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.

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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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