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Carlsen vs Nepo World Championship 2021 Game 8: Be Water, my friend!

by Sagar Shah - 06/12/2021

A game of chess is often like a marathon. At the start you might not feel up to the task, but as your body gets warmed up, you start enjoying yourself. You start flowing! This is exactly what happened with Magnus Carlsen in game 8 of the World Championship Match 2021. He had come with an intention to draw the game, but a few suspect decisions by Nepo and Magnus was in his element. The game was still very much under control and it looked like we were moving towards a draw, when Nepo blundered big time. With this win Carlsen, has become a huge favourite to win the match. He is already leading 5-3 with 6 games to go. For Nepo things are absolutely clear, he has to go all out!

Magnus Carlsen is running away with the match 5-3

Report from Dubai by Sagar and Amruta


"Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Be water my friend." - Bruce Lee


A good chess player in the best mindset doesn't let anything apart from the chess board dictate his mood. If the chess board asks him to attack, he attacks. If his position asks him to defend, he defends. Basically, the variations are formless, they are shapeless! They take the shape of what the chess board asks him to do. But this is the most ideal scenario. Things do not always happen in the most ideal fashion. Game 8 is a story of how Magnus Carlsen wasn't feeling the best, to how he went into the water like mode. Let me take you through how it happened. 

Magnus Carlsen arrives to the game with his long time second and trainer Peter Heine Nielsen | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Ian Nepomniachtchi arrives to the game with his head trainer Vladimir Potkin and Eteri Kublashvili from the Russian Chess Federation | Photo: Amruta Mokal
The video of Magnus Carlsen entering the game in a focused mood and the first move by a famous footballer

Phase 1: Magnus feels tired

Magnus Carlsen opened the game with 1.e4. It is quite interesting as to why the World Champion would opt for his king pawn, when the queen pawn has served him well in this match! The reason is not very clear, but it could be that Magnus considers 1.e4 to be more stable theoretically and because he is ahead in the match, Magnus doesn't fear the solid Petroff or the Berlin.

The opening move of the game was done by former Real Madrid football star Michel Salgado | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Nepo's choice of Petroff as black did not come as a surprise. Although he was trailing one full point in the match, this was the game where he would try to be solid and then press in his game as White after the rest day.

In the above postion 7.Nd2 has only been played 48 times. The move 0-0 instead has been played 4584 times!

Complete Symmetry is always nice to see! Black's last move ...Bd6 wasn't the most accurate. At least it was easier for White to play after it.

Magnus castled and suddenly you realize that Black cannot castle because Qh5 is very powerful. It hits the h7 pawn as well as d5. This one extra tempo, which seems insignificant at first is suddenly quite important.

Nepo after some thought pushed his pawn to ...h5. It was difficult to understand if Nepo was still in his preparation or had he made a mini-error with ...Bd6 and was now being forced to innovate with moves like ...h5. We asked him this question after the game and this is what he had to say:

"Nd2 is obviously not the mainline, I would say. But it can be quite poisonous. I believe I have played it myself with White at least once, and of course I have studied it. Perhaps Bd6 isn't the most precise move, but in general I think the position is quite balanced and Black has a lot of different tries. The h5 idea, I believe it exists. At least, in the Nc3 line I believe it's quite smart. I was trying to understand the difference, and then I thought it was quite playable even in this case. Okay, Black has his own benifits, like Qh4 provoking g3, then Qf6 and h4 or something like this. So I thought it would be interesting to see what's going on in this position after it became slightly unbalanced."


Magnus thought for a massive 41 minutes after Ian played ...h5!? A player of Magnus' calibre does understand that when the opponent's king is in the center, the most natural ideas are Re1+ or c4 or Qf3. However, for this very moment Magnus started to feel quite tired. The 8-hour duel in game 6 had been hard on him. He didn't feel like fighting. These are the situations that are the most difficult. You know that there exists a good move, but you don't feel like making it. It's not just the board, but also your body that you listen to when making a decision. Usually this is not a good idea, but in this particular case Magnus decided to go ahead with it. 

Qe1+ is a tacit draw offer. Why? Because Black can just go Qe7 and White has to exchange the queens.

