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Carlsen vs Nepo World Championship 2021 Game 2: They are also human

by Sagar Shah - 28/11/2021

After the first game ended in a draw, everyone was excited to see what is it that Magnus would choose as his opening move in game two. The World Champion went for 1.d4 and surprisingly played the Catalan. But there were even more surprises in store! First Nepo playing the trendy ...b5 line in the Open Catalan, Magnus going for the speculative Ne5!? It was a game where the moves suggested by the engines and the way human beings think did not match! It was a game where both sides risked to lose. It was a game worthy of a World Championship match. We bring you the full coverage. 

A thriller with swinging fortunes

By Sagar and Amruta from Dubai

The spectators were on the edge of their seats! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

No one was moving! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Even Grandmaster Salem AR Saleh, the top rated player from UAE, was glued to his seat | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Vishy Anand and Anna Muzychuk, the official commentators, were frantically going over the variations and the fact that none of them use an engine gives the audience the right picture as to how complicated the game actually is. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi decided to treat the viewers with some daring play in the 2nd game of the World Championship 2021. There were 3 moments in particular which I would like to discuss. They show that although chess at the top level is heavily influenced by engines and preparation with engines, the human element still exists. That too in a huge way!

Let the games begin! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Moment no.1

This is an absolutely shocking move played by Magnus. Is it a bluff? The engines definitely think so!

A screenshot of what the engines have to say. a4 is by far the best move in the position by leaps and bounds. Ne5?! is way inferior than a4!?

The World Champion is going for psychological battles | Photo: Amruta Mokal

There seems to be a small pattern developing here. Magnus seems to be aware of the firepower that Ian carries in terms of his seconds and the supercomputer which he has at his disposal. And so, rather than going into mainline territory where everything has been worked out by Nepo's team, Magnus is challenging the Challenger to an over-the-board fight by going into slightly inferior lines, but in that way, he could be sure that Nepo hasn't looked at those positions in depth with the engines and his seconds. While two games is not a big enough sample size to make this observation, Na5!? in game one and Ne5!? in game two had quite similar ring to it.

Coming back to Ne5!? Why is the move inferior to a4? The point is that Black is able to play Nd5 and at the right moment kick the knight away with f6, which results in White losing a few tempi. However, when a top player like Magnus prepares such openings, he goes deeper into the aspects of the position like the weakness of the e6 pawn and how White should try and create play. That's the reason why, even though the engines dislike the move Ne5, practically it is an excellent decision.

Moment No.2

Let's have a look at this position. It is so so complex. In fact White has so many ways to continue that it can get really confusing. There are two moves that come to mind. One is to take on f6 which forces gxf6 in order to cover the e5 square. And the other one is Be3. But there are other moves possible as well - say b3 or Rd1. What Magnus did here was jump with his knight to e5.

The move makes a lot of sense. If you are not able to take twice on e5 then this really should be a good move because you get the d6 square for the knight. And you really cannot take twice on e5 because of Ng5 ideas. So for example - Nxe5 dxe5 Bxe5 fails to Ng5 and Black is in big big trouble. But Magnus missed something here. Ian took on e5 with his bishop Bxe5 dxe5 and now brought his knight into the game with Nac5!

As Magnus mentioned in the press conference, this was the move that he had missed. At the back of his mind Magnus would have been pleased with the fact that dxe5 gives him the d6 square for his knight. However, what he missed is that the knight coming to c5 and b3 is stronger. It forks the rook and the bishop and White is losing material. Now taking on c5 Nxc5 Nxc5 would mean that the black knight is coming back to d3 and Black would be better. Hence, Magnus decided to take his chances with Nd6. Black jumped with his knight to b3.

At this point Magnus had a decision to make. Should he play his bishop to e3 or his rook to b1. Be3 looks better because you are able to keep your dark squared bishop and that seems to be good compensation for the missing exchange and a pawn. However, the knight on d3 was a big pain for Magnus. He wanted to see it go away. Hence, he played the move Rb1 allowing more pieces to be exchanged from the board, but overall the World Champion was happy that the knight on d3 no longer existed.

