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Carlsen vs Nepo World Championship 2021 Game 9: What's wrong with Nepo?

by Sagar Shah - 08/12/2021

The World Championship Match might end well ahead of schedule as Ian Nepomniachtchi has lost his 3rd game in the match. The score now stands at 6-3 in the favour of World Champion Magnus Carlsen. If Game 8 saw a simple blunder of a pawn by Nepo, Game 9 witnessed an entire piece being dropped by the Challenger. Why is this happening to Ian? Is it lapse in concentration? Is it too much of pressure? We bring you the game 9 report with analysis, pictures, videos, quotes, anecdotes and much more! Carlsen now needs only 1.5 more points in the remaining 5 games to retain his World Championship title for the 5th time.

The Magnus Carlsen juggernaut continues 6-3

By Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal from Dubai


Just before the match began, on 17th of November 2021, Magnus Carlsen did a Podcast with his friend Magnus Barstad for the Løperekka in Norwegian. It was later translated into English on Chess24. One of the things that Magnus mentioned in that interview was:


"In Norway Chess he (Nepo) seemed very strong for the first 3-4 rounds, he had a small setback, and then he collapsed. That's not something he can allow himself in a World Championship match. I am not going to fall even if I am hit in the face once. Perhaps that will be his biggest challenge, to handle the setbacks that will come, regardless of whether it's a good position he fails to convert, or a game that he should have held to a draw but ends up losing, or opening preparation that goes wrong — that will be a huge challenge for him."

Carlsen had drawn his classical game against Ian Nepomniachtchi at the Norway Chess 2021, but had gone on to beat him in the Armageddon | Photo: Lennart Ootes

It's as if Magnus Carlsen could look into the future! That's the reason why Magnus Carlsen is right there at the top. He is able to understand his opponents very well. He is also mentally very strong and is somehow able dust off difficult moments in any tournament and make a comeback. But in Nepo's case even though he has shown that he isn't the most stable of players in the past, the way he is blundering at the World Championship 2021 is extremely puzzling. Speaking about what has gone wrong for Nepo at the World Championship 2021, Sergey Karjakin said, "Ian did not use all his chances. In the first few games, he was better, but they ended in draws. In game 6 when he lost, he had a simple move ...Bxb4 to take the advantage and Magnus would have had to fight for the draw very hard. It was bad luck and unfortunately two days ago some very strange things happened. Because I know Ian and he doesn't blunder like this! (...b5) It's just inexplicable why this happened. I hope he has restarted, and starting from today we will see a new Ian, a very strong player!" 

...b5 in game 8 because of Qa3+ and c5 in game 9 because of ...c6 were big blunders by Nepo in the match

It's interesting to note how Karjakin mentions that he knows Ian and he doesn't blunder like this. He spoke about his move ...b5 in game 8 as something very unusual - and mind you it was a pawn blunder. A bigger blunder was in store in game 9 where Nepo lost an entire piece. If we go by Karjakin's words and just by our overall chess understanding, a 2782 rated, world no.5 doesn't blunder like this even in blitz, leave along World Championship Match. So what is wrong with Nepo? It seems that the pressure of the World Championship Match, the expectations of his team and fans could be getting to him. It's a new situation for Ian, and he isn't being able to handle it so well.

Sergey Karjakin flew down from Moscow after the 8th game and joined Nepo in his preparation for 9th game 
This interview was done with Sergey just a few minutes after game 9 began. You can notice Karjakin's enthusiasm and excitement as he speaks about the next games. He also mentions about how they prepared for the game on a luxury boat and they had a nice time.
Vladimir Potkin, the head coach of Nepo, put it in simple words - "We are just looking for one good game!"

After being 5-3 down in the match, it was extremely important for Ian to strike back in the 9th game. He had the white pieces and he had a rest day prior to it in order to get into the right mental state. Of course, Ian must have spent time preparing for this crucial game, but he also made an important off the board decision. He got a new hairstyle getting rid of the pony.

Nepo's new look before the game! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

At the press conference Ian was asked by a journalist, "It has been said of Samurai that they would cut off their top knot after a loss or shame. May I ask if your haircut yesterday was a homage to that?" To which he replied, "No, I just wanted to do this already for quite some time now. This was just a coincidence."