Magnus explains his decision in the following manner, "I would say my brain was just fried and a sharp battle was not in my interest. I was trying to calculate lines but I didn't see any good results from any of these more principled options. So I just went Qe1 and thought after Qe7 it would probably be a draw, and I would have been fine with that... I didn't know the move h5. If I had known it, I wouldn't think for 40 minutes and played a move that's so insipid." It was an interesting psychological moment for Ian, who said, "After h5 I was expecting a more tense game. But Qe1 is an excellent practical decision, right? Offering a draw silently!"


It's a funny moment this Qe1. Because somewhere Magnus was hoping for two things - Qe7 where he could exchange the queens and go home early with a draw. And direct Kf8!? So that he could play Bb4 to exchange the bishops and keep the game going. The question is - if Magnus wants to keep the game going after Kf8, why did he not want it going with say Re1+ or c4 instead Qe1. It's the nature of these positions that are different. The position after Qe1+ Kf8 Bb4 is a risky free one which Magnus felt comfortable playing. The position with Re1+ or c4 seemed double edged to him with all the Qh4 ideas in the position! It's interesting how your mind is fried up for one kind of position and not fried for another! In Bruce Lee's words, Magnus' thinking didn't flow like water in this position.

But once Ian played ...Kf8, things switched! All of a sudden Magnus had this energy flowing within him. He felt confident about his position and the next phase of the game was conducted very well. Why did Nepo go for ...Kf8 instead of Qe7? Nepo: "Okay, I just didn't see a big difference. I thought even after Kf8 it was anyway a draw.

It was clear that Nepo was not in his element and could not make his decision clearly. | Photo: Eric Rosen

Phase 2: When you start to flow

Have you ever felt that when you begin your run, you feel uncomfortable. You are not in your rhythm, your footsteps are somehow not harmonious, your breathing is a bit strained. But when you have run for a few minute, you feel good about yourself! The rhythm is back! You start to get in the flow! You start to become water, once again. That's exactly what happened with Magnus.

Magnus got himself readjusted to the new situation. That's what champions are very good at. They might not be at the top of their game a 100% of their times, but they are very close to it. | Photo: Eric Rosen

With c4!? Carlsen was already pressing and putting pressure on Nepo

Nepo took on c4 with dxc4 and after Bxc4 something quite shocking happened.

Phase 3: The blunder

With 58 minutes on his clock, Nepo thought for 4 minutes and rattled out the move...

...b5? Can you figure out why this move is a mistake?

The thing that often happens in chess is that you make a move and instantly see why it was wrong! You just couldn't figure it before making the move, but you spot it instantly after making it! And then you quickly look at your opponent to see if he has seen it or not!

The following series of pictures captured by Eric Rosen encapsulate Nepo's mood quite accurately.

"That looks really bad"

"How could I have done it?"

"I am simply losing a pawn!"

"I can't sit still anymore, let me get away from the board!"

Magnus found the best move with Qa3+ and all of a sudden Nepo had realized what had gone wrong! He had blundered the pawn on a7 because either his bishop on d7 would be hanging (after Kg8 Qxa7) or there is a mate issue (after Qd6 Qxa7 with the idea of Qa8+).

After Qa3+ Nepo moved his king to g8 and Carlsen picked up the a7 pawn. With it he was a pawn up and very close to his second victory in the match.

Phase 4: Winning the won game

At this moment Nepo did not come out of his resting room for quite some time. He must have been trying to calm himself down away from the eyes of the camera. But when you make a basic error like ...b5? it's very difficult to fight back. Most of your time is spent on cursing yourself, as to how you missed such an easy idea. However, all was not over. An interesting variation here begin after Bxh3!? With this move Black is still within the realms of trying to hold the game. The most natural moves after Re8+ Kh7 Bxf7 fails to?

Why is this a mistake? It also threatens the deadly Rh8+! Kxh8 and Qa8+ with a mate coming up. However, Black has a deadly move in the above position. Nepo had not seen it, but Magnus had! The move was ..Rg6! White is in some trouble and Bxg6 loses the game to Qxg6 with a double attack on g2 and e8. After ...Rg6 white has to find some complex defensive ideas with Rh8+ Kxh8 Qa8+ Kh7 Qg8+ Kh6 Qh8+ Kg5 Bxg6 followed by taking on h3. The position is drawn there.

Most likely Magnus would have taken the pawn on f7 with his queen. But after Qxf7 Bxf7 Bf5 it seems like Black is still in with a fighting chance.

