The first five games of the match between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi have ended in draws, extending the streak of draws in World Chess Championship classical (long) games to 19. In the prior championship match, in 2018 between Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, all 12 classical games ended in draws before Carlsen won a series of tiebreak games that were played at a much faster pace.

The increasing prevalence of draws has led Carlsen and other members of the chess community to support shortening the length of classical games in future World Championship matches. The idea is that reducing the players’ thinking time will lead to more mistakes, more excitement and more wins and losses. However, the classical time controls, with games that can last longer than six hours, remain in force for now.

The most exciting chess in the early stages of this match was seen in Game 2, when Nepomniachtchi obtained a large, possibly winning, advantage after overoptimistic play by Carlsen. “At some point I blundered because I didn’t intend to sacrifice quite as much material as I actually did,” said Carlsen after the game.

World Chess Championship Game 2

White: Magnus Carlsen

Black: Ian Nepomniachtchi

1d4 Nf6 2c4 e6 Nepomniachtchi heads for a more conservative defense against this opening than his usual 2…g6, followed by d5 after white plays Nc3.

3Nf3 d5 4g3 Be7 5Bg2 0-0 60-0 dxc4 7Qc2 b5 8Ne5!? This is a big surprise; 8a4 is almost always played at the grandmaster level. Nepomniachtchi went into an extended think after this move.

8…c6 9a4 Nd5 10Nc3 f6 11Nf3 Qd7!? Playing the queen in front of the bishop on c8 looks less natural than playing 11…b4, but Carlsen was probably well-prepared for the latter move.

12e4 Nb4 13Qe2 Nd3 It would have been safer to develop the second knight to a6 before rushing this knight to d3.

14e5! Bb7 15exf6 Bxf6 16Ne4 Na6

White to move

17Ne5?! This move complicates the game but commits white to sacrificing a rook for a knight if black plays accurately. Carlsen could have obtained a slight advantage, with chances for a kingside attack, after the more straightforward 17Nxf6+ gxf6 18Bh6 Rf7 19Rfd1 Nab4 20Ne1.

17…Bxe5 18dxc5 Nac5! After the game, Carlsen admitted that he had overlooked this move.

19Nd6 Nb3

White to move

20Rb1?! It’s not clear why Carlsen played this move instead of 20Be3, preserving the bishop for use in a future attack against black. Computer analysis finds that white would have full compensation for his sacrifice after 20Be3 Nxa1 21Rxa1 a6 22Be4 Nxe5 23Qh5.

20…Nbxc1 21Rbxc1 Nxc1 22Rxc1 Rab8 23Rd1 Ba8 24Be4? Carlsen is thinking about sacrificing this bishop on h6 to expose the black king. However, he should have played 24Nxb5, revealing an attack on the black queen from the white rook on d1. The game could have continued 24…Qe7 25Nd6 c5 26Bxa8 Rxa8 27Qxc4, when white has a pawn and a well-placed knight as compensation for black’s extra rook. After the game move, black has an opportunity to gain a large, possibly even winning, advantage.

Black to move

24…c3? It’s Nepomniachtchi’s turn to play a tricky but inaccurate move. The simpler 24…g6 gives black time to defend his kingside and organize a counterattack. After 25Nxb5 Qg7 black would win the pawn on e5 and white would no longer have a knight outpost on d6.

25Qc2?! After 24…c3, the bishop sacrifice no longer works, but it’s more accurate to play 25bxc3 bxa4 26Qc2 g6 27Qxa4, when white’s active pieces would offset black’s material advantage.

25…g6 26bxc3 bxa4?! Instead of capturing the pawn, black should play 26…Qg7 and if 27f4, g5!? The position would remain complicated but black would have the better chances.

27Qxa4 Rfd8 28Ra1 c5 29Qc4 Bxe4 30Nxe4 Kh8 31Nd6 Rb6 32Qxc5 Rdb8 33Kg2 a6 34Kh3 Rc6 35Qd4 Kg8 36c4 Qc7 37Qg4

Black to move

37…Rxd6! Black gives up one of his rooks to get rid of white’s annoying knight.

38exd6 Qxd6 39c5 Qxc5 40Qxe6+ Kg7 41Ra6 Rf8! 42f4 Qf5+ This forces a queen trade, leading to a drawn endgame. Black’s active rook will keep white from taking advantage of his extra kingside pawn.

43Qxf5 Rxf5 44Ra7+ Kg8 45Kg4 Rb5 46Re7 Ra5 47Re5 Ra7 48h4 Kg7 49h5 Kh6 50Kh4 Ra1 51g4 Rh1+ 52Kg3 gxh5 53Re6+ Kg7 54g5 Rg1+ 55Kf2 Ka1 56Rh6 Ra4 57Kf3 Ra3+ 58Kf2 Ra4 Draw agreed White cannot advance his f-pawn without losing it.

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Keith Holzmueller

Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained...