World Championship Game 4: Hesitant birthday boy

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/30/2021 – The match for the World Championship in Dubai is still tied, as Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi signed a fourth consecutive draw on Tuesday. The defending champion went for his first 1.e4 with the white pieces, to which Nepo responded by setting up a Petroff Defence. Carlsen spent quite a while investigating options that might create trouble for his opponent, but ended up going for a triple repetition on move 30. | Photo: Niki Riga

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Full expert analysis of the game will be published shortly on our news site. Game 3 will be annotated by English grandmaster Luke McShane.

Magnus CarlsenThis is the fifth time Magnus Carlsen is playing a World Championship match, and it is the fifth time the event is organized in November. Since his birthday is on November 30, and he has prevailed in all four matches he has played so far, turning 23, 24, 26 and 28 years old have all been joyous occasions for the Norwegian — in 2016, he beat Sergey Karjakin in playoffs exactly on November 30.

In his current battle against Ian Nepomniachtchi, though, celebrations will most likely have to wait until the end of the match. On his 31st birthday, the world champion got his second white of the match, and could not even put his opponent under pressure before signing the shortest draw of the match so far.

Nepo responded to Carlsen’s 1.e4 with the Petroff, the main weapon used by Fabiano Caruana in his 2018 match against the world champion. While Carlsen himself later said that this was one of the main setups they prepared since Nepo had played it in the Candidates Tournament, Caruana was a bit more puzzled by the decision.

Following the trend we saw on the first three days of the match, Nepo played principled chess from the start, allowing his opponent to be the first one to deviate from the most popular theoretical variations.


Both contenders pretty much blitzed all their moves up to this point, when after Nepo’s 17...a5 theory continued with 18.bxa6 Nxa6. However, Carlsen had prepared 18.Nh4, looking to reroute his knight to attack d5 while not fearing Black’s passed pawn on the a-file.

For the first time in the game, Nepo spent more than 3 minutes considering his next move — but it was not much more than that, as he responded with the natural 18...g6 a bit over 5 minutes after Carlsen had played the novelty of the game. This fact alone is not very telling, since all other potential moves are clearly inferior. However, the fact that the Russian finished the game (after 33 moves) with more than one hour on his clock demonstrates that he was, yet again, well prepared against Carlsen’s early deviations.

When asked about whether he was surprised by his opponent’s knight jump on move 18, Nepo responded with a smile:

Perhaps I even wanted to play this with white one day... 

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Excellently prepared — Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Eric Rosen

The challenger continued to play natural moves, leaving Carlsen to decide how to proceed first on move 25 and then on move 30.


The world champion invested over 20 minutes thinking in this position. In the end, he opted for the principled 25.Nf6+, although 25...Nxb6 was also playable. Five moves later, he was given the option of forcing a draw by repetition...


...and after thinking for over half an hour, he took it — 30.Ne8+ Kg8 31.Nf6+ Kg7, etcetera.

Alternative plans for White included a combination of d6-d7, Kg2, h4 and Re2. Carlsen was checking all these lines and concluded that Black could hold the balance in all of them, a sentiment that was shared by Vishy Anand in the commentary booth. Naturally, the world champion was asked about his long thinks in the press conference, and he explained:

The approach that he chose is not the only one. In other variations, it’s insanely complicated and really risky for black. To be honest, the one he looks really risky to leave the knight on f8 and bank everything on the a-pawn. If you’ve miscalculated something, you just lose, without any chances.

Magnus Carlsen, Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ten games to go... | Photo: Niki Riga

Since the World Championship match is the most popular chess event in terms of coverage on mainstream media, a number of people new to the game probably have trouble grasping what Carlsen meant when he talked about a ‘really risky approach’ while referring to a game that finished drawn rather quickly without any tactical fireworks to be accounted for.

A curious illustration of this phenomenon was shared by photographer extraordinaire Lennart Ootes, who is working on the games’ broadcast from Dubai.

Nevertheless, chess aficionados all around the world seem to be getting eager to see decisive results in the match. After all, the challenger is known for having more of an impulsive, aggressive style.

However, as the Russian proved — especially in the second half of the Candidates — he has worked on keeping things under control when such an approach will help him achieve better results down the line. And can we blame him for doing just that in his first match against a player of Carlsen’s calibre?

Game 4 has certainly been the less exciting of the match so far. We can only wait and see if we will get the kind of battles that erupted in the first two encounters — it is highly unlikely that similar fights will continue to produce draws in such a tense 14-game match.

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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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karavamudan karavamudan 12/2/2021 07:03
People understand at different levels; Strangely I found many of the moves predictable even in middle game so that is not an issue.
Further, if chess is to develop as a spectator sport and not just only that is understood by an enlightened few, then the players should be more willing to take risks.

