The sixth game of the match turned out to be one of the most epic and nerve-wracking games in the history of chess. It started with Magnus Carlsen coming up with a fresh concept in the opening. Perhaps he got tired of the challenger’s good preparation and tried to get an unknown position at all costs. Nepomniachtchi also felt courageous and put a lot of pressure on the current world champion.
The position remained equal for a long time but Magnus was experiencing serious issues with the time on the clock. At some point, he had only 3 minutes for 9 moves with no increment!
The challenger tried to exploit this and unbalance the position as much as possible. This all led to a long and exciting fight. Very long. The players made 136 moves. This is a new record of the World Championship matches. The previous longest game was played between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in Baguio back in 1978.
At the press conference, Magnus revealed, “I decided at some point, that I should make the game as long as possible so that we would both be as tired as possible when the critical moment came. That turned out to be a good strategy.”
This strategy not only set a new record but also stopped the series of draws in the World Championship matches. Now Magnus Carlsen took the lead, and the challenger will have to take more risks to even the score out.
But for now, let’s take a look at the great fight that happened today.
Carlsen, Magnus (2855) – Nepomniachtchi, Ian (2782) [D02]
FIDE World Championship 2021 Dubai (6.1), 03.12.2021
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3 White’s opening strategy for this game was to delay the c2-c4 push. White sometimes uses this approach to avoid certain lines, although it gives Black some other options as well. 3…e6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0–0 0–0
Still, 6.c4 is the most popular move in the position. This would transpose to the position in game 2, where Nepomniachtchi played 6…dxc4 7.Qc2 b5!?
Carlsen was definitely trying to avoid this line and get a game but it was not sure how exactly.
6.b3 A rare continuation. 6…c5 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.c4!? This is how!
Surprisingly, a new position in chess theory! This move was played only once by an unrated player back in 1995. Black won in that game.
8…dxc4 9.Qc2N This move is a novelty officially. 9…Qe7 10.Nbd2!? Sacrificing a pawn for activity.
Here Ian spent 13 minutes and decided to decline the sacrifice. It was reasonable to avoid complications since Magnus was obviously following his home analysis.
10…Nc6 After this move, White started thinking. Later Magnus confessed he couldn’t remember the details of his preparation and had to invent things over the board. 11.Nxc4 b5 12.Nce5 Nb4 13.Qb2 Bb7
After a series of forcing moves, White finally got a choice. 14.Bg5 would lead to interesting complications. For example, after 14…h6 15.Bh4! g5 16.a3, the following position would arise:
Most of Black’s moves will be met by the knight sacrifice on g5. Anish Giri wanted to see 14.Bg5 played so much that he even left a message for the players’ coaches Vladimir Potkin and Peter Heine Nielsen:
Instead, Magnus chose 14.a3 and we can’t complain: the show the players performed turned out to be great as well!
14…Nc6 15.Nd3 Bb6 16.Bg5 Rfd8 17.Bxf6
At this point, Black could play 17…Qxf6, entering a safe endgame. The game might have ended in a draw in that case. Instead, Ian Nepomniachtchi bravely went for a more complicated option, hoping to put more pressure on Magnus.
17…gxf6 18.Rac1 Nd4 19.Nxd4 Bxd4 20.Qa2 Bxg2 21.Kxg2 Qb7+ 22.Kg1 Qe4 23.Qc2 a5 24.Rfd1 Kg7 25.Rd2
This was another critical moment of the game. The position is objectively equal, and Black could proceed with conservative 25…f5 or 25…b5.
Instead, Ian played 25…Rac8. At the press conference, he said, “It was a good way to complicate things a little bit.” The position remains equal after this move but seems like it gave unnecessary chances to White. 26.Qxc8 Rxc8 27.Rxc8 Qd5 28.b4 a4 29.e3
At this point, Black could force a draw by using a little tactical trick 29…Bb2! Most likely Nepomniachtchi saw this move but was still hoping to win and tried to keep the tension, especially since Magnus had only 9 minutes with no increment for the next 10 moves.
