FIDE World Chess Championship Game 2: Adventurous Carlsen Scrambles For Draw

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The reigning world chess champion, GM Magnus Carlsen, from Norway, and his Russian challenger, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, faced each other today in the second game of their FIDE World Championship 2021 match in Dubai. After some trickery in the opening and interesting—but not necessarily accurate—moves in the middlegame by Magnus, and some too-quick responses by the Russian challenger, game two ended in another draw. In other off-the-board news, an NKR employee covering the event tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday. The third round is scheduled for tomorrow, again, at 16:30 Dubai (13:30 CET, 4:30 a.m. Pacific).

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Yesterday’s game ended in a draw after 45 moves. Nepomniachtchi achieved a slight opening advantage, but the titleholder soon put him under some serious pressure in the middlegame when both players were on their own and seized the initiative in the kind of position he feels most comfortable with, only for Nepo to neutralize with accurate play in the endgame (which is usually the world champion’s strong field). With both players being visibly not too excited about this outcome in the press conference, the spectators (and probably the two players themselves) were hoping for a decisive game today.

The players shaking hands ready to start their second fight of the match.
The players shake hands and are ready to start the second game of their match in Dubai. Photo: Eric Rosen/FIDE.

As soon as the two players entered the carefully-assembled stage behind the glass wall that separates the spectators and the players, all eyes were on Carlsen’s first-move choice for his first game with the white pieces. Already, when yesterday’s draw was settled, the internet started to launch all kinds of speculations about Magnus’ opening choice for today.

We remember he chose to play 1.d4 against GM Fabiano Caruana in his first game with White the last time he defended his title in 2018. Would he take, today, this same approach even though the game against Caruana ended in a draw or would he perhaps be bold enough to play 1.e4, as Nepo did yesterday, and risk entering his opponent’s comfort zone of the Najdorf Defense? Even 1.c4, the English Opening, or some sort of hybrid combination arising from the move 1.c4 was proposed by Chess.com’s own IM Daniel Rensch on the live broadcast just a few minutes before the game started.

Chess.com’s Twitter followers had their own take on how the game would go.

Magnus Carlsen psychologically challenging his oponent
The world champion psychologically challenging his opponent before the real first move. Photo: Eric Rosen/FIDE

Nepomniachtchi replied with 1. …Nf6 and Carlsen indeed went 2.c4 here. After a couple of more moves by each player, they found themselves in a classical line of the Catalan, an opening Carlsen recently used often in the FIDE World Cup 2021. Carlsen continued to reply very quickly to the challenger’s moves with moves that didn’t come that naturally to the Russian. This proved to commentator GM Fabiano Caruana how good the Norwegian’s opening preparation was, and he added: “If Nepo continues to play into Magnus’ preparation, he will be okay for a while, but soon he’ll be playing into the computer and that surely won’t be good for him.”

If Nepo continues to play into Magnus’ preparation—he will be okay for a while—but soon he’ll be playing into the computer and that surely won’t be good for him.

—GM Fabiano Caruana


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On move 11 for Black, Nepomniachtchi’s struggle in the position became more obvious as it took him a while to find his response, 11…Qd7, to 11.Nf3. Now Magnus decided to force Black to make a decision about its knight on d5 with 12.e4 and, here, the best move according to GM Caruana “is 11. …Nb4 if Ian doesn’t want to get his knight nearly trapped and lose all control of White’s queenside.” Obviously, the top Russian player saw this and, after 11…Nb4, the world champion, without wasting even a minute, went 12.Qe2 and the Russian just replied just as fast with 13. …Nd3. This left Carlsen in his thoughts for a while on how to proceed with the game with visibly accelerated breathing and one hour and 42 minutes on his clock while Nepomniachtchi had one hour and 13 minutes, to be exact, left. Finally, 14.e5 was played with our commentators agreeing that Carlsen was definitely out of his opening preparation by now but with an extremely good knowledge of the position. 14. …Bb7 was Nepomniachtchi’s immediate reply, leading to a very sharp position for Black, according to GM Fabiano Caruana.

By move 19, Magnus had offered a second pawn sacrifice with the engine not particularly liking his move and giving Black a slight advantage, but guest commentator GM Hou Yifan found it very interesting and—if well-calculated (which she was sure that Magnus had)—very acceptable.

It took Carlsen a long while to decide on 19.Nd6 19. …Nb3 and, again, a move by White the engine did not prefer: 20.Rb1. However, Caruana pointed out that White had plenty of game still. After some minor-piece exchanges and both players with less than an hour on their clocks, the position looked more promising for the Russian challenger than for the titleholder.

