Dubai: Game two of the FIDE World Championship gave viewers a glimpse of what may be a pivotal over-the-board battlefield as titleholder Magnus Carlsen set the pace with the advantage of the first move today.
Fully focused, the champion chose to play the Catalan Opening against challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, and just as in game one, there was an intriguing psychological dance in the first phase of play. This plunged the challenger into long thought surprisingly early, and it soon appeared that Carlsen had succeeded in snaring his opponent in a dangerous line doubtless prepared in his training camp.
US grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, the previous world title challenger, called the development of the first stage of the game for the challenger “any player`s ultimate nightmare ” – getting caught in a sharp position of your opponent`s preparation.
Although it is too early to declare a trend after two drawn games, it is impossible to ignore the unexpected sight of the supposedly quiet Carlsen intent on sacrificing material to create pressure and a more solid stance from the normally aggressive challenger.
Despite the fierce early pressure on Nepomniachtchi, the immense complexity of the position meant that one slip from Carlsen could swing the balance – and that slips were in high supply.
Experts pointed to Carlsen`s 17th (17.Ne5) move as inaccurate, and there was visual confirmation as the challenger suddenly began to play at his patented high speed, while the champion began to burn thinking time, realizing that he would have to sacrifice even more material to avoid a grim defence.
The challenger appeared to let some of his edge slip with some patented swift play, and as the position began to clarify, the champion clawed his way to safety.
Game two was a breathtaking clash, with champion Carlsen getting an early grip on both board and clock.
The players confirmed this in the post-game press conference, with Magnus admitting he had totally overlooked Ian`s 18th move, and that he then realized he was in danger rather than in the ascendancy.
Carlsen summarized the match so far as `atypical of both players`, explaining that the games were just fights and that it might settle down later.
The question of colours
Although the advantage of the first move carries a clear statistical superiority, it is quite common for the reverse possibility to come up for debate during a title match – might there be more positives to playing with the black pieces in the unusual setting of a lengthy one-on-one duel?
Historically, this often resulted in some probing in the early stages, with the white player gradually and cautiously discovering where his opponent had decided to fight.
Based on reporting by the official Website of the FIDE World Championship.