As sure as night follows day, the longest game in world championship history was followed by the shortest game/day yet between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi, as a relatively tame and uneventful draw witnessed the defending champion preserving the overnight lead over his Russian challenger, as their 14-game, $2m World Championship Match in Dubai reached its midpoint.
Immediately after Game 7 had concluded, Carlsen was the first to admit during the presser that energy-levels were a factor following their epic and epoch-making marathon. “I couldn’t sleep yesterday – I was way too excited,” before adding that he assumed the situation was probably even worse for his opponent. Both players did look a little jaded following the exploits from the previous day, and the result was all but a foregone conclusion before the start.
But it does brings up a vital point of playing a 14-game title match at this level over a classical time-control. Some have complained of the number of draws so far in the match, advocating that the format needs to be changed to speedier time controls so as to generate more excitement for the thousands of online fans following all the live action – yes, but would a quicker format have produce a masterpiece of contrasting fortunes that unfolded in Game 6?
And after following from start to finish all eight hours of play, and annotating all 136-moves of that remarkable Game 6 encounter – just as Carlsen admitted after the uneventful Game 7 draw – even my energy levels are low, so understandably this is also going to be the shortest column yet of the match!
Game 8 takes place on Sunday with the rest day on Monday. 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 4-3 Nepomniachtchi
Photo: Magnus safeguards his overnight lead | © Eric Rosen / FIDE World Championship
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi – GM Magnus Carlsen
2021 World Chess Championship, (7)
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 The battle of the anti-Marshall in the match intensifies; becoming the battleground, just as it did during the Kasparov-Short title match in 1993. And now, as the match reaches its midpoint, for Nepo to get back into it, he really needs to make headway soon in this line, otherwise Carlsen will cruise to victory. 8…Rb8 Carlsen sticks to his trusted system, though I dare say tweaked a little after coming under pressure in Game 5. 9.axb5 axb5 10.h3 d6 11.d3 Nepo diverges from 11.c3 that worked so well for him in his previous White – but as the Russian challenger duly admitted, Carlsen simply got his set-up a little wrong and suffered for the mishap. I dare say he knew Team Carlsen would have had it all ironed out, so diverged – and after the exhaustion of his epic loss in Game 6, this might be a wise call, and later in the match we may well see another tussle with 11.c3. 11…h6 Not so much stopping Bg5 but rather Ng5, as Carlsen wants to play …Re8 without allowing the free hit on f7. 12.Nc3 Re8 13.Nd5 Bf8 14.Nxf6+ Qxf6 15.c3 Ne7 16.Be3 Be6 17.d4 exd4 18.cxd4 Bxb3 19.Qxb3 Nepo has the center (for now), but Carlsen is close to equalising here in a much simplified position, with not much for him to worry about. 19…Ng6 20.Rec1 c5! Instant equality now. 21.e5 The Black position is reminiscent to the tactics in the Archangel, with the hit on e4 drawing down the position, and after 21.dxc5 dxc5 22.Bxc5 Nf4! 23.Kh2 (Not 23.Bxf8? Ne2+! winning.) 23…Qg6! 24.Nh4 Qxe4 25.Bxf8 Rxf8 26.Re1 Qd4 where, if anything, Black stands a little better. 21…Qf5! [see diagram] Another star move from Carlsen that just sucks what life there is out of Nepo’s position, and all but safeguards an easy draw to preserve the defending champion’s lead in the match. 22.dxc5 dxc5 23.Bxc5 Bxc5 24.Rxc5 Nxe5 25.Nxe5 Of course, 25.Rxb5?? backfires to the simple tactic of 25…Rxb5 26.Qxb5 Nxf3+! winning the queen. 25…Rxe5 26.Rxe5 Qxe5 27.Qc3 Qxc3 28.bxc3 Rc8 In reality, the game should have ended peacefully here, to make it the shortest game of the match, and fittingly following the longest game in world championship history – but the match rules dictate that the players can’t agree a draw until after move 40 (unless by a repetition), so Nepo and Carlsen must play out a little dance to pass move 40 before they shake hands. 29.Ra5 Rxc3 30.Rxb5 Rc1+ 31.Kh2 Rc3 32.h4 g6 33.g3 h5 Total symmetry on the board in a R+P ending – so a tame, almost effortless draw is all but mutually agreed by the title combatants. Not an unexpected result following yesterday’s epic encounter, which, as someone pointed out, coming in just shy of an 8 hour session, was longer than sitting down to follow Beth Harmon’s exploits both on-and-off the board, by binge-watching all seven episodes of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit! 34.Kg2 Kg7 35.Ra5 Kf6 36.Rb5 Kg7 37.Ra5 Kf6 38.Rb5 Kg7 39.Ra5 Kf6 40.Ra6+ Kg7 41.Ra7 ½-½