World Championship Match 4: Reluctant Birthday Boy

No way to enter A full expert review of the game will be posted on our news site shortly. Match 3 will be annotated by world number six Anish Giri. This is the fifth time

No way to enter


A full expert review of the game will be posted on our news site shortly. Match 3 will be annotated by world number six Anish Giri.


This is the fifth time that Magnus Carlsen has played a World Championship match, and it is the fifth time that the event has been held in November. Since his birthday is November 30 and won all four games he has played so far, his 23, 24, 26 and 28 have all been happy occasions for the Norwegian – in 2016 he defeated Sergey Karjakin in the playoffs. exactly on November 30.

In his current battle against Ian Nepomniachtchi, however, celebrations will likely have to wait until the game is over. On his 31st birthday, the world champion got his second blank of the match, and couldn’t even put pressure on his opponent before signing the shortest draw of the match so far.

Nepo replied to Carlsen 1.e4 with the Petroff, the primary weapon used by Fabiano Caruana in his 2018 match against the World Champion. While Carlsen himself later said this was one of the main setups they had prepared since Nepo had played him in the Candidates Tournament, Caruana was a bit more intrigued by the decision. .

Following the trend we saw in the first three days of the match, Nepo played principle chess from the start, allowing his opponent to be the first to deviate from the more popular theoretical variants.

Both contenders pretty much blitzed their every move until this point, when after Nepo 17 … a5 the theory continued with 18.bxa6 Nxa6. However, Carlsen had prepared 18.Nh4, seeking to redirect his knight to attack d5 without fearing the pawn passed by black on line a.

For the first time in the game, Nepo spent over 3 minutes thinking about his next move – but it wasn’t much more than that, as he responded with the natural 18 … g6 just over 5 minutes after Carlsen played the novelty of the game. This fact alone is not very revealing, as all other potential moves are clearly inferior. However, the fact that the Russian ended the game (after 33 moves) with more than an hour on the clock shows that he was, once again, well prepared against Carlsen’s first deviations.

When asked if he was surprised by his opponent’s jump jump on move 18, Nepo responded with a smile:

Maybe I even wanted to play it with white one day …

Ian nepomniachtchi

Excellent preparation – Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Eric Rosen

The challenger continued to play natural strokes, leaving Carlsen to decide how to proceed with move 25 first, then move 30.

The world champion has invested more than 20 minutes of thinking in this position. In the end, he opted for the principle 25.Nf6 +, although 25 … Nxb6 is also playable. Five strokes later, he had the opportunity to force a draw by repetition …

… and after thinking for over half an hour he took it – 30.Ce8 + Kg8 31.f6 + Kg7, etc.

Alternative plans for White included a combination of d6-d7, Kg2, h4 and Re2. Carlsen checked all of these lines and concluded that Black could hold the balance in each of them, a feeling that was shared. by Vishy Anand in commentary. Naturally, the world champion was asked about his long thoughts at a press conference, and he explained:

The approach he has chosen is not the only one. In other variations, it’s incredibly complicated and really risky for black. To be honest, the one he chose … it seems really risky to leave the knight at f8 and bet everything on the a pawn. If you miscalculated something, you just lose with no luck.

Magnus Carlsen, Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ten games to play … | Photo: Niki Riga

Since the World Championship match is the most popular chess event in terms of mainstream media coverage, a number of people new to the game probably have a hard time understanding what Carlsen meant when ‘he referred to a “really risky approach” when referring to a game that ended up fired fairly quickly with no tactical fireworks to consider.

A curious illustration of this phenomenon was shared by the extraordinary photographer Lennart Ootes, who works on broadcasting the games from Dubai.

Nonetheless, chess fans around the world seem to be eager to see decisive results in the game. After all, the challenger is known to have a more impulsive and aggressive style.

However, as the Russian proved – especially in the second half of the contestants – he worked to keep things in check when such an approach helps him perform better down the line. And can he be faulted for doing exactly that in his first game against a player of Carlsen’s caliber?

Game 4 has certainly been the least exciting of the game so far. We can only wait and see if we get the kind of battles that erupted in the first two meetings – similar fights are highly unlikely to continue to produce draws in such a tense 14-game match.

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