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Tuesday, January 25 2022

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FIDE Dubai 2021 Day 7: Back to the grind

Dubai: Yesterday history was made, with the longest game ever in the world championship ending in a 136-move victory for defending champion Magnus Carlsen. Although the result could be easily ascribed to the champion`s legendary ability to squeeze slow wins from nano-advantages, the dramatic game raises more complex talking points, examining it the morning after.

Even though several key in-game choices, and both players, indicated that this record tussle flared up thanks to mutual efforts, in the second-hand excitement and adrenaline, it was easy to overlook challenger Ian `Nepo` Nepomniachtchi`s role in the epic struggle. Despite playing with the statistical disadvantage of the black pieces, Ian was clearly feeling confident enough with his form and position to try to create winning chances once he had neutralised Carlsen`s first move initiative.

Carlsen was taking minor chances of his own trying to keep the position alive and was slightly surprised to see his opponent doing the same: “I felt like we were both risking a bit, but I thought maybe Black was risking a bit more. And it meant that we would get a serious struggle that I was happy with.” The champion eventually emerged the winner after an immense technical grind, with both players left with minimal time for the last 75 moves of the game.

The result aside, the game revealed that despite very conservative appearances in his early white games, the challenger is lacking neither confidence nor ambition. Experts have debated whether Ian`s slightly hesitant approach when playing white might be due to an ill-fitting match plan and that he may be itching to let loose his more aggressive style.

It is too early to draw conclusions, but his attitude at the board and demeanour off suggest that we may soon see a more `typical` Nepomniachtchi, especially since he now has no choice but to crank up the chaos factor to fight back – the only question being when. An indicator of how tough this can be is Carlsen`s world record of 125 consecutive games without defeat at the elite level, set over a period of 26 months.

The challenger’s long think on move 20 created the possibility of wholesale material exchanges, which commentator Judit Polgar, the strongest woman player in history, called a silent draw offer. In the following moves, the board was emptied, and a draw was the inevitable result, with the players going through the motions to reach move 40 when peace can be agreed without a repetition of moves.

What makes this match special is that Nepomniachtchi has one of the best one-on-one records against Carlsen, even if his edge was set when they were battling pre-teen prodigies. Guryev`s hesitant but correct guess of 1.e4 is allowed to remain on the board, Ian only adjusts it slightly, and they are off. As he plays and writes down the first few moves, he props his head up lazily on his left hand. The battleground is familiar from all of Nepomniachtchi`s white games in Dubai, and Carlsen aims for safety, playing to neutralise the first move and reach very solid equality.

The eighth game takes place tomorrow, Dec 5, with champion Magnus Carlsen having the advantage of the first move.

 By Courtesy of Official Website of the FIDE (International Chess Federation) World Championship

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