30…Be5 30.h4! h5 31.Kh2! White’s last two moves did not change the evaluation of the position but created a lot of practical problems for Black. It immediately paid back. 31…Bb2? 32.Rc5! Qd6
Here both players missed the winning move 33.Rcc2! After 33…Bxa3 34.Nf4!, White suddenly launches a deadly attack on the kingside. For example, 34…Qxb4 35.Rd7!
White’s attack is too strong. At the press conference, Carlsen confessed he hadn’t seen this idea and commented on it, “It was far from obvious to give up your whole queenside like that. Maybe it wins, I don’t know.”
Instead, 33.Rd1?! was played. This move leads to Black’s advantage instead. Moreover, Magnus had only 3 minutes for the next 6 moves! 33…Bxa3 34.Rxb5 Qd7! Carlsen commented on this, “When I went for 33.Rd1, I just missed 34…Qd7. I thought I would be in time to eliminate those pawns.” 35.Rc5 e5!?
Black would get an advantage after a simple 35…Bxb4, but White had almost no time on the clock, so Ian decided to complicate matters. 36.Rc2 Qd5 Here again 36…Bxb4! was strong. But it was hard to see a beautiful tactical point behind it: 37.Rcc1 Ba3! 38.Ra1 Qg4! 37.Rdd2 Qb3 38.Ra2 At this point, Nepomniachtchi had 1 minute 27 seconds and made a mistake. But Magnus had only 32 seconds and was not in time to find the refutation! 38…e4? 39.Nc5 Qxb4 40.Nxe4?
Instead, 40.Rdc2 would lead to a winning position for White:
All of Black’s pieces are bad. White’s plan is simple: after let’s say 40…f5 41.Nxa4! Qxa4 42.Rc3, followed by Rxa3, the endgame will be easily winning.
Here each player got an additional hour on the clock. In the following stage of the game, Carlsen played extremely well. 41.Rac2 Bf8 42.Nc5! Qb5 43.Nd3 a3 44.Nf4 Qa5 45.Ra2 Bb4 46.Rd3 Kh6
After bringing the knight to f4, Carlsen puts his rooks on a2 and a1. Later, the knight can be maneuvered to c2 to capture the pawn. Black defends by creating tactical threats against White’s king.
47.Rd1 Qa4 48.Rda1 Bd6 49.Kg1 Qb3 50.Ne2 Qd3 51.Nd4 Kh7 52.Kh2 Qe4?
53.Rxa3! Black should have kept the queen preventing this sacrifice. If now 53…Bxa3 54.Rxa3, White will eventually collect Black’s weak pawns. That is why Nepomniachtchi chose another way: 53…Qxh4+ 54.Kg1 Qe4 55.Ra4 Be5
The endgame is unpleasant for Black. Carlsen managed to make a lot of progress.
56.Ne2 Qc2 57.R1a2 Qb3 58.Kg2 Qd5+ 59.f3 Qd1 60.f4 Bc7 61.Kf2 Bb6 62.Ra1 Qb3 63.Re4 Kg7 64.Re8 f5 65.Raa8 Qb4 66.Rac8 Ba5 67.Rc1 Bb6 68.Re5 Qb3 69.Re8 Qd5 70.Rcc8 Qh1 71.Rc1 Qd5 72.Rb1
72…Ba7? Black was basing the counterplay on targeting the e3-pawn, but 72…Bc7 would have been better. 73.Re7! Bc5 74.Re5 Qd3 75.Rb7! Qc2 76.Rb5 Ba7 77.Ra5 Bb6 78.Rab5 Ba7
79.Rxf5! Qd3 80.Rxf7+! A beautiful tactical idea. 80…Kxf7 81.Rb7+ Kg6 82.Rxa7 Qd5
White retains the advantage. Probably Black can hold with precise play, but it is extremely hard to do against Carlsen. Moreover, both players had almost no time on the clock, so it was similar to blitz.
83.Ra6+ Kh7 84.Ra1 Kg6 85.Nd4 Qb7 86.Ra2 Qh1 87.Ra6+ Kf7 88.Nf3 Qb1 89.Rd6 Kg7 90.Rd5 Qa2+ 91.Rd2 Qb1 92.Re2 Qb6
White tried to push the e-pawn; Black prevents it. Now White tries something else.
93.Rc2 Qb1 94.Nd4 Qh1 95.Rc7+ Kf6 96.Rc6+ Kf7 97.Nf3 Qb1 98.Ng5+ Kg7 99.Ne6+ Kf7 100.Nd4 Qh1 101.Rc7+ Kf6 102.Nf3 Qb1 103.Rd7 Qb2+ 104.Rd2 Qb1 105.Ng1!
Carlsen found a good setup: after Ne2 and Rd4, e3-e4 will be inevitable.
105…Qb4 106.Rd1 Qb3 107.Rd6+ Kg7 108.Rd4 Qb2+ 109.Ne2 Qb1 110.e4
110…Qh1 111.Rd7+ Kg8 112.Rd4 Qh2+ 113.Ke3 h4 Getting rid of the weakness and opening White’s king for a potential perpetual check. 114.gxh4 Qh3+ 115.Kd2 Qxh4
This is a drawn endgame according to endgame tablebases, but still, extremely unpleasant for Black to defend over the board. Nepomniachtchi shared his opinion on this, “It should be a draw. But in blitz, if you don’t know the correct setup as Black and if you maybe misplace your queen a little bit, it becomes tricky.”
Magnus himself was less sure in the positive outcome, “I thought it would most likely be a draw. But at some point, I got optimistic.”
116.Rd3 Kf8 117.Rf3 Qd8+ 118.Ke3 Qa5?! Stronger was 118…Qb6+, forcing White’s knight to d4. The move in the game allowed the knight to go to g3 and to cover White’s king.
119.Kf2 Qa7+ 120.Re3 Qd7 121.Ng3 Qd2+ 122.Kf3 Qd1+ 123.Re2 Qb3+ 124.Kg2 Qb7 125.Rd2 Qb3 126.Rd5 Ke7 127.Re5+ Kf7 128.Rf5+ Ke8 129.e5
After some maneuvering, White finally started advancing the pawns. It is still a draw according to the tablebases but it is too hard to defend.
129…Qa2+ 130.Kh3 Qe6? After this move, even tablebases think White is winning. 131.Kh4 Qh6+ 132.Nh5 Black is busted. 133…Qh7 133.e6! The pawn is untouchable thanks to the knight forks. 133…Qg6 134.Rf7 Kd8 135.f5 Qg1 136.Ng7
White’s king can hide from the checks on g8, so Black resigned.
After the longest game in the history of the World Championship matches, Magnus posted one of the shortest tweets:
There will not be enough time for him to celebrate the win, though. Tomorrow he will have to defend with the Black pieces.
Many people have predicted Nepomniachtchi would collapse after a first loss. Nevertheless, he seemed to be holding well at the press conference, “It wasn’t the most pleasant game. But anyways, life goes on. It is not a big deal.”
Maurice Ashley asked him, “Ian, how do you bounce back?”
The Russian replied, “Hopefully, in style!”
Nepomniachtchi’s courage in this match when he could have gone for the draw several times, is to be applauded. One wonders if the incremental burden on both players as each additional draw played out, was starting to affect their play? So will we now see more actual results as Ian plays catchup, or will it go back to a remorseless series of draws once more I wonder?
Move 9. Qc2N. Is that a typo?
Good catch. Not sure where the ‘N’ came from 🙂
Hello Joel, thank you for your interest.
In the chess annotation system, “N” or “TN” indicates a theoretical novelty, i.e. the first move to deviate from previously known games.
It is usually interesting to see which move is a novelty. If it comes too early, it shows there was a fresh idea in the game. If a novelty happens, let’s say, on move 30, it shows how deep the preparation was.
Early novelties are rare but valuable nowadays. This is another reason why this game was so fascinating.