On move 27, the position on the board was starting to look pretty drawish to our Chess.com commentators. There had been some small mistakes by Carlsen and inaccuracies by Nepomniachtchi, but three hours after the confusing inaugural move was made, a draw indeed seemed to be approaching. In the meantime, someone could find many interesting variations that White and Black could have played in the middlegame.

By move 31, the position was completely equal and the now it was obvious that Magnus didn’t manage to get an advantage even with his good opening preparation—similarly to Nepomniachtchi yesterday with the white pieces. As the players approached move 40, when 60 extra minutes would be added, the memories of the 12 draws in the last world championship came to mind. By move 33, the players had entered the endgame with Magnus down the exchange for a pawn. Both players were left without any real winning chances, but according to GM Fabiano Caruana, Black was slightly in danger and had to be careful.

Little maneuvers from both sides which could have forced a draw were now played and explained by the commentary team. The players were visibly less motivated than at the beginning of their game now that all winning chances for both sides had vanished. Still, they were fighting hard to squeeze all they could out of their respective positions. Meanwhile, our commentators couldn’t help it and started to get a bit anxious too about the possible outcome of this world championship game. Especially the move 34.Kh3 shocked them:

With fewer than four minutes on the clock, the reigning world champion still managed to create some problems for Black and leave the challenger only with uncomfortable answers to his moves. “I think right now it’s also a matter of pride,” Caruana added. On move 39, the tension between the players and the playing hall seemed to have infected the commentators also and definitely the online viewers.

The suspense rose as Magnus’ clock was running out of time, Nepomniachtchi having four minutes more. Then, finally, after a pawn exchange, both players received their extra time and the audience was seemingly able to breathe again, lean back, and eventually hope for their favorites to hold this endgame to a draw or for Carlsen to squeeze water out of stone. Both players, visibly relieved, left the playing hall for a few minutes to collect their thoughts and plan their strategy for the next moves; they had an endgame in which White had an extra pawn, but it was a theoretical draw.

After they both came back to the board, the players proceeded to play their endgame quite quickly, exchanging queens on move 42…Qf5+ 43.Qxf5 Rxf5. By move 47, Magnus managed to control Black’s space, but the objective evaluation of the game was still equal. The game continued for many more moves with the world champion really trying to show his superiority in endgames, but Caruana commentated: “It won’t work without Ian helping him because this is really a draw.”

Finally, a draw was agreed on move 58 with Caruana mentioning this was still a good outcome for White (referring to Carlsen’s pawn sacrifice for insufficient compensation) and that Nepomiachtchi had clearly missed some winning chances.

Another draw
Finally day two of the FIDE World Championship 2021 ends in another draw. Photo: Eric Rosen/FIDE.

Prior to this move, White offered a second pawn sacrifice (on e5)! 18. …Nac5, a strong move, improves the knight on a6 and, importantly, declines the pawn sacrifice. Instead, 18. …Nxe5 is met by 19.Ng5 and white threatens Black’s knight on e5 and x-rays the pawn on e6, also with ideas of axb5 in some lines. Instead, Black prudently improves the worst-placed piece, threatens to trade knights and simplify the position, and threatens Nb3 to win the exchange, as in the game. Review the game’s key moments, get coaching explanations, retry mistakes, and more with Chess.com’s revolutionary Game Review tool

Carlsen Nepo World Chess

Chess.com Game Of The Day Collection






Fed Name Rtg 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 Score
Magnus Carlsen 2855 ½ .½ . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2782 ½ ½ . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

The players were visibly tired and a bit deflated when they arrived at the press conference. To the question about what they can do to stop their thoughts from racing, Nepomniachtchi answered, smiling: “Nothing. You can go for a walk and listen to some music, but your thoughts are always with the game.” Magnus, for his part, just said: “Prepare on for the next game.” At the idea that he might get White in some of the final games because colors wouldn’t be changed halfway in this world championship, Magnus nodded and replied to the reporter who pointed this out that he is happy about that.

Several questions were asked about Carlsen’s choice of his Catalan Opening and about how Nepomniachtchi felt meeting it. Chess.com’s Mike Klein asked Nepomnichtchi how he enjoyed the luxurious treatment in Dubai as the challenger, to which the player answered that he cared “more about the chess than about anything else,” but that “I should probably be enjoying it in some way.”

Both players were a bit more relaxed at the end of the press conference and Carlsen even had some energy left for a joke when he was asked which elite player’s commentary of the world championship he’d enjoy the most if he weren’t playing in it himself: “I honestly don’t care,” he replied, laughing, and the audience laughed too.


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