Ian Nepomniachtchi comments

7/2/2021 – In the new ChessBase Magazine # 202, Ian Nepomniachtchi, the winner of the Candidates Tournament 2020/20201 and World Championship challenger, takes a close look at his crucial win against Wang Hao in the Candidates. Nepomniachtchi provides deep but also entertaining commentary. Here's a shortened version of his analysis. Enjoy!

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"Anything but perfect"

Wang Hao - Ian Nepomniachtchi
Candidates Tournament 2020/2021 Yekaterinburg

You can find the full and much more detailed analysis by Ian Nepomniachtchi in ChessBase Magazine #202!

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 This fireproof opening (which, moreover, most Chinese players enjoy using) fitted in very well with my “safety first” strategy. 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d3 Nf6 6.d4 d5 7.Bd3 Bd6 8.Qe2+ Qe7 9.Qxe7+ Kxe7 10.0–0 Nc6

The idea of this continuation is to force c2–c3, then to transfer the Nc6 to e7 and to play ...Bc8–f5, with which Black would solve all his problems.

11.c3N h6?! A more accurate move is 11...Re8, and after 12.Nh4 g6 13.Bg5 h6! 14.Bxh6 Bxh2+ 15.Kxh2 Ng4+ Black’s opening problems are solved.

12.Nh4! Re8 13.Nf5+ Bxf5 14.Bxf5 Kf8 15.g3

Black is now faced with a principled choice. he can try to get in ...c5 before the opposing pieces have reached their optimal positions. The other option consists of remembering Wang Yue’s statement “Chess is draw”.

15...Ne7 16.Bh3 Nc8 17.Nd2 a5 18.a4 c6 19.Rd1 h5 20.Nf1

Transferring the knight to e3 followed by b2–b3 and c3–c4 seems to be a really active plan. In that case White has a free hand and can choose his setup according to his taste.

20...g6 21.f3?! Nb6 22.b3 Kg7 23.Kf2 Nbd7

Thanks to my opponent’s help the idea of 23...h4 has become more attractive, but it seemed premature to move over to active operations while my queen’s knight is hanging about ineffectually on b6.

24.Bg5 Here I started to feel good - I thought that Wang Hao wanted to exchange all the pieces and offer a draw. But White’s next moves made me suspicious.

24...Nf8 25.Re1 Ne6 26.Be3 Rac8 27.Bd2

The bishop protects c3 and is ready, when appropriate, to support b3–b4 or to attack the a5–pawn. Nevertheless from a human point of view the manoeuvre Bc1–g5–e3–d2 looks very remarkable.

27...c5 28.dxc5 Bxc5+ 29.Kg2 Bb6 30.Rab1 Rc6 31.b4 Nc7!?

There were also other options, but I wanted to give my opponent good reasons for being ashamed of his light-squared bishop.

32.Rxe8 Ncxe8 33.bxa5 Bxa5 34.Rxb7 Nd6 35.Ra7 Bxc3 36.Bd7 Nxd7 37.Bxc3+ Rxc3 38.Rxd7 Rc6 39.Re7?

Purely visually Black is somewhat better - he is threatening to give check on c2, his king will not take long to reach e6,but in reality all consolidating moves for White lead to a level game.

39...Rc2+ 40.Kg1 d4 41.Rd7 Nf5 42.a5 Ra2 43.Ra7?

It was important to free the knight from its prison: 43.a6 Rxa6 44.Nd2 Ra1+ 45.Kf2 Ra2 46.Ke2 Kf6 47.Rb7 with excellent chances for a draw. I considered the move in the game suicidal and replied too quickly.

43...Kf6? After 43...h4 44.g4 Nd6 45.Rd7 Nb5 46.a6 (46.Rd5 Nc3) 46...Kf6 47.f4 Ke6 we could have made ready to go for dinner.

44.a6 h4 45.Ra8 h3 46.a7 Ke7 47.g4 Nd6 48.Rb8 Rxa7 49.Rb4 d3!? 50.Rb3 Ra2 51.Rxd3 Nc4

Of course this position is almost a dead draw. Wang Hao decides on a move which does not force an exchange of knights, and he will later regret it: after five hours of play the knights become especially nimble and incalculable.

52.Ng3 Rg2+ 53.Kh1 Kf8! 54.Rc3? Nb2 Not a pleasant moment for my opponent. Just imagine: after a solid defence in a long and joyless game you make one inaccurate move and your opponent can rub his hands in glee thinking how he will mate you in two moves.

55.Rc8+ Kg7 56.Rd8 Rf2 57.Kg1 Rxf3 58.Ne4 Re3 59.Ng3?

Probably Wang Hao was too depressed at the loss of the f3–pawn and saw the situation just like I did, with a minus sign.

59...Ra3! Wang Hao resigned here. An exhausting game in which the play of both protagonists was anything but perfect. 0–1

ChessBase Magazine #202

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