If you are going to break the tension and the deadlock in what was shaping up to be a very close title match, then do it with a touch of panache and a gripping game that goes right into the annals. And that’s exactly what Magnus Carlsen did in Game 6 of his $2m World Championship Match in Dubai, as the defending champion struck first blood against challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, with an epic encounter that now becomes the longest game in World Championship history!
Lasting nearly 8 hours and 136-moves and both players “exhausted” at the end of a thriller that went the distance and then some, Game 6 had everything, with chances being missed by both players in the run-up to the first time-control, and then more drama as it turned into a marathon encounter, and one that had everyone on the edge of their seats from start to finish.
“I had to be very patient,” an exhausted Carlsen explained to the Norwegian media after the game. “When I started pushing the pawns, he started to panic. Then it went surprisingly well.” Carlsen may well be exhausted, but such long, technical endgame grinds for the World Champion, is a life-force, the equivalent of a fresh supply of blood to a vampire!
Indeed, for Nepomniachtchi, being on the receiving end of an epic, record-breaking World Championship loss to a now upbeat Carlsen, and coming in a punishing 136-moves, could now prove to be the Russian challenger’s breaking-point in the match.
For the record, for over half a century the longest game in World Championship history went to the Tarrasch-Lasker 119-move draw, in 1908; it was bettered by the Tal-Botvinnik return match in 1961, which was drawn in 121-moves. The Anand-Carlsen match in 2014 had a 122-move draw, and fell just two moves short of the then famous record-holding Kortchnoi-Karpov 5th game encounter in Baguio City, Philippines, from 1978, that lasted 124-moves.
But despite Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi now taking the world championship longest game record, that game falls far short of the longest game (in terms of moves) in the Guinness Book of Records – that accolade going to Nikolić–Arsović, Belgrade 1989, which lasted for 269 moves and took 20 hours and 15 minutes to complete a drawn game!
Games 7 & 8, takes place Saturday and 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 3½– 2½ Nepomniachtchi
Photo: Magnus more than gives it his “best”, as he emerges from the shadows to strike first blood | © Eric Rosen / FIDE World Championship
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Ian Nepomniachtchi
2021 World Chess Championship, (6)
Queen’s Pawn Fianchetto
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.b3 c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.c4 dxc4 9.Qc2 Qe7 10.Nbd2 Nc6 11.Nxc4 b5!? By far the most testing move for Black to make, as with one move Nepo has successfully found a way to complete his development and get his rooks into the center of the board. 12.Nce5 Nb4 13.Qb2 Bb7 14.a3 Nc6 A little better looked the more natural 14…Nbd5 centralising the knight on d5. 15.Nd3 Bb6 16.Bg5 Rfd8 If anything, Carlsen’s quiet opening plans has backfired on him, and he now goes deep in the tank in order to stop Nepo from totally dominating the position – but it all comes at a cost, as the World Champion is left very short of time. 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Rac1 Nd4 19.Nxd4 Bxd4 20.Qa2 Bxg2 21.Kxg2 Qb7+ 22.Kg1 Qe4 23.Qc2 a5 24.Rfd1 Kg7 25.Rd2 Rac8? This just offers Carlsen a much-welcomed “Get Out of Jail Free” card. More testing was keeping the tension in the position with 25…f5! 26.Qc7 Bf6! with the idea of …Bg5 – and with Carlsen far behind on the clock, not an easy position to make a series of quick and easy move as the text offers him. 26.Qxc8! Rxc8 27.Rxc8 Qd5 28.b4 a4! The only try to keep the game complicated is to keep the a-pawn on the board and threats of undermining the a3 pawn. 29.e3 Be5 30.h4 The best move was 30.Rcc2! connecting the rooks, threatening Nxe5 without leaving the d2 rook unprotected, and removing an unwelcome threat that Carlsen misses. But by now, Carlsen was down to just a couple of minutes on his clock, and the position becoming more and more critical – and with it the game swinging wildly one way then another in the mad-dash to make the time-control at move 40. 