World Championship Game 2: Sharp Catalan ends drawn

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/27/2021 – A second consecutive tense draw was seen on Saturday at the World Championship match in Dubai. Once again, Magnus Carlsen deviated from mainstream theory early in the game, pushing his opponent to solve difficult problems over the board from the get go. Ian Nepomniachtchi showed great nerves to keep things under control, and even got some winning chances in a complex middlegame. The tension continues to rise in Dubai! | Photo: Eric Rosen / FIDE

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Deep preparation

Full expert analysis of the game will be published shortly on our news site. Game 2 will be annotated by none other than English grandmaster Luke McShane.

Magnus CarlsenBesides the competitive factor — which has to do with stamina, nerves and sheer chess talent — a World Championship match is also a struggle between two teams of talented ‘chess scientists’. Each contender invests money and time to gather a group of trusted assistants to help him reach every single game with as many prepared variations as possible. After all, showing a strong novelty or surprising the opponent in a sideline might have a decisive effect on the final result. 

After two games in the 2021 World Championship match, both the defending champion and the challenger have demonstrated just how much work goes into these contests. Commentators and pundits mostly agree that Magnus Carlsen currently has a 2-0 advantage in terms of preparation, but credit should be given to Ian Nepomniachtchi’s team for having looked deeply enough at the 8...Na5 line seen in the first game, and to Nepo himself for having survived through the complications of a sharp Catalan Opening on Saturday.

The likes of Erwin l’Ami, an expert analyst himself, knew we were in for a creative, sharp struggle as early as on move 8.


Carlsen was the one creating the conditions for a fighting game, and after 8...c6 9.a4 Nd5 10.Nc3 f6 11.Nf3, Nepo responded in kind, going for 11...Qd7 instead of 11...b4, creating more imbalances in an already complex position.

Soon after, Black planted his knight on the strong d3-outpost, which was described by Nigel Short as a ‘giant sprawling lobster’. After thinking for a bit over 15 minutes, Carlsen responded with the critical 14.e5, as predicted by Short.


Nepo was holding tight, but clearly it was Carlsen who was in the driver’s seat — the world champion does not play the Catalan as often as other lines against 1.d4. However, an imprecise knight jump by the Norwegian turned the tables.


After 17.Ne5, Black correctly went for 17...Bxe5 18.dxe5 Nac5, getting the upper hand. In the post-game press conference, Carlsen confessed that he had completely missed his opponent’s 18th move, but “[took] some solace in the fact that you usually need to work pretty hard to win such positions as Black”.

Nepo definitely had winning chances. Later on, the Russian praised Carlsen’s play after his mistake on move 17, as the champion found the most obstinate manoeuvres despite being well aware of the fact that he had erred in a critical position. White’s ability to prevent a quick disaster worked out well for Carlsen, as Nepo surprisingly faltered on move 24.


Black’s 24...c3 was described by Anish Giri as ‘panicky’. Nepo later explained that he was overly fearful of being on the wrong side of a mating attack. The Russian elaborated:

Perhaps ...c3 was a little bit of a human reaction to make sure I’m not going to be mated, and I guess after ...c3 it was more or less equal.

Once the dust had settled, Black was an exchange up, but White had a strong knight on d6 (much like his opponent earlier in the game). Among others, commentator Judit Polgar considered that the world champion was the one trying to find a plan to go for the win.


Carlsen’s 37.Qg4 was not the most precise here, as after 37...Rxd6 (the knight is way too strong) 38.exd6 Qxd6 Black knew he could draw a potential rook endgame with 3 v 2 on the kingside. And that is exactly what happened, with Nepo keeping things under control before the peace treaty was signed on move 58.

Former world champion Garry Kasparov, who visited the playing venue in Dubai, shared on Twitter:

Not even one of the living chess legends fully understood what was going on in the game, but what is undeniable is that it has been two days of intrigue and palpable tension. We can only hope to see more of the same in the coming weeks. The fight is on!

Full expert analysis of the game will be published shortly on our news site. Game 2 will be annotated by none other than English grandmaster Luke McShane.

All games



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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Resistance Resistance 11/28/2021 03:56
Very tense, fascinating battles so far (especially Game 2). So what if they're not perfect; at least they feel real. They're trying to make things happen, and so, I congratulate Magnus and Ian for their effort (-Also, it is a real treat seeing them coming up with these new, unusual opening ideas which add ever new life to our game-).

The only downside, so far: the time control. No increment till move 61? Most games end before move 60, so you're basically removing the 30 seconds cumulative increment from the classical world chess championship match altogether (!). No. In an event as important as this one, players should be encouraged to create, to take risks and to seek greatness. Everytime organizers rob players from such necessary, basic conditions (-cumulative time increment from the very beginning in this case-), chess itself loses; we all lose.