Nepo entered the playing venue with great confidence | Photo: Amruta Mokal

There was definitely a feeling in the air that Ian had come fresh for the ninth game, dusting off the memories of his 8th game blunder. He looked confident and he also had a new first move up his sleeve.

Indian prodigy R. Praggnanandhaa was invited to make the first move for game 9. Pragg got this opportunity from the PlayMagnus Group because he won the Challengers Chess Tour. | Photo: Amruta Mokal
Praggnanandhaa speaks about his experience of making the first move!

Before the game Pragg had discussed what move he should make with Vishy Anand. Together they came to the conclusion that 1.c4 looks the most likely. Pragg made the move 1.c4 and Ian did not move it back, he did not even adjust the pawn. He just pressed the clock! Magnus had a smile on his face seeing this. When asked about it, the World Champion said, "I couldn't know if Pragg had any prior knowledge or he was just making the move he would make at the board! (smiles)."

A very interesting opening choice by Magnus. He was leading the match by a full two points. So he could have chosen a more solid approach with ...Nf6 but instead decided to play ...d4

Speaking about ...d4 Magnus mentions, "I had some conflicting emotions. d4 is what I have been preparing for the match and so I wasn't sure at first whether I would go for that or something more solid. The main problem was that I couldn't remember what was going on later there. I remembered that Ng4 was a key move. I guess Bc5 was correct and then I couldn't remember the lines there. That's what I was mostly considering when I already played d4. And then we reached the position a lot later anyway, but I had still not figured it out. So it was bit dumb. But anyway, I don't have any major complaints about that position. I think to take any advantage White must be very very energetic and precise, and the most likely outcome is always that Black eventually equalizes. I think that is also what happened in the game before he blundered. The position was very very drawish.

Magnus remembered his preparation up until this point. White has to play Bc5 now, which Nepo did. The Russian GM did get a very slight pull out of the opening.

The move ...a3 by Magnus Carlsen wasn't the most accurate. Nepo could have now played b4! When after Nxb4 Rb1, White has the initiative. Instead Nepo took on a3 with bxa3 and after that Black's position was pretty fine.

Once Carlsen had rerouted his bishop from c8 to e8, his position looked more harmonious. It's true that White can take twice on c6 and double Black's pawns, but it really isn't much as White has his own weaknesses to take care off. The a2 pawn is weak, the c4 and d4 pawns can always be hassled.

Throughout the game Ian Nepomniachtchi tried to put pressure on Magnus by making his moves and walking back to his break room. He hardly sat on the board and built up quite a sizeable time lead! | Photo: Eric Rosen

...Qb4 prepared Ra3 and was a very nice move. It's one of those moves that doesn't come to your mind instantly. You have to think a bit about the weaknesses, how you want to coordinate your pieces and then you eventually chance upon this move.

Talking about ...Qb4 Magnus said, " Yes, I was happy with that one. It was partly based on an oversight since my idea after Reb1 was to take on e5 and then go Ng4, and I didn't see Qe1. But frankly as it happens quite often in chess, good positional moves tend to work out well even if you have missed something. Even though technically this was a blunder, the plan was still sound and it turned out that I had good compensation. But yeah, in general I thought Qb4 was nice."

This entire concept of taking on e5 followed by ...Ng4 was very nice by Magnus. The key point is that Qf4 in the above position is met with ...h5! and the knight on b3 has no real good discovered attacks! But Nepo surprised Magnus with the move Qe1 here!

After the queens were traded Magnus had two things to worry about the knight on g4 which could be trapped with f3 and the pawn on b7 which could be taken with Bxb7. Magnus decided to take care of his knight with ....h5

The c4 pawn is hanging, but unfortunately it's not so easy to save it.

The best move was coming back with the bishop to e4. if Black takes Rxc4, then after Rec1, White still has pressure in the position as the c7 pawn is a weakness.

Ian blundered massively by playing his pawn to c5. Can you find how Black wins?

"No! This cannot be true look" of Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Eric Rosen

...c6! the bishop on b7 is trapped

Ian played a few more moves, but a piece deficit was a bit too much!

