10 Things We Can All Learn from GM Ian Nepomniachtchi

10 Things We Can All Learn from GM Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi is a well-known person in the chess world. He is considered the best chess player in Russia and is also in the world’s top 4. Since childhood, his chess career has developed quite rapidly, but, oddly enough, he began to show himself in the chess elite relatively recently. From a young age, Ian was a versatile person with wide interests outside of chess, and there have been moments in his career when Ian had other hobbies as a priority.

However, when he began to devote more time to chess, success was not long in coming. A series of high-profile victories followed, culminating in the most important one in the 2020-2021 Candidates tournament. Less than a month is left before the main battle in his career – the match for the title of World Chess Champion, where he has all chances to perform well. In this article, we will look at his best games, of which we will single out 10 things that every chess player can learn.

1. Opening preparation is one of the keys to success

What ordinary chess amateurs dislike so much becomes a lethal weapon in the skilled hands of a professional. It is not uncommon for Ian to find something new in the classic opening legacy. For example, in the game against Meshkov, he launched a rather daring attack in the English opening:

Black quickly defeated White’s position, forcing him to give up his pieces and defend against mating threats. It’s amazing how Nepomniachtchi interpreted a rather non-trivial variation and easily beat his opponent!

2. A well-timed and calculated attack can bring a lot of points

The attacking motives that Nepomniachtchi uses in his games seem completely atypical and even strange but often bring him well-deserved victories. How would you play in the game below?

3. Correct calculation of variations is the most important quality of a strong chess player

It is impossible to know all the openings and theoretical positions in chess. In unfamiliar positions, only an accurate calculation of the options can help prevent an annoying blunder. Nepomniachtchi’s ability to calculate variations is amazing, he demonstrated it not only in entertaining videos but also in real games.

This position can be assessed as absolutely equal. The game here is more of a positional character, which is always difficult to play. In this type of position, only an inaccuracy can affect the result of the whole game, meanwhile, it is quite easy to make a mistake. Grandmaster Ovechkin, who played with White, allows an unobvious blunder, and the game ends in a bad way for him. In turn, Nepomniachtchi, having correctly assessed the position and calculated the options, was able to realize the advantage presented by his opponent.

4. Without tactical vision, nowhere

It is important to see tactics at any stage of the game. With poor tactical vision, it is difficult to checkmate and even more so to punish an opponent for his mistakes. How would you play here?

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5. Chess is a strategy game

Good tactical vision, the ability to calculate variations, and opening preparation are certainly important skills in the combat arsenal of any chess player.  Beginners are often in the situation when after the opening they do not understand what to attack next, how to improve their position.

This is precisely what the strategic understanding of chess is responsible for. In this game, Nepomniachtchi decides to daringly seize space in the opening and finds the resource Nh2, useful in all respects. After the obvious moves, it turns out that it is rather difficult for Black to defend.

6. The ability to attack is not enough for a good chess player, you also need to know how to defend

It often happens to beginners that in pursuit of an attack on the enemy king, they completely forget about their own. Although Nepomniachtchi is a chess player of a bright attacking style, in some cases he performs a brilliant ability to defend in unpleasant positions.

7. Knowing the endgames helps you make decisions at the very beginning of the game

The ability to use excess material or positional advantage is tested precisely at this stage of the game. Meanwhile, this is the stage of a chess game when the cost of an error or inaccuracy is too high.

It would seem that the endings with opposite-colored bishops have pronounced draw tendencies. However, this is not always the case, especially if there are rooks on the board.

Ian understands this very well and remembers that in order to win he needs to create an outside passed pawn. And the well-known middlegame principle “opposite-colored bishops – an extra piece in the attack” is organically connected here!

8. It happens that a piece should not be saved or exchanged, but sacrificed for the initiative

It is always scary to sacrifice because if something goes wrong and the attack reaches a dead end, the chances of survival will be small. Nepomniachtchi feels very well when the material should be sacrificed, which is why positional masterpieces are often found in his games. Most often, of course, this is an exchange sacrifice or just pawns, but there are also pieces.

9. Space Management

The a or h pawn move looks strange and sometimes even ridiculous, but it helps when you need to seize space or start a serious attack. Oddly enough, in most of Nepomniachtchi’s best games, a move was made with the a or h pawn at rather unexpected moments of the game. It is unusual for a beginner to see this, and most importantly, incomprehensible, but it was with such a bold and daring move that Nepomniachtchi began to cause great inconvenience to his opponent.

Against a rather rare in the grandmaster level variation in the Petrov’s Defence, Nepomniachtchi turned out to be theoretically savvy. In fact, here he applied a novelty – a move that no one had ever made before. It seems that White is wasting several tempos on advancing this pawn, which he could have spent on developing his pieces, but this pawn has fulfilled its main task – it has created an object for an attack on the kingside. Subsequently, this turned out to be a significant problem for Black.

10. Piece Play

The ability to catch a piece at a time when the opponent does not expect it at all is another distinctive skill of Ian Nepomniachtchi. It seemed that such blunders would be a rarity among grandmasters. However, chess is a specific game. And, if you can win the material, but the piece is not caught, then you need to go for it.

However, the fact that a piece is not caught at first glance is not always so. Ian knows how to find hidden opportunities in a position, changing it in his favor so that the initial variant calculated by the opponent turns out to be incorrect.

This is what happened in a game with GM Valerij Popov. The bishop on a2 seems not to be caught, but it is caught if you exchange queens with a tempo!

In the games, we saw that Ian Nepomniachtchi is a chess player with a unique attacking style. At the same time, he is a pretty good strategist and knows how to use the opponent’s mistakes to his advantage. He can safely be called a universal chess player, so we can learn a lot from his games.

And if you want to strengthen your chess skills and learn more about the games of a talented grandmaster, we are launching a new course “Play chess like Nepo” especially for you, where we will consider in detail all the components of Nepomniachtchi’s victories.


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Updated 01.02.2024