It’s been coming. Since Ian Nepomniachtchi slipped to a tight defeat in game 6 of the world chess championship, it’s been coming. Now, the 31-year old Grandmaster from Norway has successfully defended his World Champion title for the fifth time. He gained a 9 Elo rating in the match, to go within 24 points of his peak rating. We must give full praise to Nepo who has shown a high level of maturity throughout the match regardless of his losses. He will have another chance to take another swipe at the World Champion on this stage if he wins the Candidates’ Tournament again next year. The match is over, and Magnus can now focus on defending his Rapid and Blitz crown in Warsaw Poland.
Magnus Carlsen in his expected Black suit responded to Nepo’s 1.e4 with e5. For the first time in the match, Ian went for the Italian Game. They both played book moves in the normal Giuoco Pianissimo variation of the Italian Game. The World Champion had a strong defensive setup that prevented future attacking advances from his Challenger. By move 10, both kings were safely castled, and the real battle was set to begin. Nepo made the first tease by developing his bishop with 10.Be3. The exchange was made, and the position remained in equilibrium.
12…Be6 was another tease that ensured that the game would progress with either side relying on the power of a bishop until underpromotion. Nepo advanced the queen to gain more control of the center with 14.Qb3. The game was preparing to open up from the middle as both pairs of rooks were now in the middle files at move 17.
Knights were next to make their exit from the board as Nepo initiated an exchange on move 18. Things got more interesting when the Champion made the first advance to open the center. Nepo responded with a sharp move, 20.d4. Then they both captured the respective pawns they advanced. For Carlsen, his capture means that his pawn would threaten Nepo’s Knight while for Nepo, his capture meant that his pawn would threaten Carlsen’s rook, a good intermezzo. Sensibly, Carlsen moved to protect his rook from the unfavorable exchange and Ian continued to clamp down on the poor thing.
Like a hunter clamoring for sport, Nepo’s desire to harm the rook triggered his final blunder of the match with 23.g3??. Nepo missed the fact that the Knight on e3 was overloaded, and Carlsen could simply eliminate the defender to hit Nepo with a devastating check after the g-pawn departed from its post to capture the rook. Playing g3 made Stockfish cringe, as the evaluation figure went from 0.0 to -7.3 at Depth 40. After 23.g3, Carlsen went ahead to eliminate the defender. Nepo had a chance to salvage something from the position if he didn’t capture the rook he so badly craved. Stockfish recommended 24.Rxe3 as the best move, but Ian went for the rook with gxf4.
Beginning of the end
As soon as the check landed with Qxg4+, it became too difficult to see beyond a Black win. Stockfish evaluated the position as -8.6. The Champion probably started feeling too confident with the position, and his attack became somewhat weakened. Rather than using the pawn to land a check on f2, Carlsen advanced the Knight with 26…Nf5?!, his first inaccuracy of the game. Nepo didn’t seem to have many good moves up his sleeve as he played 27.d6 to prevent the rook from moving to d6. Another inaccuracy from Carlsen with 27…Nh1 saw his advantage decrease further. The Knight ended up being exchanged for the rook as both queens also bowed out of the game. What could’ve been an instant blow turned out to be a one-sided rook endgame.
The World Champion went into the endgame with a pawn advantage and a mammoth advantage in space. The absence of pawns in the g and h files meant that the coast was clear for Carlsen’s h-pawn to pass. A fine deflection with 44.Rb3! saw Carlsen draw out a bazooka in a pistol fight. Nepomniachtchi resisted the urge to resign instantly and kept on playing, perhaps to enjoy the World Chess Championship feel for a final time. The 2021 FIDE World Chess Championship match finally drew to a close when Carlsen played Qc5 on the 49th move. What followed was the final handshake of the match. Champagnes and confetti for the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen.
My biggest advantage is that I’m better at chessMagnus Carlsen
This statement by the 5-time World Champion marked his confidence going into the clash, and that confidence and resilience have led him to victory once more. The next World Chess Championship is bound to hold in early 2023, while the Candidates will hold in late 2022. This news was announced on the 8th of December, 2021 by FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich. Chess fans around the world are backing French player Alireza Firouzja to dethrone Magnus Carlsen. Do you think that will happen? Will a 19-year old Alireza challenge for the title in 2023?