If many people thought the first game of the World Championship match was interesting and exciting, the second game turned out to be a real thriller! Magnus Carlsen was determined to take the lead in the match with the White pieces, and it was interesting to see which central pawn he would start the game with. Funnily enough, both pawns went forward on move one: FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich made the first ceremonial move and played 1.e4, but once the guests of honor left the stage, Magnus brought the king’s pawn back and played 1.d4 instead. We can only guess what the challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi felt at that moment. Nevertheless, it did not confuse him.
He responded with the most solid defense and soon the Catalan Opening arose on the board. This was already played by Magnus in the World Cup match against Andrey Esipenko this year, so it could not surprise Nepomniachtchi. But what surprised everyone was Carlsen’s eighth move. The knight’s jump to e5 led to a complete mess and chaos.
Carlsen emerged out of the opening with a promising position but later overlooked Black’s strong idea, and Nepomniachtchi took over the initiative. At this point, the World Champion pulled himself together and went for an exchange sacrifice to complicate the position. At the press conference after the game, he admitted that the sacrifice came out of necessity. According to the computer, Nepomniachtchi had a solid advantage, but it was extremely hard to navigate and later it was only Carlsen who could play for a win. The game ended peacefully on the 58th move.
Right after the game both players had a small conversation where Magnus expressed his feelings about the game, “I had no idea who was better and why.”
Garry Kasparov made an interesting comment regarding all the sacrifices players made in this hectic game:
He also referred to one of his encounters against Anatoly Karpov where his knight on d3 completely dominated White’s position. In case you don’t remember that famous game, here is the diagram:
Such a powerful knight is called an octopus. In today’s game, both Nepomniachtchi and Carlsen had octopuses! Look for more details in the game analysis below.
Carlsen, Magnus (2855) – Nepomniachtchi, Ian (2782) [E05]
FIDE World Championship 2021 Dubai (2.1), 27.11.2021
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0–0 6.0–0 dxc4
This is the most solid system for Black against the Catalan. White has two main options here. 7.Ne5 was tried by Sergey Karjakin against none other than Ian Nepomniachtchi a bit more than a month ago in Stavanger.
The challenger equalized confidently in that game, so the world champion preferred another move. 7.Qc2 b5!? This aggressive move became trendy after Magnus Carlsen used it to defeat Ding Liren in a great style in 2019. Now he had to play against his own weapon. At this point, he started thinking, which seemed a bit strange because the move 8.a4 has been played in this position almost exclusively.
8.Ne5!? Magnus opts for a move that has never been played at the top level before. At the press conference, he admitted he knew this move would lead to a lot sharper positions than usual. This choice shows his aggressive mood for the game!
8…c6 9.a4 Breaking the pawn chain. 9…Nd5 10.Nc3 f6 11.Nf3 Qd7N Only this move is a novelty, although the whole variation is completely fresh.
12.e4 Nb4 13.Qe2 Nd3
Here is Nepomniachtchi’s octopus. The knight is very strong indeed, but the rest of the army is undeveloped. Instead, the developing moves like 13…N8a6 and 13…Bb7 deserved much attention. The computer evaluates the positions arising after both of these moves as completely equal, but it doesn’t matter for a human game.
14.e5! Opening the long diagonal for the light-squared bishop and creating weaknesses in Black’s camp. 14…Bb7 15.exf6 Bxf6 16.Ne4 Na6
17.Ne5?! At the press conference, Magnus admitted this move was a mistake: he simply did not see Black’s 18…Nac5 idea. Instead, 17.Nxf6+ gxf6 18.Bh6 would have given White better chances.
17…Bxe5 18.dxe5 Nac5! 19.Nd6! Here is Carlsen’s octopus. This move allows Black to win an exchange, but the champion correctly assessed he did not have anything better. 19…Nb3
It was objectively better to play 20.Be3 here, but Magnus wanted to get rid of Black’s powerful knights at all costs and played 20.Rb1.