Yayo Yayo 11/28/2021 11:17
Mr Carlsen is the clear favourite in this match: he has the highest Elo rating in history, has a lot of experience in World Championship matches and has never been defeated so far. That said, Mr Nepomniachtchi is an extremely solid top player with nerves of steel and a worthy, dangerous opponent.
MauvaisFou MauvaisFou 11/28/2021 10:26
I think that after three draws against higher-rated players, the weaker player should be penalised, because more often than not, it is the weaker player who seeks the draw and plays solid lines.
But, like most of chessplayers fortunately, I believe that draws are NOT an issue.
rakerchess rakerchess 11/28/2021 10:11
Previous comments based on analysis by Fat Fritz 2 (one minute analysis per move, Syzygy endgame tablebases enabled, opening book turned off) running on an HP Z8 G4 workstation (3 GHz, two Intel Xeon processors, 48 cores, & 192 GB RAM).
rakerchess rakerchess 11/28/2021 10:07
After the "perfect" 1st game, mistakes and blunders abounded in the 2d game.
After an interesting opening, Carlsen's 20 Rb1? gave Nepo a large advantage. Carlsen should have played 20 Be3 Na1 21 Ra1 ba4 22 Be4 Ne5 23 Qh5 Ng6 24 Bc5 Rf6 25 Ra4 Qc7 26 Nc4 a5=, with equality.
Carlsen's next mistake 23 Rd1? -+ led to a lost game, instead he should have played 23 Be4 Ba8 24 Rd1 g6 25 a5 Qe7, though still with a large advantage for Nepo.
Nepo reciprocated with 23...Ba8??=, when 23...ba4 24 Be4 g6 25 Qc4 c5 26 Rd2 Be4 27 Ne4 Qc6 28 Rd6 Qc8 29 Nf6+ Kh8 30 Rd2 Rb4 31 Qc3 a5 -+ would have given him a winning advantage.
On the next move, Carlsen's 24 Be4? gave Nepo a large advantage, when 24 Nb5 Qb7 25 Be4 Qb6= would have led to equality.
Nepo's 24...c3?= threw away his large advantage, when 24...g6 25 a5 Qe7 26 h4 a6 27 f4 c5 28 Ba8 Ra8 would have kept this advantage.
Carlsen's 26 bc3?? -+ was a blunder, when 26 Qc3 ba4 27 Rd2 Kh8 28 Qc4 c5 29 Ba8 Ra8 30 Qc5 g5= was equal.
Nepo did not take advantage of this, and blundered in turn with 26... ba4??=, when 26... Qg7 27 f4 g5 28 ab5 gf4 29 bc6 Kh8 30 Kg2 Qe5 31 Nb7 fg3 32 hg3 Rg8 33 Qd3 Rbf8 -+ was a clear win.
Carlsen should have lost this game. Nepo had a winning advantage on two occasions, and was never worse than equal.
On this form, Carlsen will lose the title this time around. Is Carlsen underestimating Nepo, and pushing too hard as White by playing "coffee house" chess? We shall see in the games to come.
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 11/28/2021 06:45
i hope Nepo to Nail Magnus this time ..
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 11/28/2021 06:44
oh... those dominating knights ...... i was reminded of Garry's monster knight at d3 against the celebrated sicilian game against Karpov in a WCC....
Claudioarrau Claudioarrau 11/28/2021 06:22
@Archnimzo, couldn't agree more. For true lovers of chess, the content of a game transcends the result.
elmaestro1967 elmaestro1967 11/28/2021 05:27
Love chess,,, Carlsen will win.
Archnimzo Archnimzo 11/28/2021 05:13
I don't think of draws as a 'disease', it is part of the game and a valid result, not everything should be 0 or 1, yes or no, win or lose. I love chess as it is.
Claudioarrau Claudioarrau 11/28/2021 04:55
@methos, it takes a lot more to succeed than just the will to win at the highest level these days. The players need teams of seconds to pore over the best available computer analysis. That costs money, which they can't afford to throw away by playing for death or glory every game. In a match especially, they have to play strategically, knowing when to keep their powder dry and when to go for broke. So it's absurd to suggest, as you do, that nominally higher-rated players should be penalized if they don't win at least one out of every three consecutive games. A true chess connoisseur appreciates a high-quality, fighting game regardless of result. So should you, and anyone else who seeks a holy grail where only the result matters.
tom_70 tom_70 11/28/2021 03:50
@methos, I think both games have been hard fought. These aren't early draws. The system doesn't need to be changed, only peoples understanding of what it takes to win at the highest level.
Vidmar Vidmar 11/28/2021 02:54
Chess is absolutely perfect as it is and has been for 200 years.
A draw is a legitimate result; many times they're hard fought, as today. A variant is just another parlor game, not The Royal Game.
methos methos 11/27/2021 11:46
Carlsen's last 2 defences have been a snoozefest and it is shaping up to be the same this time.
I have a suggestion to counter the draw epidemic.
In any tournament or match, if a player has 3 draws in a row and it is against a lower rated player, the third game is counted as a loss both in points and rating.
This would be easy to program into software for a tournament director.
Also, if the match or tournament ends with two players tied, the lower rated player wins.
The reasoning is that the draw problem is being caused by the stronger player.
He has the ability, more so than the weaker player, to draw.
Therefore there should be a penalty to discourage this.

Excessive draws are a mindset.

This could be applied to other sports such as football and cricket which are afflicted with the same disease.
Leavenfish Leavenfish 11/27/2021 11:20
Yes, AO's comment is nonsense. Chess is clearly far from played out and no one really cares about 'variants'. Those are for people who can't play regular chess very good or are washed up as players or 'promoters' looking to make a buck on a spectacle....or good regular players simply willing to take those $$'s the promoters offer.
MauvaisFou MauvaisFou 11/27/2021 11:13
to AlphaZero
We could also decide that from now on, pawns will move diagonally and take pieces going straightforward ... Among other defaults, RandomChess completely breaks the equality between players.
Metaphysician Metaphysician 11/27/2021 11:00
I’m glad Carlsen and Nepo are playing actual chess and not a variant. The first two games were exciting.
AlphaZero1 AlphaZero1 11/27/2021 09:45
Make Random Chess mainstream. It will be disliked by the "chess scientists" but will show who possesses brute chess force.