In 1985, Aretha Franklin made a big comeback with her first and only platinum album, Who’s Zoomin’ Who? And the successful title track from the Queen of Soul that also went on to become a global hit single, could just have easily have been played as the signature track for Game 4 of the $2m World Championship Match in Dubai, as defending champion Magnus Carlsen and his Russian challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi, unwittingly battled each other to a draw.
The phrase “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” means a type of flirtation where one person is scoping or checking out another person, unaware that they are also being analysed – and chess-wise, that’s more or less what transpired between Carlsen and Nepo, as both discovered, independently, the very same new novelty in the Petroff’s Defence, with all their hard analysis work cancelling each other out, and a fourth successive draw of the match!
That’s to be expected though withWorld Championship preparation, with two teams of experts crunching all the possible openings that might be used, especially when they also have access to highly-sophisticated supercomputers! The two title combatants all but cancelled each other out in Game 4 due to their high-level of match preparation.
“It turned out it was new, but not for everyone!” Nepo was quick to quip in the post-game presser. The Russian also revealed that after discovering the unlikely 18.Nh4!? novelty, he, too, had seriously considered using the interesting new idea with the white pieces himself – but regardless, he knew the best and most safe way to play by pushing his a-pawn up the board.
“To be honest, the [line] he chooses looks really, really risky, to leave the knight on f8 and bank everything on the a-pawn,” added Carlsen. “If you’ve miscalculated something you just lose, without any chances, but it’s a lot easier, of course, when you’ve studied it and you know that it’s a draw, and you can kind of work it out from there
Games 5 takes place on Wednesday with a 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 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.
Photo: Just who’s zoomin’ who, Magnus? | © Eric Rosen /FIDE World Championship
Carlsen 2– 2 Nepomniachtchi
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Ian Nepomniachtchi
2021 World Chess Championship, (4)
Petroff’s Defence, Marshall variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 Before the revival of the Berlin ‘Wall’ Defence during the Kramnik-Kasparov World Championship match in London in 2000, the Petroff’s Defence was the dreaded drawing system Black player’s would adopt to thwart aggressive opponents. Nowadays, the Petroff is more akin to a Sicilian Najdorf compared to the Berlin! 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Bd6 The Marshall variation, named after US Champion Frank J. Marshall of the eponymous gambit against the Ruy Lopez, who had a fondness for a direct attack on his opponent’s kingside, even, when playing Black! And here, just like this Marshall Attack against the Lopez, Black posts his bishops actively. 7.0-0 0-0 8.c4 c6 9.Re1 Bf5 10.Qb3 Qd7 11.Nc3 Nxc3 12.Bxf5 Qxf5 13.bxc3 b6 14.cxd5 cxd5 15.Qb5 Qd7 16.a4 Qxb5 17.axb5 a5!N The best move under the circumstances, just Carlsen something to worry about with the Black a-pawn now storming down the board. But regardless of what move Black plays here, by how confidently and quickly Carlsen was flicking out his moves, it was clear he had a fail-safe continuation coming. 18.Nh4!?N Who’s zoomin’ or TN-ing who here? When you see 18.Nh4 and the follow-up 19.g4 on the board here, it’s not rocket science to deduce that this novelty is all part of Magnus’ prep. And indeed, Chess24 commentator, Anish Giri, even went as far as to speculate this whole game, or at least the concept of the repetition with Ne8+ and Nf6+ would have been in a Carlsen file on his database, crunched by one of backroom team. But what’s even more remarkable, is that Team Nepo had also foreseen all of this in their pre-match training sessions, and they more or less similarly had this whole game on their database! And with this level of preparation from two of the world’s top players, with experienced backroom teams and aided by supercomputers, it’s no wonder such games end in a draw. 18…g6 19.g4! “It’s quite amazing how concrete it’s going to become so fast,” commented Chess24 commentator Judit Polgar. 19…Nd7 20.Ng2 Rfc8 21.Bf4! White may well have a pawn weakness on c3, but with this move, suddenly Carlsen’s knight comes storming back into the game to target d5. 21…Bxf4 The alternative of 21…Bb8 wasn’t any better, as after 22.Bh6! Bd6 23.Bf4 the game would have ended much sooner with a repetition. 22.Nxf4 Rxc3 23.Nxd5 Rd3 24.Re7! [see diagram] For what it’s worth, if anything, Carlsen has the better of this position – but due to the speed of Nepo’s a-pawn storming down the board, he doesn’t have enough time to co-ordinate any sort of winning attack. 24…Nf8 25.Nf6+ Kg7 26.Ne8+ Kg8 It’s a very brave man that tries to play for more than a draw against Carlsen with the risky 26…Kh6?! 27.d5! a4 28.h4! and Black’s king is in danger of being snared in a mating net. 27.d5! Of course, the d5-pawn is taboo due to Nf6+ forking king and rook. 27…a4 28.Nf6+ Kg7 29.g5 a3 If it wasn’t for the a-pawn, then Carlsen would have found a way to win this – but Nepo’s salvation is indeed that running a-pawn. 30.Ne8+ Kg8 31.Nf6+ Kg7 32.Ne8+ Kg8 33.Nf6+ ½-½