Test Match Cricket for instance moved forward with more result oriented games when players like Virendra Sehwag showed that even in classical form of cricket, risks may be taken and more decisive games resulted. We need pioneers like him and not people like these players for whom the end justifying the means (like winning in blitz after 12/14 drawn classical games).

Everything cannot be blamed on computers and home preparation. They are overrated because the players will have to be robots to cram so much information and it can backfire.
mc1483 mc1483 12/1/2021 02:02
#Claudioarrau: it's not only that the players are well-prepared. In the last 40 years theoretical knowledge of chess has improved so much that, at the highest level, it's not possibile to win a game without taking some risk. That's not so important in tournaments, when you have a lot of opponents, and only few of them are capable of exploiting your risk, but it's of the greatest importance in matches, when there's only one opponent: if he/she's too strong, you cannot risk, because if you lose one game it's likely you won't recover. So a way to force the risk must be found: either draw-odds or a fixed number of wins to reach, with unlimited games. But we already know the second approach won't work if both players try to wear the opponent out, as it happened in the first KK match, so I don't think there are real alternatives to draw odds.
pipopalazzo pipopalazzo 12/1/2021 12:57
@genem, I didn´t explain the whole idea: In this scheme, 1st & 2nd places of the 8 player round robin tournament, shall play a match for the WCC, as usual. The issue to be solved is what about if one of those 2 resulting players is not the defending champion and the final result of this match also finishes tied? Wich Tiebreak criteria should be applied in order to hace a new WC? I still couldn´t come with a solution for that :).

I´m not against draws, I´m against "drawing matches strategy" (no matter who gets the benefits of "not being the runner-up" in classical format... maybe both, as happened in previous matches). The thing is that under actual rules, the resulting Classical World Champion comes from a rapid or blitz tiebreak, and ironically, there are 2 other World Titles for those time controls.
Stupido Stupido 12/1/2021 12:14
Draws are normal in chess and frequent in a WC match. Viewers who don't understand chess shouldn't watch, period. If they want to see entertaining chess with decisive results all the time, there are plenty of banter blitz and similar streaming online.
karavamudan karavamudan 12/1/2021 09:00
Non-withstanding perfect, error free chess, no mistakes etc., etc., how come first two games were more fighting than the last two?
Among many possible continuations, the ones offering more returns at higher risk have been avoided. Unless either or both of these players seek out more adventurous moves, where returns are high but so are the risks, we will see insipid chess until even game 14.

Which is important? Correct and safe chess where all games are drawn (hopefully there might be one or two online and physical audience still left by game 14) or correct but adventurous chess where the board is set on fire (TV viewership will hit the roof).

Maybe connoisseurs may enjoy this kind of safe chess, where the gleam in the opponent's eye is snuffed out long before it may materialize, or both players will leave their positions unbalanced and seek to go at their opponent. My attention span in game 3 was less and in game 4 was negligible.
Theochessman Theochessman 12/1/2021 08:48
Of course my understanding of Chess is not at GM level.
Still, when I replay these games, they seem very sterile to me.
genem genem 12/1/2021 07:25
Fans who criticize the players for the high draw rate must be asking the players to - more often make speculative moves that create complications for the opponent. The flaw is that such moves are often unsound, and can be punished for victory if the opponent calculates well. Players who make such risky moves are defeated early in the candidates' tournament cycle.

Lightning !?: An under-explored way to generate exciting chess for fans, and to reduce the extremely high draw rate, is to try the 'Lightning' style of time-control.

For example, let each player start with only 10 seconds on his clock, and have each move receive only a Delay of perhaps 20 seconds. This way, when presented with a complication, the player would not have 600+ seconds to solve the complication.

This Lightning time-control could generate the errors that are utterly essential for lowering the draw rate. However, use of this short time-control would greatly lower the prestige of the Match World Chess Championship (MWCChamp) title. Like it or not, unlike the games Go and Shogi, chess is a draw. This is a bit sad, because as Mig Greengaard once said, "action must occur on the score board", not just on the chess board.
Aighearach Aighearach 12/1/2021 07:11
Some of these comments about earned draws are as silly as the guy who thought the king had been captured!

Those of us old enough to remember the old days, you'd have 10 draws in a row that didn't go 20 moves and were simply agreed, without any struggle, without any threats having appeared. Often in early middlegames where there would be a considerable likelihood of a decisive result if they were played out, but a draw was agreed because the 1st player hadn't achieved an advantage from preparation, and the 2nd player was happy to "achieve" a draw by equalizing.

