Match 6 World Championship: Carlsen wins the marathon

The longest in history

Replay the full game review by world number six Anish Giri at the end of the article!

In 1978, world champion Anatoly Karpov played his first game to defend the title after securing the world crown by default in 1975. He faced off against Viktor Korchnoi, a fierce fighter, in Baguio City, Philippines. Game 5, played on July 27, followed a streak of four very short draws. The match also ended in a draw, but it was by no means a short match – it would become the longest match (in terms of strokes) in a World Championship match up to this point, and he held that record for over 43 years. Until the sixth game of the 2021 match between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi.

After 136 moves, not only did Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi break the aforementioned record, but the match also saw Carlsen claim the first victory in a classic encounter in a world championship game in just over five years – the Norwegian had defeated Sergey Karjakin with Whites in Game 10 of the 2016 game on November 24.

It was a full-fledged fight, which lasted 7 hours and 45 minutes. As the matches begin at 4.30 p.m. local time in Dubai, the decisive first meeting of this year’s match ended at 12.15 a.m.!

A roller coaster battle, the game saw Carlsen use an unforced opening setup with the white pieces, seemingly trying to carry the fight to the middle of the game. Nepo responded similarly, as he rejected the opportunity to trade queens on the 17th move. Unusually, Carlsen found himself in big trouble over time, and an acute skirmish saw him miss a major chance to play a winning streak close to the first time check. As the game ended, the room layouts kept changing, but Carlsen never stopped trying and he was eventually rewarded with a remarkable victory.

According to the contract signed by the suitors, they were obliged to attend a press conference regardless of the duration of the match. Nepo was visibly discouraged, but also extremely polite when giving his answers, while a cheerful world champion reflected:

It has never been easy, and it shouldn’t be. […] You have to try all the odds, no matter how small.

Going to the press conference must have felt like a little inconvenience for the players. Especially for Nepo, it is rather unfortunate that this marathon took place in the first of a series of three games to be played on consecutive days. Players will return to the board on Saturday and Sunday, with the Russian getting another black over the weekend.

Go for a mid-game

Perhaps avoiding a Petroff or a Berlin, Carlsen played 1.d4, and after 1 … Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3, delaying a pawn push towards c4, the world champion asked the challenger what kind of setup he wanted to establish on the chessboard. The underhanded order of movement avoided any powerful line that might give White an advantage from the start, but in return took the battle to the mid-game, where the Norwegian intended to demonstrate his superiority.

Nepo was more than up to the task, rejecting a pawn sacrifice on the 10th move and opting for activity instead. Moreover, on move 17, the Russian chose not to trade queens, expecting to get a good game despite doubling his pawns on the king wing.

Instead of 17 … Qxf6 18.Qxf6 gxf6, Nepo immediately opted for 17 … gxf6. In his annotations, Anish Giri explained:

An interesting choice, perhaps stemming from a certain ambition. The queen’s trade would have been good as well. Sometimes in these final stages White can claim a good knight d3 against a “bad” bishop, but with the black pieces so active and the bishop being on b6, there is little question of White fighting for anything. .

With so much talk of the draws in the world championship game, it was a clear sign that it had little to do with the players’ willingness to fight. As Olimpiu G. Urcan said:

Black was doing well and Carlsen was burning a lot of time with each hit. The choice of Nepo in move 25 only complicated matters.

Black could have played 25 … b4, more or less keeping things under control, while with 25 … Rac8 he agreed to enter an imbalanced position with a queen against a pair of laps after 26.Dxc8 Rxc8 27.Rxc8. Giri:

It doesn’t have to be, but it led to chaos, so fans should be grateful to Ian.

Magnus Carlsen, Ian Nepomniachtchi

Chess is hard! | Photo: Eric Rosen

Time problem

Unlike previous World Championship matches, FIDE decided this year not to grant contenders an increment until after move 61. So in both time checks – move 40 and move 60 – players are forced to make their movements with the time which turns incessantly, without taking a break of 30 seconds after each decision. For the first time in the game, this factor played a major role in Game 6.

As Carlsen’s clock spun dangerously down, the engines suddenly showed he had a +2 advantage after move 32!

Maurice Ashley asked Carlsen if he had analyzed the 33.Rcc2 in this position, the world champion being rather dumbfounded by the question. He went for 33.Tr1 instead, which is understandable given how little time he had and how “difficult to spot and calculate” the winning variant was (Giri).

The idea is that after 33.Tcc2 Bxa3 White has 34.f4, giving up a second pawn on the Queen side – 34 … Qxb4 35.Qd7 e5 36.xh5 + Kg6

The surprising winning move here is 37.Qc6, since 37.Kxh5 leaves the black king in a mating net after 38.Qxf7. As Giri explains:

You have to see what your follow-up is here, otherwise the whole footage just doesn’t make sense. […] The movement itself is not obvious, abandoning the two pawns on the queen’s side, but the attack is devastating.

In the game, Nepo was lucky his opponent didn’t see this line, but also missed a few chances in the race against time – he didn’t have much more time than Carlsen during this phase of the game. .

Magnus Carlsen, Ian Nepomniachtchi

More than 7 hours of deep concentration | Photo: Niki Riga

The end of the game

During the press conference, Mike Klein compared the game to a miniseries, implying the existence of episodes and turns. We can take the comparison one step further and note that the endgame was a mini-series on its own, with sub-episodes and twists of its own – surely we’ll have a closer look at the intricacies of the ending from our specialist. intern Karsten Müller, possibly in the next installment of the show ‘Endgame Magic’.

First of all, Black seemed to have enough counterplay with his pawn passed to line a.

Once that pawn left the board, it seemed that – as long as the Dark Queen remained active – White would not be able to break through.

White then grabbed the two f-pawns and the bishop in exchange for a turn. Nepo’s task was unenviable, but his previous play seemed to demonstrate that he would be able to balance.

Finally, when white’s g-pawn and black h-pawn left the board, we were in table base territory – the game was drawn with perfect play. However, well into the eighth hour of play and facing the still struggling world champion, it was never going to be easy for Nepo.

The losing move according to the table bases was Black’s 130th! Six moves later, the Russian challenger threw in the towel.

It was nothing less than a fantastic chess game!

Expert analysis by Managing Director Anish Giri

Magnus carlsen

At the top of the scoreboard – world champion Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Eric Rosen

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