Carlsen admits that a blunder almost cost him the game
Draw leaves the 14-game match between the pair level at 1-1
Magnus Carlsen diced with danger in an entertaining second game of the world chess championships in Dubai before recovering to secure a 58-move draw. It leaves his 14-game match with Ian Nepomniachtchi level at 1-1 going into Sunday’s third encounter.
It was a seesawing struggle, with Carlsen surprising his opponent early before missing a move that left him considerably worse off. However, his Russian opponent failed to find his wave through the thicket of variations and the game ended with a handshake, and a long post-mortem, as the players tried to fathom what happened. “The game was crazy, I had no idea what was going on,” said Nepomniachtchi. “During the game I thought: ‘We both are playing not so well’. But now I start thinking it was just very interesting and very chaotic.”
Carlsen, who has held the world title since 2013, signalled his fighting intentions by playing the rare move, Ne5, on move eight. It sacrificed a pawn but also meant his opponent was on new ground in a tricky position. Understandably, he was soon behind on the clock. Not only was he playing the Norwegian but also his computer preparation.
“It was a really nice idea, not the most popular, and I had a lot of trouble,” admitted Nepomniachtchi. However, he was able to weave his way through the complications without too much damage and, when Carlsen made a mistake with 20. Rb1, he was left staring at a worse position where he was rook for bishop down.
The match consists of 14 classical games, with each player awarded one point for a win and half a point for a draw. Whoever reaches seven and a half points first will be declared the champion.
The time control for each game is 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus an additional 30 seconds per move starting from move 61.
If the match is tied after 14 games, tiebreaks will be played on the final day (16 December) in the following order:
• Best of four rapid games with 25 minutes for each player with an increment of 10 seconds after each move.
• If still tied, they will play up to five mini-matches of two blitz games (five minutes for each player with a three-second increment).
• If all five mini-matches are drawn, one sudden-death ‘Armageddon’ match will be played where White receives five minutes and Black receives four minutes. Both players will receive a three-second increment after the 60th move. In the case of a draw, Black will be declared the winner.
Carlsen’s second and third title defences both came down to tiebreakers. But many believe the increased length of this year’s match (from 12 to 14 games) and the stylistic matchup at hand promises a decisive result in regulation.
“At some point I blundered because I didn’t intend to sacrifice quite as much material as I actually did,” admitted Carlsen, who looked visibly the more tired. “After that, I was trying to hang in there, not to lose. The position was very, very interesting.”
But with Carlsen on the ropes, Nepo then gave up a pawn for little compensation and the position became a theoretical draw. “The games have been a bit atypical for both of us,” added the Norwegian. “They are not following any specific pattern. It’s just a fight.”
The result means there have now been 16 draws in a row in world championship games played at classical time controls, dating back five years to game 11 of Carlsen’s match against Sergey Karjakin in November 2016.
That is partly down to the time controls, which currently give players two hours for their first 40 moves and another hour for their next 20. Carlsen has long lobbied for shorter games in his world title matches, arguing that with less time to think there will be even more drama. But for now, at least, the Fide president, Arkady Dvorkovich, is sitting on the fence.
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“It’s an interesting dilemma,” he told the Observer. “We started experimenting with shorter controls of 45 minutes at the women’s world team championship and it was very dynamic and exciting. But when it comes to controls for classical chess, we will see.
“On the one hand, it’s exciting to watch shorter games,” he added. “On the other hand when talking about the best players, I would prefer just a few mistakes – while in shorter games you have many.”