30…h5 31.Kh2 Bb2!? The “safe” option is 31…Qb3! forcing 32.Nxe5 fxe5 33.Rc7 Qxa3 34.Rdd7 and White easily draws with the rooks connected. But Nepo gambles on making Carlsen have to “think” in his deep time-trouble by making the unexpected move, and it almost pays off for the Russian! 32.Rc5! Even in deep time-trouble, Carlsen finds the best move – and the genuine consensus among the talking-heads was that he had worked out all the tricks. But alas, not quite true! 32…Qd6 33.Rd1? Carlsen panics in the complex position and his digital flag metaphorically hanging – the only way to play here was 33.Rxb2! Qxd3 34.Ra2 e5 35.Rc1 Qb3 36.Rcc2 f5 37.Rcb2 Qd1 38.Rd2 Qb3 39.Rdb2 Qd3 40.Rd2 and there’s no way for either side to make any progress. Even here, a draw would have been considered a really good World Championship scrap…but little did we know that this was only the beginning of the “real” game! 33…Bxa3 34.Rxb5 Qd7 35.Rc5 e5 36.Rc2 Qd5? Now Nepo panics in the panic! The best way forward was the simple 36…Bxb4! 37.Nb2 Qf5 38.Nd3 Bf8 and Black has clearly the better of this position. 37.Rdd2! Carlsen connects his rooks and is back on top again, as now …Bxb4 isn’t possible. 37…Qb3 38.Ra2 e4 39.Nc5! Despite his flag close to falling, Carlsen finds all the best moves, as the pendulum swings ever-more in his direction. 39…Qxb4 40.Nxe4 An easy human tactic to make on the final move of the time-control, but the engine has no nerves and finds the clear plan of 40.Rdc2! and Black has no easy answer to the even better tactic of Nxa4 and Rc3, picking up the bishop with excellent chances to convert the ending with Black’s weak kingside pawns. 40…Qb3 41.Rac2! With time now to think and reassess, Carlsen works out his possible winning plan of Rc3 and Rd4 and Black is in trouble. Nepo has only one option now. 41…Bf8 Distance and pushing on with …a3 is Black’s only chance for survival – but will it be enough? 42.Nc5 Qb5 43.Nd3 a3 44.Nf4! The a-pawn is going nowhere, and with Carlsen’s knight ideally placed on f4, now Nepo’s h5-pawn becomes a liability. 44…Qa5 45.Ra2 Bb4 46.Rd3 Kh6 47.Rd1 No better was 47.Nd5 Bd6! 48.Nf4 Bb4 and we’re back to where we were. 47…Qa4 48.Rda1 Eventually the a-pawn will fall. 48…Bd6 49.Kg1 Qb3 50.Ne2 Qd3 51.Nd4 Kh7 There’s no tricks here for Black. After 51…Bxg3? the zwischenzug 52.Rxa3! Qg6 53.fxg3 Qxg3+ 54.Kf1 Qh3+ (Not 54…Qxh4?? 55.Nf5+! forking king and queen.) 55.Ke2 Qg2+ 56.Kd3 Qg6+ 57.Kc4 and Black runs out of checks. 52.Kh2 Qe4 53.Rxa3! [see diagram] It’s the simply tactical solution for Carlsen, as with the a-pawn gone, his rooks are free to spring into the game now with deadly force. 53…Qxh4+ There’s just no joy for Black here. After 53…Bxa3 54.Rxa3 Qg4 55.Ra5 White’s king is protected from the checks, and the R, N and extra pawns working in harmony will eventually win, especially as the weak Black pawns will fall one by one. 54.Kg1 Qe4 55.Ra4 It’s just now a matter of technique now for Carlsen who, despite having less time on his clock, is in his element here in this ending, as he patiently converts the win. 55…Be5 56.Ne2 Qc2 57.R1a2 Qb3 58.Kg2 Qd5+ 59.f3 Qd1 60.f4 The Black pieces are being pushed back and forced out of the game – but great care still needs to be taken to win this position. 60…Bc7 61.Kf2 Bb6 62.Ra1 Better was 62.Rb4 Qd5 63.Rab2 Bc5 64.Rb5 Qc6 65.Ng1! and White is making progress with the knight coming to d4 via f3. 62…Qb3 63.Re4 Kg7 64.Re8 f5 65.Raa8 Qb4 66.Rac8 Ba5 67.Rc1 Bb6 68.Re5 Qb3 69.Re8 Qd5 70.Rcc8 Qh1! The most annoying move, as the queen threatens a series of checks from behind enemy lines, or possibly even supporting a timely …h4, that temporarily forces Carlsen to disconnect his rooks. 71.Rc1 Qd5? [Nepo cracks in the critical position. He had to hold his nerve here to hang on – the best way to do so was surely 71…Qh2+! 72.Kf3 Qh3 and it is not easy for White to connect his rooks with …Qf1 mate and …Qg4+ still options, forcing White to find a way to make progress, most likely with 73.Rb8 Bc5! For now the bishop has salvation on c5 because it can’t be taken due to the little matter of …Qf1 mate! 74.Rb5 Ba7 75.Rb7 Bc5! Again the bishop is taboo, forcing now 76.Rbb1 Be7! 77.Rg1 This has to be played, otherwise …Qg4+ and …h4 is awkward for White. 77…Kf8! Moving off the g-file to allow …Qg4+ and …h4. 