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Carlsen vs Nepo World Championship 2021 Game 5: The challenger misses his chance to strike

by Sagar Shah - 02/12/2021

Five games have been completed at the World Championship 2021 and it's all even at 2.5-2.5. Ian Nepomniactchi had quite a big chance in the game. On move 20, he had push his c-pawn down the board. It was the move that Carlsen was most worried about, it was the move that would have put the World Champion under maximum pressure. But it was not to be. In this report we bring you why the move 20.c4 was so strong, how did Magnus slid into a worse position out of a solution Anti-Marshall and we also bring you a lot of stories, videos and pictures surrounding the event! 2nd of December 2021 is a rest day thanks to the 50th National Day of UAE. 

It's missing those half chances that hurt the most

Report from Dubai by Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal

The dejected demeanor of Ian Nepomniachtchi painted the entire picture | Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE

As both players repeated their moves, game 5 of the World Championship 2021 ended in a draw. Usually after the players shake hands, they sit down for a few minutes and discuss the game. But today they just exchanged a few words and Ian Nepomniachtchi left the playing area. When he arrived at the press conference, he was visibly disappointed. Shaking his head and looking in the distance (calculating some lines in his head), seeing him felt like he had missed a big opportunity. When the players leave the playing area, they have a couple of very short interviews and then they meet their team member and come to the press conference. The distance is roughly around 500 metres and there are buggies arranged for transportation. In this 10 minutes the player definitely gets a chance to speak to his second about the game. In Ian's case it is usually his long time trainer GM Vladimir Potkin, who is waiting for him. He would have told Ian about 20.c4, a move that could have put Magnus under a lot of pressure.


How strong was 20.c4?

In the above position Ian played Red1 after which Magnus responded with Be6, Black had very nearly equalized the game. Red1?! was just too soft. Ian should have played c4. The idea is clear. You want to play c5. And the most natural move to stop it, ..Be6 is met with Ba4 attacking the queen and c5 coming up anyway. It seems very difficult to understand how Magnus Carlsen would have continued in the position after 20.c4. Playing ...c5 definitely looks like a concession, especially because the bishop can pop out on a4, move to c6 and then stand on d5 like a powerhouse. But it might well be that 20...c5 is the least of evils for Black in the position. Another option after 20.c4 is to play Bb4. But after Reb1, once again the threat is to trap the bishop with c5. So if Black himself goes ...c5, the ideas are similar with Ba4! and then getting the bishop to c6 and eventually to d5. After some deep digging, it feels to me that Magnus might have chosen 20...Qe6 after 20.c4. Now 21.c5 is not possible, but White can go Ba4, threatening c5 and if Black goes c5 himself then Bc6 to d5 is once again very strong. All in all this idea of c4-c5, and if Black goes ...c5 then Ba4-c6-d5 gives White a very tangible plus.


How did Ian miss this move 20.c4? In the press conference he mentions: "Of course, I considered the move 20.c4 ... It was one of the main options. Somehow the position was so pleasant that it was difficult to choose the type of advantage I wanted to see on the board. So basically, I think I had some ideas of playing Nf5 Qc1 Bxh6. Unfortunately, however, it didn't work, so I eliminated this option. Of course, c4 was very principled at this point but I was also considering the option of playing c4 after trading the light-squared bishops. Once again, there were options: I could play this position with pawn on c5 or pawn on c3. And in any case I thought this endgame would be passive for Black. But it so turned out that Black has this passive plan of going Ne8 and Nf8. I believe I could have played h4 instead of Nh5, just to fix h5-h4 without playing g4, it was probably the smarter try, but of course Black is always very solid. Speaking of c4, it definitely deserves attention."

Carlsen looked quite cheerful after the game. It seemed as if he had dodged a bullet. | Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE

Speaking about 20.c4 Carlsen mentions,"I definitely considered that to be the main option and thought that everything else was kind of manageable. Of course, it's always a bit worse, but it feels like my position was not going to get worse. Probably it would only gradually improve as I have very few real weaknesses. But yeah, c4 was definitely the move that was worrying me there and seeing Red1 I thought that the worst was over."

His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence and Commissioner General of Expo 2020, made the first move of the game | Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE

But how did Magnus land in such a position after just 19 moves? Where did he go wrong?

We got to witness the same line of the Anti-Marshall that we saw in game 3. In game 1 Nepo had gone h3 instead of a4.