What I found absolutely amazing was how Magnus had his guards up even in a better position. He was looking at the best options for his opponent. He was completely focused.| Photo: Amruta Mokal

The small extract from the press conference where Carlsen and Nepo start talking with each other and discuss some lines!

Nepo did not defend well and very soon landed in a terrible position.

A move like ...Be6 is akin to resignation! You are a pawn down and you are exchanging all the pieces. Carlsen chopped twice on e6 and converted his material advantage in the queen endgame without too much trouble.

The way Magnus Carlsen switched gears in between the game was truly commendable. From not flowing at all at the start, he played 100% as per the demands of the position from move 11 onwards! | Photo: Eric Rosen

The only good news for Nepo in all of this is that his strategy is now crystal clear. He has to go all out and look for two wins in the next 6 games! Will he manage to do that? We do not know! But what we know is that the games are going to be very exciting starting from Round 9 on 7th of December 2021!

The complete game analysis by IM Sagar Shah

Post-Game Press conference Round 8

By Satanick Mukhuty

The entire press conference of the match along with a chess board embedded in it for the questions where the players talk about chess

Maurice: Ian, I know it's a difficult moment for you. Thank you very much for joining us. Certain questions will be difficult for you to answer, but they need to be asked. The first question I have is about the mistake: why did it happen?

Ian: Well, I don't think those questions are difficult because in another iteration it would be a draw like in 15 moves after Qe1 Qe7. But I would say it was a series of weird decisions starting with Kf8. It was somewhat more artificial than just Qe7, trading off the queens and basically finishing the game quickly. But even that wasn't a very big deal, it still is a natural position and almost equal. But after h4 and c4 it became slightly, slightly unpleasant. Perhaps instead of h4 I could have just chased the queen with Qd6, intending Re6. And indeed, b5 was just a very bad blunder. Also after b5 I didn't defend in the best possible manner. Frankly speaking it's hard to defend after such a blunder.


Maurice: What exactly did you overlook? Did you see Qa3+ and thought there was some counter?

Ian: Yeah, indeed I saw it. Actually, I forgot in the line after Kg8 Qa7 bxc4, the bishop is just hanging. Once again, after c4 dxc4 Bxc4, it is not anymore a straightforward draw as before.

Although Ian Nepomniachtchi lost, he was nothing but an absolute gentleman in the post-game conference | Photo: Eric Rosen

Maurice: Such a game must be extremely difficult. How did you react when you realized your mistake?

Ian: Well, I wasn't happy, yeah? (smiles) In general, I guess, the test remains the same. I have got to win a few games. Anyway I was down on score, but now I need two wins instead of one. Let's see how it goes from here.


Maurice: Magnus, What's your immediate reaction after this win?

Magnus: Yeah, obviously I am very happy. What more can I say? It's obviously huge. Otherwise I am pretty tired and really looking forward to the rest day.

Maurice: In the opening you seemed a bit surprised. After h5 it took you a lot of time to play Qe1. What were you thinking about at this point?

Magnus: Yeah, I was a bit confused. I thought Black's really not supposed to go Bd6 there, and after h5 I obviously couldn't completely know whether it was preparation or not. I suspected that it was not. Anyway I sat thinking for so long that I couldn't calculate properly, so I thought probably trading queens would be the best and would lead to a draw. I was hoping slightly for Kf8 because I thought I had a risk-free position there. After that the game was quite pleasant for me. I don't think it was easy for Black to force a draw and as long as you can't force a draw there will always be some pressure for you to neutralize. Then obviously b5 happened. I guess we both were pretty tired, and it helps to have the initiative in such cases.


Maurice: Your reaction when b5 came on the board? You must have been puzzled at first, but at some point you must've realized that this is a big mistake.

Magnus: No, I suspected it was a mistake. I just thought it was a blunder. But I had plenty of time, so I thought I will double-check, see what he is intending. In the end, however, it turned out to be nothing.


Maurice: Your reaction when b5 came on the board? You must have been puzzled at first, but at some point you must've realized that this is a big mistake.

Magnus: No, I suspected it was a mistake. I just thought it was a blunder. But I had plenty of time, so I thought I will double-check, see what he is intending. In the end, however, it turned out he had nothing.


Maurice: In the end you seemed especially careful to make sure everything was precise. Was there an abundance of caution?

