It seemed that after a quick draw in the 7th game, both players would have time to recover and will come up with another long and interesting fight. Magnus Carlsen had the White pieces in Game 8, so the experts debated whether he will try to increase his lead or avoid any risk. In the first case, it would make sense for him to opt for the aggressive Catalan Opening again. Although taking into account that it gave Black winning chances in both of the games this opening was chosen, it was safe to assume we would see 1.e4 instead.
Is it time for Nepomniachtchi to meet it with his favorite Sicilian or will he stick to the bullet-proof Petroff Defense?
The first ceremonial move was made by the legend of FC Real Madrid, Michel Salgado. It is interesting since Magnus Carlsen is known as a big football lover and Real Madrid’s fan. The guest’s appearance must have cheered him up.
Ian Nepomniachtchi looked confident too. He met Salgado’s 1.e4 with the Petroff Defense. See the game analysis below to find out what this led to.
Carlsen, Magnus (2855) – Nepomniachtchi, Ian (2782) [C43]
FIDE World Championship 2021 Dubai (8.1), 05.12.2021
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 Nxe4 4.Bd3 d5 5.Nxe5 Nd7 6.Nxd7 Bxd7
7.Nd2 A rare move. Much more popular nowadays is 7.0-0 Bd6 8.Nc3 Nxc3 9.bxc3 0-0 10.Qh5, as happened in the game Nepomniachtchi, Ian – Yu, Yangyi (WchT 12th Astana, 2019) where White won. 7…Nxd2 8.Bxd2
It remains unclear what the world champion had in mind after 8…Qe7+ here. The arising after the natural 9.Qe2 endgame looks drawish. Nevertheless, the challenger quickly played 8…Bd6. After 9.0–0, the following position appeared:
All the knights are gone from the board. This symmetrical position might look completely equal, but there is still some venom.
If now Black castles 9…0-0, White would play 10.Qh5, when after 10…f5 the position would resemble the game won by Ian Nepomniachtchi against Yu Yangyi. This is probably the reason why Ian decided to come up with something else. He could play 9…Qh4, as happened in the game Gergacz, A – Bodo, N, Hungary 2010, but it seems like he didn’t want to trade the queens in this game. After 10.g3 Qg4 11.Re1+ Kf8 12.Qxg4 Bxg4, this would be a better version of 8…Qe7+ line for White.
9…h5N Black decides to keep the king in the center, prevents White’s queen from coming to h5, and overall tries to unbalance the position. This move is new to the chess practice, but Ian assured this idea exists in some similar lines. Magnus also confessed that he hadn’t known this move, “I wasn’t sure if h5 was a preparation or not, but I suspected it was not.” He also explained the reasoning behind his next decision, “I wasn’t able to calculate properly so I decided just to trade the queens. My brain was just fried. I thought that a sharp game wouldn’t have been in my interest.”
10.Qe1+ This move allows Black to play 10…Qe7 and enter an equal endgame. “It could be a quick draw after 10…Qe7,” said Nepomniachtchi at the press conference. He also added, “After 9…h5 I expected a bigger fight, but 10.Qe1+ was a brilliant practical decision – just to offer a draw silently.”
Instead, 10.c4 looked interesting. After 10…dxc4 11.Re1+ Kf8 12.Bxc4 Qh4,
White would have 13.Qf3! Qxh2 14.Kf1 with an advantage.
But let’s get back to the game. Magnus surprised the world by the queen trade offer, whereas Nepomniachtchi did the same by declining it.
10…Kf8 At the press conference, Carlsen told that he had hoped Ian would keep the queens on the board, “After 10…Kf8 the game was pleasant for me.” Nepomniachtchi during the game thought this move was as good as 10…Qe7 but later concluded, “It was a chain of weird moves, starting with 10…Kf8.”
11.Bb4! Trading the dark-squared bishops is in White’s favor. Black’s remaining light-squared bishop is passive. 11…Qe7 12.Bxd6 Qxd6 13.Qd2 Re8 14.Rae1
Here Black could get close to equality by playing 14…Rxe1 15.Rxe1 g6!, planning …Kg7 and …Re8.