One of the things that is definitely must-learn from Magnus, is the way he remains focused on the game even when he is winning! | Photo: Eric Rosen

The final moment of the game when Nepo stretched out his hand in resignation. Magnus now leads 6-3 | Photo: Amruta Mokal
IM Sagar Shah analyzes the 9th game of the match minutes after it was completed in video format

Post game Press conference

By Satanick Mukhuty 

The entire post-game press conference of Game 9

Magnus Carlsen wasn't his happy self at the press conference. Winning a game when his opponent blunders, is not something he enjoys immensely. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Nepo maintained his composure at the press conference, but it was clear that his belief in winning the World Championship was waning | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Maurice: I thank the players for joining us. Ian, appreciate you being here. May I ask, what happened with this mistake that you made?

Ian: It's hard to imagine that there is even a way to blunder this position. I mean, it was somewhere between slightly better and much better for most of the game. Perhaps after a3 I could have played something like b4 instead of bxa3. The position after that would be, I wouldn't say crushing, but very promising. This would have been a more direct approach, but even after bxa3 I think it's pretty one-sided, somehow with Black trying to stabilize with Bd7-Be8. I was quite happy to find Qe1 and get a pawn into the endgame. But it's quite funny that after all this you can play a move like c5. That there's a way to blunder this position in one move, who could've known?


Maurice: You spent about 18 minutes before returning to the board, after Magnus played c6. What was the time spent into?

Ian: Well, I was trying to calculate whether I had any practical chances. Perhaps there is no difference between whether you calculate sitting at the board or in the room. The best I could use was this Rb6 and c5 idea, but it's far from anything realistic of course. (Smiles resignedly)

The way Nepo keeps his cool at the Press conferences is definitely a thing all youngsters can learn from | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Maurice: How long did it take to occur to you that c6 was possible?

Ian: Until it was played I was quite happy. I somehow thought that c5 Bb5 was mandatory. The fact that c6 doesn't work with my pawn on c4 and works when I push c5 was also some insanely bad luck.


Maurice: So just to clarify, you didn't see c6 until Magnus actually played the move?

Ian: Indeed!


Maurice: Your feeling about the match situation with five more games to go?

Ian: It's worse than I had thought.


Maurice: You must have been genuinely shocked when you saw the move c5 appear and you knew you could just play c6?

Magnus: Yeah it was pretty absurd. I thought I was doing fairly okay. Nxe5 followed by Ng4 was actually a blunder, since I hadn't seen Qe1. I was looking into all the moves which don't lead to the exchange of queens, so Qe1 came as a shock and I realized I was just losing a pawn. But I quickly stabilized and noted that c5 was just losing to c6. However, it was pretty absurd to see it actually happen on the board...But what can you do?

Magnus felt that Ian's move c5 was pretty absurd | Photo: Niki Riga

Maurice: You use the word absurd. Could you clarify a little why you use this word in particular?

Magnus: It is just because you don't expect to win a piece for nothing at this level. And as Ian said, there was also a bit of bad luck in that he didn't have any decent try that gives him any chances. So I think the word "absurd" covers it pretty nicely.


Maurice: Your feelings on winning such a game? You are +3 now!

Magnus: Yeah, as I said before no style points awarded, so I'll take it. It was a tough game in which I was under pressure both on the board and on the clock. A turnaround like that was unexpected.


Maurice: There are speculations that the way you lost the last game and the game before that that lasted 7 hours 45 minutes have affected your play. Is there any relevance to that assumption?

Ian: Well, as you stated, there are a few reasons to speculate. But basically it has just been two one-move blunders in a row, a little too much for sure. Sometimes your opponent can blunder your way to victory, that's what actually happening. Generally, there's a lot of work to do, to understand why is it going like this and what's the reason, whether it is just lack of concentration combined with not the best of luck or something else.


Magnus on whether the way he wins a chess game affects his mood:

"Yes, I think that goes without saying. In the standings they look the same, but I think that goes for every body. Earning a victory is always more rewarding than getting one handed to you by your opponent. Actually that's not the case for everybody. I think (Jan Hein) Donner wrote in his book that he appreciated a game won by luck than a game won by skill. But for me, I definitely feel more satisfied when I win a good game, but I will take it.


