’s Fair” at the Crystal Palace, one ambitious project coming from England’s Howard Staunton – the de facto unofficial world champion of the era – who was the main organiser of the world’s very first internationally chess tournament, London 1851, that was won by the great Prussian/German master, Adolf Anderssen.
Games 6, 7 & 8, takes place on 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 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.
Carlsen 2½– 2½ Nepomniachtchi
Photo: Is Magnus beginning to feel the pressure? | © Eric Rosen / FIDE World Championship
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi – GM Magnus Carlsen
2021 World Chess Championship, (5)
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 Once again, Nepo goes for the more standard Anti-Marshall antidote recommended by Soviet openings guru, Efim Geller, to Garry Kasparov, ahead of his 1993 World Championship Match with the Marshall Attack-loving Nigel Short. All of which confirms the strength of Carlsen’s powerful new novelty of 8.h3 Na5!? seen in the opening game of the match, that had the Russian on the back-foot throughout. 8…Rb8 Carlsen varies from the 8…Bb7 seen in Game 3, this time opting for the solid line he played against Jan-Krzystof Duda in their World Cup semi-final match. 9.axb5 In the aforementioned game, Duda played 9.c3 and Carlsen easily equalised – but Nepo has a clear plan worked out that heaps pressure on the World Champion. 9…axb5 10.h3 d6 11.c3 b4 12.d3 bxc3 13.bxc3 It’s a symmetrical pawn structure, and already many thought the game was heading for a tame draw, but Nepo has a couple of advantages with the better bishop-pair potential, and the open a-file for his rook. It’s not much, but enough to give Carlsen a post-birthday headache. 13…d5 14.Nbd2 dxe4 15.dxe4 Bd6 A sloppy move, according to Chess24 commentator Anish Giri, and, sure enough, Carlsen has to suffer a little to unravel his increasingly awkward position. After the game, Nepo commented that “8…Rb8 is solid…but Black should come up with some precise moves afterwards. I guess Magnus didn’t manage to make all the moves in the right order.” 16.Qc2 h6 17.Nf1 Ne7 18.Ng3 Ng6 19.Be3 Qe8!? The discomfort from Carlsen was evident here – and he’d used up 40min in his clock to come up with what turns out to be a critical response to Nepo’s free and easy play. The awkward sort of position, Judit Polgar noted, that you wouldn’t want to be facing Anatoly Karpov at his peak, as the 12th World Champion would have enjoyed squeezing you to death like an anaconda! 20.Red1 A missed moment for Nepo. The more worrying move, as far as Carlsen was concerned, was 20.c4! He explained in the post-game presser, that: “I thought everything else was kind of manageable. Obviously it’s always a bit worse, but it feels like my position is not going to get worse, it’s only probably going to gradually improve, seeing as I have very few real weaknesses. But yeah, c4 was definitely what was worrying me the most there, and seeing 20.Red1 I kind of thought that the worst was over.” 20…Be6 21.Ba4 Bd7 22.Nd2 Bxa4 23.Qxa4 Qxa4 24.Rxa4 Ra8 25.Rda1 Rxa4 26.Rxa4 Rb8 The worst is most definitely over for Carlsen, with the queens, a set of rooks and bishops exchanged, that leaves a very drawing symmetrical position on the board. The draw was all but phoned in now. 27.Ra6 Ne8 28.Kf1 Nf8 29.Nf5 Ne6 30.Nc4 Rd8 31.f3 f6 [see diagram] The only semi-surprise left in the game for the talking-heads was Carlsen not opting first for 31…h5 – but the World Champion has “a very deep understanding of these sort of positions,” Giri noted. 32.g4 Kf7 33.h4 Bf8 Carlsen’s position is rock-solid, there’s no way for Nepo to make a breakthrough. 34.Ke2 Nd6 35.Ncxd6+ Bxd6 More pieces being traded off just confirms that the draw is looming. 36.h5 Bf8 37.Ra5 Ke8 38.Rd5 Ra8 39.Rd1 Ra2+ 40.Rd2 Ra1 41.Rd1 Ra2+ 42.Rd2 Ra1 43.Rd1 ½-½