Instead, 14…Rh6 was played. White reacted with 15.Qg5, after which the h-rook had to passively look after the h-pawn. Black’s position started getting worse. 15…c6 16.Rxe8+ Bxe8 17.Re1 Qf6 Finally offering a queen trade, but this time White declines.
18.Qe3 According to the computer, stronger was 18.Qg3 Qd6 19.Qh4 Qf6 20.Qh3! Qxd4 21.Qc8 Re6 22.Rxe6 fxe6 23.g3, with White’s advantage, but Magnus tried to play simpler today. 18…Bd7 19.h3 h4 20.c4 “After 20.c4 it became slightly unpleasant,” admitted Nepomniachtchi at the press conference.
Here the engine suggests 20…Qd8 (planning …Re6) 21.cxd5 cxd5 22.Qf4 g5, followed by …Re6. Black would be close to equality.
20…dxc4 21.Bxc4 b5? Instead, a simple 21…Kg8 would have left good chances for equality.
For those interested where this move came from, it is good to know the following opening line in the Berlin Ruy Lopez:
1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7 7.Bf1 Nxe5 8.Rxe5 0–0 9.Nc3 Ne8 10.Nd5 Bd6 11.Re1 c6 12.Ne3 Be7 13.c4 Nc7 14.d4 d5 15.cxd5 Bb4 16.Bd2 Bxd2 17.Qxd2 Nxd5 18.Nxd5 Qxd5 19.Re5 Qd6 20.Bc4 Bd7 21.Rae1.
This theoretical position looks similar to the one that arose in the game. Here Black has a strong idea 21…b5! 22.Bb3 a5. The knowledge of this line probably affected Ian’s thinking process and he went for the same pawn push. Funny, it came as a 21st move in both positions.
Unfortunately for the challenger, in the game position, this was just a blunder.
22.Qa3+! Kg8 23.Qxa7! Later Nepomniachtchi revealed what was overlooked, “I forgot that after 22.Qa3 Kg8 Qxa7, the bishop on d7 was hanging!”
23…Qd8?! Fabiano Caruana called this “just tilt.” Instead, the move 23…Bxh3 would have set a minor trap: 24.Re8+ Kh7 25.Bxf7? Rg6! White would have to find a subtle way to a draw after that. But Magnus said he had seen this line during the game and was going to play 25.Qxf7! Qxf7 26.Re8 instead of that. It is still was a worth try for Black. “Frankly speaking, it is hard to defend after such a blunder,” Ian confessed at the press conference.
24.Bb3 Rd6 24…Rh5 would have been more stubborn. 25.Re4 Be6 26.Bxe6 Rxe6 27.Rxe6 fxe6
Black is a pawn down and has many pawn weaknesses. The endgame is winning for White. Magnus played a strong move 28.Qc5! here. This looked like a blunder since after 28…Qa5 both pawns on a2 and f2 (after …Qe1+) are hanging. But after 29.Qxc6 Qe1+ 30.Kh2 Qxf2 31.Qxe6+ Kh7 32.Qe4+ Kg8 33.b3,
It turned out White’s queen controlled everything and Black had no chances for a perpetual check.
The game continued: 33…Qxa2? 34.Qe8+ Kh7 35.Qxb5 Qf2 36.Qe5 Qb2 37.Qe4+ Kg8 38.Qd3 Qf2 39.Qc3 Qf4+ 40.Kg1 Kh7 41.Qd3+ g6
At this point, Magnus played 42.Qd1! Now all White’s pawns are protected and the first rank is covered. Black desperately went for the last attack with 42…Qe3+ 43.Kh1 g5, but the world champion was able to figure out the way to neutralize it. After 44.d5 g4 45.hxg4 h3 46.Qf3, Black resigned.
Whereas Magnus Carlsen was happy to win the game and increase his lead in the match, Ian Nepomniachtchi concluded, “It is not the first game that I lost in my career, although particularly this one was one of the worst perhaps.”
But the match is far from over. Ian has six games ahead to fix the score. At the press conference, he said seemed to believe in his chances, “Let’s see what will happen.”
Both players seemed tired, so the rest day tomorrow will be of great help. Nepomniachtchi has to recover and find a way to break through Carlsen’s solid Black openings. Ivan Sokolov, the famous Dutch grandmaster and coach, assumes it is time for Ian to go for the King’s Gambit.
That would be exciting to see. Stay tuned!