Black decided to take it all: 20…Nbxc1 21.Rbxc1 Nxc1 22.Rxc1 Rab8, and it felt like Nepomniachtchi was close to winning the game. But after 23.Rd1 Ba8, Magnus found a very strong idea 24.Be4!
Now Black has to be careful: White’s dangerous plan is to attack with Bxh7+ and Qh5+, followed by the rook lift Rd1-d4-h4. The challenger got nervous and decided to defend in a sophisticated way. The computers suggest cold-blooded 24…g6 but it was scary to weaken the king so much.
24…c3 The plan is that now in the case of 25.bxc3 bxa4, Black’s rook would get access to the b1-square. It is crucial in the following line: 26.Bxh7+ Kxh7 27.Qh5+ Kg8 28.Rd4 Rb1+! 29.Kg2 c5+, and Black wins. Quite a deep defensive idea by Nepomniachtchi!
25.Qc2 g6 26.bxc3 bxa4?! Instead of this, Black could play 26…Qg7! 27.f4 g5!
Undermining White’s pawn chain and making White’s king uncomfortable. This idea would lead to Black’s advantage, but Nepomniachtchi missed it. His following moves gave up the initiative for White.
27.Qxa4 Rfd8 28.Ra1 c5 29.Qc4 Bxe4 30.Nxe4
Despite the lack of material, only White can play for a win in this position: Black’s king is vulnerable, the pawns are weak, and the pieces are passive. But objectively the position remains equal; it is only easier to play as White.
The players started some maneuvering: 30…Kh8 31.Nd6 Rb6 32.Qxc5 Rdb8 33.Kg2 a6 34.Kh3 A safe square for the king. 34…Rc6 35.Qd4 Kg8 36.c4 Qc7
This is another critical moment. Magnus was low on time and didn’t see how to improve his position comfortably. So he basically decided to force a draw by playing 37.Qg4. This move attacks the e6-pawn but allowed Black to sacrifice the exchange back. Nepomniachtchi happily used the chance to get rid of White’s annoying knight: 37…Rxd6 38.exd6 Qxd6 39.c5 Qxc5 40.Qxe6+ Kg7 41.Rxa6
At this point, it was attractive to take the pawn on f2 because after 41…Qxf2 42.Qe5+ Kh6 43.Qxb8, Black would win the rook back: 42…Qf1+ 43.Kh4 Qxa6. But White would have the last word: 44.Qf8#
Of course, Nepomniachtchi did not fall into this trap and easily defended the endgame: 41…Rf8 42.f4 Qf5+ 43.Qxf5 Rxf5
This rook ending is theoretically drawn. Both players knew that but still, kept playing. Magnus was hoping to put some practical problems, but Nepomniachtchi defended easily. 44.Ra7+ Kg8 45.Kg4 Rb5 46.Re7 Ra5 47.Re5 Ra7 48.h4 Kg7 49.h5 Kh6 50.Kh4 Ra1 51.g4 Rh1+ 52.Kg3 gxh5 53.Re6+ Kg7 54.g5 Rg1+ 55.Kf2 Ra1 56.Rh6 Ra4 57.Kf3 Ra3+ 58.Kf2 Ra4 The players agreed to a draw.
Both players had their chances today, but the score remains equal. So far it is delightful to follow the event: the players come up with interesting opening ideas and make creative decisions. It seems like we have 12 more exciting games ahead!
Throughout his career, Magnus many times has proved that the mistakes in his previous games do not affect his future play. The same cannot be told about the challenger. Will Nepomniachtchi be able to move on and forget about the missed possibilities in today’s game? Will the players repeat the line from the first game? How much material is there to be sacrificed yet? We will see tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Lennart Ootes, FIDE World FR Chess Championship 2019 – Magnus Carlsen, CC BY-SA 4.0
Etery Kublashvili, Ian Nepomniachtchi at Superfinal of the Russian Chess Championship, Satka, 2018, CC BY-SA 3.0