The move ...Rb8 is the third most popular option for Black. The most popular move is ...Bb7 which Magnus played in game 3. The other option is ...b4. Magnus might have thought that by playing ...Rb8, he would be able to get Ian out of his book quite soon. But it was not to be! Nepo was well prepared and blitzed out his opening moves.

It's clear that Carlsen looks to play ...d5 at the earliest opportunity. Nepo knew that taking on d5 is not a good idea and quickly played Nbd2.

In symmetrical structures, even a small lead in development or activity is magnified. Hence, in this position, the very fact that both White bishops are nicely placed in comparison to their black counterparts, gives White a pleasant position.

Ian Nepomniachtchi was very confident about his position and one could see it from his body language | Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE

The missed c4 moment which we have discussed above

Nepo felt that he should have pressed better in this position with h4-h5, followed by moving the knight and playing g3-f4 perhaps. Ian in the press conference mentioned, "I would've loved to play h4-h5 without playing g4, protect the f4 square and keep the option of g3-f4 break open, but probably I didn't try hard enough to proceed."

What is it that Ian drinks during his games? We will figure it out in the days to come! | Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE

Black is passive and it seems he is under some pressure here. However, Magnus had things under control. The World Champion's understanding of how far he can stretch himself for defence and get away with it was tremendous to see. Firstly in the above position a lot of the commentators expected Ian to play g4. The reason is simple. The knight on f5 is a monster and you want to get rid of it with g6. However, g6 straight away is not possible because the h6 pawn is hanging so you have to play h5 as Black. g4 is angled against h5 and an eventual g6. But Nepo played f3 in the position as White (instead of g4).

Now everyone thought that ...h5 is the move in the position and that Magnus should go for it to unravel his position. But instead Magnus played the seemingly passive move ...f6. Why? When I asked about this point to Magnus, in the press conference and why he didn't choose ...h5 he mentioned, "That's a very very good point. I thought f3 was threatening Nxd6 after which I couldn't go Nxd6 as the pawn wasn't hanging on e4 any more. I simply thought Nxd6 was a positional threat, and I should be able to recapture with the knight on d6. That's why I thought f6 was more important than not allowing h4-h5. Besides, I kind of had already envisioned the fortress that I had in the game: just exchange one knight, put the bishop on f8 and just do nothing. I assume after ...h5 Nxd6 I am fine as well, but it would pose me different kinds of problems. And I didn't want to give him the chance to sort of change the flow of the game and character of the position."


When a question about defending inferior positions was asked, Magnus said, "It's sort of a perverse kind of taste, you know, to like defending these positions, but I do enjoy it from time to time. I had a clear goal and that was to reach a fortress like in the game. In that sense, it was a job well done, and that's definitely satisfying."

White managed to push his kingside pawns to g4, h4 and h5. But Magnus didn't really have any issues. He played his king to f7, dropped back his bishop to f8 and then brought his knight to d6. Very soon the game was drawn.

A final handshake. Another hard fought struggle, another draw. The score is tied at 2.5-2.5 | Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE

Nepo could have had Magnus behind he bars today, but it was not to be! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Press conference after game 5

By Satanick Mukhuty

The entire press conference of game 5 of the World Championship 2021

Maurice: You were the first one to deviate in this game. Why did you choose to do that instead of going for the line you played in the last game?

Magnus: I thought it is always better to be the one to bring the first surprise. But unfortunately it didn't work out very well for me. I think he chose a very good line. I kind of knew that it's hard to completely equalize in this line. But I thought, since there's very limited material and the position is symmetrical, I would be able to figure it out if it came to that. But yes, it was a bit more unpleasant than what I had hoped.


Maurice: Ian, were you pleased to see him deviate with Rb8?

Ian: I wasn't pleased because after a4 in Marshall, more or less all sensible options for Black are very solid. What he played, Rb8, is the most solid option perhaps. But at some point Black has to come up with a precise sequence of moves. Somehow Magnus didn't manage to make all the moves in the right order and that's why opportunities like c4, for instance, existed. But I mean, once you see the Spanish game, you're already not so pleased, right? (Smiles).


Maurice: Your general feeling about the result, given the opportunities you had?

Ian: Of course, I am disappointed.


Maurice: Magnus, same question?

Magnus: No it's okay. I mean I didn't manage to make a single active move in the game, unless you count Ra2-Ra1 in the end, which obviously isn't ideal, doesn't win many games. But the result obviously is fine.


