World Championship Game 1: Tension in the air

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/26/2021 – The much-anticipated confrontation between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi kicked off at 16:30 local time in Dubai. The first game of the World Championship match finished in a draw. Playing black, Carlsen was the first one to deviate from well-known theoretical lines, but Nepomniachtchi proved to be prepared to face the variation chosen by the defending champion. A tense endgame developed, with both contenders missing small chances here and there. The draw was signed after 45 moves. | Photo: Eric Rosen

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A worthy start


Full expert analysis of the game will be published shortly on our news site. Game 1 will be annotated by English grandmaster Michael Adams, who worked as Carlsen’s assistant in previous competitions.


There is a distinct excitement surrounding a World Championship match. Chess aficionados all around the world eagerly tune in to follow the games. The stakes are so high that people almost get to feel the tension, even in positions that would otherwise get much less attention. And it could not be otherwise: we are witnessing history in the making, well aware that every single shift in the evaluation will be recorded in all sorts of outlets.

Going into the first game of this year’s match, there was no doubt that Ian Nepomniachtchi would be a tough challenger for the title. The Russian grandmaster — playing under the flag of the Chess Federation of Russia due to a ban by the World Anti-Doping Agency — mentioned once and again how hard he has been working with a more-than-capable team of seconds, including Vladimir Potkin, who helped Sergey Karjakin in his 2016 match.

Meanwhile, there is an almost universal agreement that Magnus Carlsen is the favourite to win the 14-game confrontation. Not much needs to be said about the Norwegian’s enormous talent and fighting spirit.

FIDE World Chess Championship 2021

The chess gladiators | Photo: Eric Rosen

Given these conditions, the first game was certainly gratifying. There were no major blunders nor tactical fireworks, but even the smallest of chances granted to either player were felt as potential game-changers in a visibly tense atmosphere. Months of preparation had just come to an end, and it was time for the players to show their worth.

As had been predicted by Vishy Anand, who is providing live commentary for FIDE, Nepomniachtchi opened his first game with 1.e4 and went for the Ruy Lopez. Carlsen responded by entering a Marshall System. After Nepo’s 8.h3, a very popular variation, the world champion was the first to deviate to a lesser-known line with 8...Na5

 

Commentators praised the depth of the challenger’s preparation, as he showed he had checked this variation by making his next six moves while using less than four minutes of his clock. The queens were traded on move 15 — in true Marshall style, Black had given up a pawn but had sufficient compensation with his bishop pair and active pieces.

On move 22, Carlsen decided to trade one of his bishops for White’s knight, weakening his opponent’s pawn structure permanently.

 

After 22...Bxf3 23.gxf3, the nature of the battle had been clarified. While at some point it seemed like Nepo would manage to fully neutralize Black’s activity and simply emerge a pawn up in a pure endgame, after Carlsen’s 33...b4 it was the defending champion who appeared to have slight winning chances.

The elite grandmasters handled the situation professionally, looking to provoke mistakes by the opponent, but correct play by both sides led to a draw by triple repetition.


Full expert analysis of the game will be published shortly on our news site. Game 1 will be annotated by English grandmaster Michael Adams, who worked as Carlsen’s assistant in previous competitions.


Ian Nepomniachtchi, Magnus Carlsen

Deep focus | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

In the post-game press conference, both players were understandably pragmatic. Carlsen described his play as “shaky at times”, while Nepo explained that once his opponent played ...b4 he knew it was unlikely he would get winning chances in the remainder of the game.

The world champion will get his first white on Saturday. Let us remind you that, unlike in previous matches, the contenders will not get a rest day after every two games, so game 3 will be played on Sunday.

 

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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