Moment No.3

If you count the material you will see that White is an exchange + a pawn down. But Black has to figure out how to activate his bishop on a8. What Ian had in mind was to take on a4 and then execute the move c5 to exchange the powerful bishop on e4. But after bxa4 it seems like Bxh7+ is a very dangerous move to face. Kxh7 Qh5+ Kg8 and now the rook lift with Rd4. Although this position is not lost, when you see variations like these you start to understand that White has some real attacking chances. At this point, humans tend to lose their cool. Which is exactly what happened with Nepo. He played the move ...c3, basically trying to distract White from his kingside attack. The engine shows ...g6 instead to be a powerful move. It doesn't fear h4-h5 ideas and goes about the conversion without any real issues! That's another reason why humans are still not able to play like the engines. At some point in the game, the emotions do seem to overpower cool and rational calculations!

Complete game analysis by IM Sagar Shah

Garry Kasparov visited the venue briefly before the start of the game. Here he is with Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan | Photo: Niki Riga

The post-game press conference

Transcribed by Satanick Mukhuty

Watch the full post-game press conference

Carlsen looked in deep thoughts during the press conference. He seemed to be still thinking about the game! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The game could have gone either way! Nepo was a tad disappointed at missing some opportunities but was also relieved that he didn't lose out of the opening | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Maurice Ashley: It was a very exciting game, and it seems the fans enjoyed it a lot. My first question is to you Magnus: you spent a long time before sacrificing the exchange, what was going through your mind? And what made you think that you had to this at this point of the game?

Carlsen: I kind of missed this move Nc5. I thought I was doing fine and was mainly focusing on other tries like, for instance, Nb4, after which I can lodge my knight firmly on d6. But somehow the move Nc5 completely escaped my attention. That was a pretty unpleasant surprise. And then I thought if I trade, my position after Nd3 would be very unpleasant. So it was simply out of necessity (I gave up the exchange). But I did take some solace in the fact that you usually need to work very hard to win such positions as Black. I thought I at least had reasonable fighting chances, but (all of this) certainly wasn't intentional.


Maurice Ashley: Well, Ian, when you saw that you were getting this opportunity and that you would be winning an exchange, were you optimistic about your chances?

Nepomniachtchi: Well, clearly, it was obvious that Na6-c5 was missed by Magnus. I thought the position was suddenly getting very nice for Black. Be3 was called for to keep things under control. Then after Rb8-Ba8 Black is nearly winning. It's actually all about converting the material with bxa4 and c5. However, I should give credit to Magnus. He played in an interesting way. Be4 was a very nice resource. Actually, it started to look pretty double-edged. Perhaps c3 was a little bit of a human reaction, making sure I wasn't getting mated. So after c3 it was more or less equal. I had to play g6. Later after bxc3, I think I still had some chances with Qg7 and g5, but okay, that's actually what I have been told on my way here to the press conference. In general, it was I think a very puzzling game. And I would say during the game we both thought we were playing not so well. But now that I think of it, the game was actually very interesting.


Maurice: Magnus, he (Ian) seemed to be playing very quickly. Basically, just coming to the board, making moves and getting up. Did that unnerve you at any point?

Carlsen: I just reckoned he was thinking in the restroom. Yes, it was a bit unusual, but I really didn't think much of it.


Maurice: Ian, in both games so far Magnus has sacrificed a pawn for activity. Do you think this is going to be a running strategy throughout the match?

Nepo: Well, I guess, the initiative in the first game was questionable. This was a Catalan, and Catalan is always very sharp if you go into these positions. You are basically giving up a pawn for this superb pawn center, but I actually don't know to what end!


Maurice: Magnus, you were in trouble at one point. Did you feel you had any winning chances at any point?

Magnus: Yeah...I didn't feel I had any great chances per se. But I did feel my position was improving quite a bit. But when I went for Qg4, my time was ticking down a bit. I didn't see a way to comfortably improve my position, so I decided to force a draw there. That (after Qg4) was probably the best position I had in the game, but I didn't see a good way to improve. Obviously, after what had transpired before, it was nice to have a completely safe position. If it had been a must-win game, I might have treated it a bit differently.