Maurice: A lot of questions are being asked about the number of draws. Do you at all care or is it just another draw with the black pieces?

Magnus: I think there is some magical cut-off point after which draws, instead of being normal, start becoming a problem. But I don't think we have crossed that line yet.

Carlsen comes to the board with only a bottle of water. Rest of the refreshments are placed in the room adjacent to the playing hall. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Nepomniachtchi on missing his chances:

“Today is basically not about him defending well but me not using all the opportunities I had. Basically, when you are given some chances and you fail to utilize them you're unhappy. But yeah, today it was obviously my game had a pleasant flow, and I should have tried harder to use the momentum. In game 2, I think humanly it was not easy to convert. It looks as though Black is quite solid and is an exchange up, but in fact White has very good playing compensation."


Andrea Botez: Hello Magnus and Ian, my name is Andrea and I am reporting from Botez Live. Great game today and another draw, who would've guessed?! Magnus, I bet you're tired with all the complicated chess questions, but here is a question I am dying to ask you: How does the knight move? 

Magnus: (Laughs) That's a very good question. It generally moves like an L and sometimes in blitz games it can be really unpredictable. 

Andrea Botez's question was based on a previous stream where Magnus was a part of and had asked Andrea - how do the knights move?!

On whether the players consult their seconds and ask about the evaluation of the continuations they were unsure about right after the game ends:

"Yeah, of course, generally you want to know the truth. Why not do that right away?" - Ian Nepomniachtchi

"I think it depends on the situation. In general you're going to find out anyway, so it's better if someone from the team lets you know." - Magnus Carlsen


Magnus on the water sports he would like to try on a day off:

"Probably I will just go out on a boat and just relax. Otherwise, I like the one where you just sit on the back and drive and try to hold on...umm...what do call that? the Tube? Water skiing is okay but it's kind of easy. I am still trying to master wakeboarding. Jet skiing is just too much speed for me."

Photo and video Gallery

Some behind the scenes footage from the venue before the start of game 1

Vishy Anand not only commentates on the games, but also gives his expert opinions to many media outlets present at the venue. His presence has made the event more exciting! | Photo: Amruta Mokal
Anna Muzychuk speaks about her experience of commentating on the match, what she thinks about the event and also working together with Vishy Anand
A very interesting in-depth interview with Vladimir Potkin, Nepo's head trainer
Meet the Press Officer GM Jonathan Tisdall, who is from Norway, but has to remain unbiased in all his reports!

Before the rest day, the players are usually a bit relaxed and it is the best time to get an autograph/photograph with them! | Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE

It's so nice to see so many wonderful youngsters coming out to watch the games! | Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE

Some of the best photographers in he world of chess are waiting for the dignitaries to arrive! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence and Commissioner General of Expo 2020 with the FIDE President Arkadij Dvorkovich before the 5th game began | Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE

Four talented youngsters have been selected for the FIDE Chessable camp - they are Leon, Gukesh, Divya and Sahithi Varshini. In the image you can also see Lyndon (Leon's father), Namrata (Divya's mother) and Lokesh (Sahithi's father) | Photo: Amruta Mokal

It's wonderful to see a strong GM like Salem Saleh, Elo 2691, paying a visit to the playing venue, almost every day. | Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE

Andrea and Alexandra Botez are well-known chess streamers. Recently they hit the 1 million followers mark on Twitch. They have come to the World Championship 2021 as a last leg to their travel show which will be soon released on Twitch. It involved them travelling from the USA to London, Paris, Norway and eventually Dubai. | Photo: Amruta Mokal
Andrea Botez speaks about her journey from attending high school, to taking a break and becoming a powerful chess influencer along with her sister

Indian journalists at the event - (From left to right), NR Anilkumar (Kerala print media), Sagar Shah (ChessBase India), Saravanan (ChessBase), Amruta Mokal (ChessBase India Clips!), Joe Parappilly (Kerala print media), Tania Sachdev (Chess24), Rakesh Kulkarni (Chesscom). A big thanks to Saravanan for gathering all of us together for this memorable picture.

IM V. Saravanan - known for his tremendous knowledge of the game, chess books, and training methods | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Busy as a bee! Tania Sachdev brings on ground coverage for Chess24 | Photo: Amruta Mokal
Tania elaborates her role at the World Championship 2021


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Game 1: A battle of equals?

Game 2: They are also human

Game 3: Who is pushing whom?

Game 4: Why did Magnus Carlsen play 1.e4?

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