Ironically, modern armchair speakers often broadcast complaints about the high quality of computer preparation, too, even in an age where equal middlegames get played out.

Why complain about earned draws, where the game is played out with no mistakes? If you just want to see mistakes, you can do that watching club games.
genem genem 12/1/2021 06:58
@pipopalazzo , Your idea is very creative, namely to have the champion who retains his title by a tied match next (2 years later) have to defend his title in an 8 player tournament, instead of in a new 1-on-1 match.

The problem with this creative idea is that the title of Match World Chess Champion (MWCChamp) is by definition a match title. It is not a tournament title. In 1886, Steinitz and Zukertort did not explicitly name their title a "match" title, because such was obviously implied. So your idea would basically abandon and vacate the MWCChamp concept almost every 2 years.

This match nature of the historic MWCChamp title is why V.Anand did Not (by definition) take the MWCChamp title away from V.Kramnik in a 2007 tournament, regardless of what Kirsan pressured Kramnik to agree to. Rather, Anand took the MWCChamp title in the rightful natural time-honored way in 2008.

Besides, contrary to the implication in these comment webpages, both players are already trying their very hardest to win a match game, without being foolishly reckless by making lower quality moves that might seem as complicating.
pipopalazzo pipopalazzo 12/1/2021 05:23
May be, a way to discourage draws could be that if the match results tied at the end, The World Champion retains the title (no tiebreak) BUT he must enter in the next WCC Cycle as the rest of the contenders. This will push both players to leave comfort zone. (Rapid or blitz tiebreak alows players to speculate even more IMHO).
karavamudan karavamudan 12/1/2021 04:16
The two were at each other's throats in the first two games. Seeing how much effort it took and the length of the match, they have backed off and are now playing out safe draws.

Expect more dull insipid chess at least in the next few games after which the hungrier of the two may go for broke (probably Nepo)
Claudioarrau Claudioarrau 12/1/2021 02:38
Plans or schemes to discourage draws always run up against the simple fact that, in any sport, you can't win unless the opponent makes a mistake, or at least more mistakes than you do. All the rest is propaganda. In this match, we clearly have two well-prepared, talented and fearless contestants. We're not going to get any wimpy draws and we certainly haven't so far. For those who want more bloodlust for its own sake, here is a selection of sports you might prefer:

Love and Death (Woody Allen, 1975)- The Duel [sub. español] - YouTube
maac2002 maac2002 12/1/2021 02:32
+1 @dumkof
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 12/1/2021 01:21
Magnus birthday November 30 and he goes for repetition on Move 30. Or maybe he doesn't want to turn 31 . . .
dumkof dumkof 12/1/2021 12:49
@rakerchess, and as long as Beast doesn't disagree with their moves, there is nothing wrong with the draws. Nothing to criticize at all. These 2 players are the best and obviously know what they're doing. Why do some people not just lean back and enjoy this highest level of human chess?
rakerchess rakerchess 11/30/2021 11:49
The third time out of four games that the players played a "perfect" game (according to the Beast). No comments at all by it! Apart from the error strewn second game, it seems that we have two computer programs playing each other, rather than flesh and blood human beings.
Carlsen has clearly learned his lesson from the second game, and did not try to overreach at all. If this trend continues, we'll have fourteen draws in a row.
The Beast: Fat Fritz 2 running on 48 cores (3 GHz HP Z8 G4 workstation with 2 Intel Xeon processors & 192 GB RAM), Syzygy endgame table bases on, opening book off.
Michael Jones Michael Jones 11/30/2021 10:57
"14. cxd5 was played by the boomers" is possibly my favourite analysis comment ever.
mc1483 mc1483 11/30/2021 10:53
@karban: I agree with you, without draw odds there's no solution to this problem. Why risk when there are playoffs? In rapid/blitz games it's much more easier to win games and recover from losses, so every player (unlike he/she knows is really bad at rapid/blitz) certainly prefers to risk something then, but never in classical games.
karban karban 11/30/2021 10:14
24 games? Do you want this drawfest to bloat even more?
The current strategy for players is - until the mid- point of the match I'm not gonna risk I'm just warming up, in the second half I'm not gonna risk it's too late:)
For me only getting draw odds back is solution. Either classic way, for the defending champion or modern way - to the winner of a tie-breaks which are played before the classical match.
Mr Toad Mr Toad 11/30/2021 08:59
"it is highly unlikely that similar fights will continue to produce draws in such a tense 14-game match."
...something of a hope against expectation?
Theochessman Theochessman 11/30/2021 08:50
I'd rather see 24 games, as in the old days.
But OK: 14 is already an improvement over 12.
Still no-one dares to take any risks in this format.