78.Kf2 Qg4 and with the …h4 threat hanging in the air, this is going to be the sternest test if White can win this unbalanced endgame or not. 72.Rb1 Ba7 73.Re7 By missing the 71…Qh2+! moment, Nepo now finds White’s rooks relentlessly chasing his bishop. 73…Bc5 74.Re5 Qd3 75.Rb7 Qc2 76.Rb5! Now Carlsen’s rooks boss the board, and with it a threat to Black’s f- and h-pawns. Drastic measures are now needed to try to save the game for Nepo. 76…Ba7 77.Ra5 Bb6 78.Rab5 Ba7 79.Rxf5 Qd3 80.Rxf7+! The timely tactical sacrifce now from Carlsen makes things much clearer for him to win, as he wins pawns and takes the bishop off the board. 80…Kxf7 81.Rb7+ Kg6 82.Rxa7 Qd5 83.Ra6+ Kh7 84.Ra1 Carlsen is the one in command now, but he has to regroup to stop the threat of …Qh1 to stop Nepo’s queen infiltrating from behind to give a series of checks – and in all honesty, this is the sort of technical endgame squeeze the World Champion would have been in his element for, regardless of being exhausted after nearly 8 hours at the board. 84…Kg6 85.Nd4 Qb7 86.Ra2 Defending the second rank from queen checks – slowly but surely, Carlsen is making progress towards the win. 86…Qh1 87.Ra6+ Kf7 88.Nf3! Now the knight regroups to f3 to stop the awkward …Qh2+. 88…Qb1 89.Rd6! And with the knight on f3, the rook can come back to d2 to safely protect the second rank, leaving Nepo floundering for a clear plan to save the game that’s now quickly running away from him. 89…Kg7 90.Rd5 Qa2+ 91.Rd2 Qb1 92.Re2 With Carlsen’s pieces compact, working as a unit, he’s now ready to start finding a way to push his e-pawn up the board. 92…Qb6 93.Rc2 Qb1 94.Nd4! It’s all now about restricting squares from the Black queen. 94…Qh1 95.Rc7+ Kf6 96.Rc6+ Kf7 97.Nf3! Stopping the awkward …Qh2+ and also …h4 to open access to the White king. 97…Qb1 98.Ng5+ Kg7 99.Ne6+ Kf7 100.Nd4 Qh1 101.Rc7+ Kf6 102.Nf3 Qb1 103.Rd7 It’s just going to take a little time for Carlsen to get his pieces in the right shape, after which Nepo is surely doomed. 103…Qb2+ 104.Rd2! Carlsen has found the regrouping plan to win the game – it involves retreating his knight back to g1 then to e2 to give cover from the queen checks, putting his rook on d4 and then push his pawn to e4.Eventually, the g- and h-pawns will be traded, leaving White to unit his pieces and pawns together to start the careful march up the board. 104…Qb1 105.Ng1 Qb4 106.Rd1 Qb3 107.Rd6+ Kg7 108.Rd4 Qb2+ 109.Ne2 Qb1 110.e4 Qh1 111.Rd7+ Kg8 112.Rd4 Qh2+ 113.Ke3 Now the king is freed from the checks, forcing Nepo to do what he has tried to avoid, and that’s to trade of his last remaining pawn. 113…h4 114.gxh4 Qh3+ 115.Kd2 Qxh4 116.Rd3 Kf8 117.Rf3 Qd8+ 118.Ke3 Qa5 119.Kf2 Qa7+ 120.Re3! The king is soon going to be secured from the queen checks, and Carlsen can make plans for how to safely start pushing his pawns up the board. 120…Qd7 121.Ng3 Qd2+ 122.Kf3 Qd1+ 123.Re2 Qb3+ 124.Kg2 Qb7 125.Rd2 History in the making, as this official now becomes the longest World Championship game in history, beating the 124-move epic Game 5 seen in Karpov-Kortchnoi, Baguio City 1978. 125…Qb3 126.Rd5 Despite history being made, Carlsen still has to take care, moving his pieces together as a “convoy” to avoid the queen checks, while at the same time escorting the passed pawns up the board. 126…Ke7 127.Re5+ Kf7 128.Rf5+ Ke8 129.e5 The pawns are now mobile, and there’s a distinct lack of checks from Nepo’s queen – it is just a matter of time now. 129…Qa2+ 130.Kh3 Qe6 131.Kh4! Not only is the knight protecting the rook, but it is soon going to provide a vital shield from the queen checks, and thus further progress is being made by Carlsen to squeeze out the win. 131…Qh6+ 132.Nh5! The pieces are coming together to restrict the activity of the Black queen, the pawns are on the move, and now it can’t be long till Carlsen forces the first – and epic – win of this tense match. 132…Qh7 133.e6 Qg6 134.Rf7! The final touch of panache from Carlsen! Despite just a couple of minutes left on his clock to finish the game, Carlsen finds the decisive move for a clear and historic victory. 134…Kd8 The point of Carlsen’s play is that 134…Qxe6 135.Ng7+! Kxf7 136.Nxe6 Kxe6 137.Kg5! And the White king holds the “opposition”, able to usher the f-pawn up the board to queen, one example being: 137…Kf7 138.Kf5 Kg7 (It’s a mirror win after 138…Ke7 139.Kg6 Kf8 140.f5 Ke7 141.f6+ Kf8 142.f7 etc.) 139.Ke6 Kf8 140.f5 Kg7 141.f6+ Kf8 142.f7 Kg7 143.Ke7 and queens and mates. 135.f5 Qg1 136.Ng7 1-0