Magnus: Yeah, for instance, I could have traded h4 for b3 earlier, which also would have led to an easy win. But I thought I could always do that later. There was plenty of time and no reason to force matters quite yet. I thought the win isn't going away anywhere, so let's be really, really careful.


Maurice: Being +2 at this point with six more games to go. How do you avoid feeling overconfident or complacent?

Magnus: I think you always focus on the very next game. Clearly, two wins makes a huge difference, but still there are six more games to go against a very strong opponent. It's never going to be easy.


Maurice: Sorry, a final question to you Ian. You are down two points, how do you avoid feeling that this is a herculean challenge?

Ian: Well, I think it's about the quality of the games in general. I did get chances in the first couple of games. If I play well, hopefully, I will keep getting them. So it's mainly about my own play and not the score. Of course, I would love to have an equal score instead of this one...but you have what you have!

"You have what you have!" - Ian Nepomniachtchi

Magnus on whether he feels sympathy for his opponent:

"The World Championship is tough. It's really brutal emotionally with all the ups and downs. It's part of what makes it so exciting."


Ian on how he rates today's performance:

"In general I'd like to apologise for today's performance...It was not only below my level, I think it was below GM level... It wasn't due to the tiredness, it was just a weird sequence of choices."

Magnus on his two wins out of the last three games:

"Well, probably this second win doesn't happen without the first. It's all kind of connected. In fact, I think if I had won the first game against Caruana when I was better or he won against me in at least one of the next two games, things would have turned out a lot more differently. We would have seen a lot more decisive games. It's not a shock that the second one comes quickly after the first."

"It's not a shock that the second one comes quickly after the first." - Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Eric Rosen

Magnus on his decision to go Qe1:

"I would say my brain was just fried and a sharp battle was not in my interest. I was trying to calculate lines but I didn't see any good results from any of these more principled options. So I just went Qe1 and thought after Qe7 it would probably be a draw, and I would have been fine with that... I didn't know the move h5. If I had known it, I wouldn't think for 40 minutes and played a move that's so insipid."


Ian on how he stays so cool during the press conferences:

"Well, it's not the first loss in my chess career, although I think this was one of the worst. And sadly also it isn't going to be the last. It's just part of the game and part of the learning."

Video Gallery:

We caught up with the five-time World Champion Vishy Anand before the start of the 8th game of the Carlsen vs Nepo World Championship Match 2021. Vishy spoke about the sixth game of the match quoting as the entrance fee you pay to watch this match. He also spoke about the similarities and differences of Nepo's situation as compared to him in the Anand-Gelfand match. All this and more in the insightful interview.

Victor Bologan from Moldova is a multifaceted personality. When it comes to playing chess, his career high Elo is 2732 and he won the Dortmund super tournament ahead of players like Kramnik, Anand and many others. This is a wonderful story because Bologan had qualified to this event by winning the Aeroflot Open. A qualifier winning a super tournament is extremely uncommon. Victor tells us exactly how he did it. When it comes to education, Bologan has managed to do a Ph.D in the structure of preparation of high level chess players at the Russian State University of Physical Education, Sport, Youth and Tourism. We talk about it in detail in this interview. Bologan has written several books and also published many DVDs for ChessBase. He loves working with ChessBase and tells us about his method of creating this material which is helpful to players of all levels. We also ask Bologan about his role in FIDE. He is an executive director and has a very ambitious project in mind called ChessID. What is ChessID, we get to know from the horse's mouth. Victor is a husband, and a father of three kids. He tells about how his family has always supported his endeavours. Get to know this multi-faceted personality in more depth. IM Sagar Shah interviewed Victor at the World Championship match in Dubai.

Alicia and Hector were having dinner in Barcelona with their friend GM Pepe Cuenca. They were talking about the World Championship Match 2021 and Pepe asked them to come over to Dubai. The couple booked their ticket and made their way from Barcelona to Dubai! Hector played chess since childhood and is rated around 2200. Alicia is his girlfriend and wasn't very interested in chess. However, seeing Hector's love for the game, she too became excited about the sport. In this video you get to see both Hector and Alicia in a candid form as they share their story and tell us about their first impressions of Dubai.

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Day 0: Reaching Dubai

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Game 2: They are also human

Game 3: Who is pushing whom?

Game 4: Why did Magnus Carlsen play 1.e4

Game 5: The challenger misses his chance to strike

Game 6: 136 moves of pure symphony

Game 7: Wait or Strike?

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