Ian on his performace in this game:

"Well, I think things were going quite good before c5 happened. Maybe it was closer to a draw with some realistic chances for White. I mean after f3 Be4, Black still has to be quite precise to hold the draw. It's somehow quite interesting that you can even blunder in such positions. It's difficult to sum up things here."


Magnus on whether he had conflicting emotions after he saw the blunder:

"No, not really. As I said, it was just very unexpected."


Magnus on whether he violated the touch-move rule on move 19

"Ah, not this again. This practically happens in every World Championship Match. Clearly, some pieces are adjusted with no intention to move...So, do better!"

Magnus on what can be expected in the coming five games:

"We will see...I'll probably just try and play, and it's more up to him to try and change the course."

Magnus on whether he feels sad for Ian:

"I mean, it's the world championship (Ironic Grin). You prefer to beat an opponent who's playing at his very best, but if he is not, you take it any day of the week."


Magnus on his move d4 in the opening:

In the previous game when Ian played h5, you went for the solid Qe1, but today with ...d4 it looked like you were aiming for more dynamic positions with Black. Why the change in plan? Magnus: In general d4 isn't that aggressive. It also leads to forcing play. Often a move looks as though it is creating imbalance in the position when it's probably just only forcing things. That's usually not an indication of massive ambitions."

V. Saravanan: The engines were a little critical of your 14th move when you played a4-a3. In the game, Ian took bxa3, but the engine suggests b4 to be the better option. What responses did you have in mind for b4?

Magnus: Yeah, I was considering it, but I thought I will just take it. And if he threatens my knight (with Rb1) I will go Rb6. Maybe there are some tactics that don't work for me, but to me it looked okay. But obviously there were critical options and if the engine says it was good for White who am I to disagree?


V. Saravanan: Ian, there is a lot of praise for you on social media and YouTube. You have been really gracious in spite of some difficult moments to be present in the press conference. A lot of people have expressed their respects for you. What would be your reaction to them?

Ian: Indeed, I am very thankful. But obviously I would much prefer to have this respect for a few good games than press conferences.

Ian on having Karjakin back in Dubai:

"Well, it didn't work out well, ya? (Laughs) But somehow we played quite a few training games before the match. He had some business to take care of in Moscow and he then just came back here to our camp."


Photo Gallery

Playing at the World Championship match, you have to get used to photographers clicking away at you for the first 7 minutes! | Photo: Eric Rosen

One of the best ways to follow the match is to listen to the commentary of Vishy Anand and Anna Muzychuk | Photo: Eric Rosen

Strong grandmasters like Daniel Friedman and Mikheil Mchedlishvili who are here for the Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Cup playing in the morning, and then stop by later in the day to listen to Vishy Anand and Anna Muzychuk's commentary | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The chief arbiter for the event is Mahdi Abdulrahim from UAE (left) and the deputy chief arbiter is Andy Howie from Scotland | Photo: Amruta Mokal

That's passion for chess! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

These two youngsters travelled all the way from Russia to support Nepo! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Young Indian talent D. Gukesh with his father Rajinikanth (center) and chess enthusiast Sujit Varghese | Photo: Amruta Mokal

A journalist, a coach, a world champion and a future world champion! Saravanan, Ramesh, Anand and Praggnanandhaa share a light moment with each other. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

A great memory for the youngster - sitting on the chair of Magnus Carlsen! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Saurabh Gadgil, the MD and CEO of PNG jewellers was present at the venue with his son Yash. Apart from watching the match, they got the chance to meet and interact with Vishy Anand. | Photo: Amruta Mokal
An interview with Saurabh Gadgil about his early days of playing chess, how PNG has supported chess since 70 years and his future plans!

One person whom we don't see enough is Lennart Ootes, who is managing the entire broadcast of the event | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Another man who has been working tremendously hard behind the scenes - the head of marketing and communications for FIDE - David Llada | Photo: Amruta Mokal
A fun encounter between Alexandra Botez from chesscom and Askild Bryn from Chess24
Interview with the president of Uganda Chess Federation - Emmanuel Mwaka

Important Links:

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Day 0: Reaching Dubai

Game 1: Battle of Equals

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?

Game 8: Be Water, my friend!

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