Maurice: Ian, were you satisfied with the way the game went for you today with the black pieces?

Nepo: Well, the game was just crazy. I didn't have any idea of what was going on. In the beginning, White was definitely pressing. The structure with f6, e6, c6, and queen on d6 might work for Black, but it just looks very ugly. I still have very mixed feelings about the game. I think we both missed some winning chances. But it's nice that at some point I was pressing. In the end, it was clear that this knight on d6 was better than my rook. Hence, Rxd6 was called for. Then I saw Qxf2 was losing in a brilliant way (both players chuckle), so I decided to go for a drawn ending instead!

Maurice: Magnus, you have played two games so far with Ian. What kind of an opponent do you think he is proving to be?

Carlsen: Well, it's hard to say. I think it's been, for a lack of better word, difficult for both of us. I guess, we will see.


Magnus on how the games have been atypical so far:

"The games aren't following any clear pattern, I would say. They have frankly been different from what I've seen. There's no specific pattern as to what anyone is trying to do. It's just a fight. We will see if eventually the match settles down."


Ian Nepomniachtchi on relaxation during the match:

"Nothing prevents you from thinking what's going on. I do go for walks and listen to music, but that don't really keep the thoughts from racing. A World Championship Match always takes a toll on your mind."


Magnus on analysing with Ian after the game:

"I think it's interesting to talk chess with somebody who understands it so well. I think it also helps you to unwind in a way, especially after a game like this one which had so much content."

Magnus on the time control:

"I very much welcome the change that has been made here. I think it's generally better and more exciting to have no increment till the first time control. It puts more emphasis on time management." 

Nepo on Magnus' 8.Ne5

"Ne5 is by far not the most popular move, it has an interesting idea behind it, and yes, I had a tough time facing it over the board."


Carlsen on Nepo's ...b5 in the opening

"b5 is a move that is played a lot nowadays. So, it wasn't much of a surprise. And my Ne5, as Ian pointed out, was a bitr unusual. I think it leads to a lot sharper play than the normal lines."

A final question, with funny answers by both Nepo and Carlsen

Photo Gallery by Amruta Mokal

Dvorkovich: "Magnus what is the move I should make?" | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Carlsen: "I am not going to reveal my first move!" | Photo: Amruta Mokal

1.e4 it is! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Getting ready for a long day of commentary! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The two official photographers of the event - Eric Rosen and Niki Riga | Photo: Amruta Mokal

A thoughtful gesture by FIDE to place some food in the press room | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Spanish youngsters got a great opportunity to take a picture with Vishy | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The nice thing is that a lot of youngsters come to watch the match! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

And they also spend time playing chess outside the premises! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

There are three types of tickets available - the standard and accessible cost AED 95 per game. And the Premium is a whopping AED 1900! | Photo: Amruta Mokal
Shabaz tells us more about the tickets and whether you need an Expo ticket as well to enter the World Championship Match premises

Tania Sachdev does many interviews throughout the day. One among them was with the FIDE President Arkadij Dvorkovich. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The man who dons many hats - Maurice Ashley. Maurice is there at the start of the game to introduce the players, he is covering the event for the popular NBC channel and he is also the host the post-game conference. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The Match Craze in Russia

While we see a lot of action taking place at the venue in Dubai, what's happening in Russia? After all chess is one of the most popular sports in the country and challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi can bring home the World Championship trophy which has been missing for almost 15 years now. The most famous departmental store/shopping mall in Russia called GUM facing Red Square in the Kitai-gorod area, is host to the lively commentary of Sergey Shipov and Dina Belenkaya.

A dedicated space for chess commentary inside the huge store! | Photo: Nina Bodenchuk

GM Sergey Shipov and WGM Dina Belenkaya bring in their insights and the live footage from the venue is shown on the big screen! | Photo: Nina Bodenchuk

There is also space for the audience to sit and watch the live commentary | Photo: Nina Bodenchuk

And a lot of people do visit and enjoy the action! | Photo: Nina Bodenchuk

Video Gallery

Raw footage before the start of the game
Feel the tension inside the playing hall

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