World Championship Game 5: Not forceful enough

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/1/2021 – For the first time at the World Championship match in Dubai, Ian Nepomniachtchi clearly won the opening battle against Magnus Carlsen. The Russian missed a couple of chances to put his opponent under more pressure, which led to a fifth draw in the 14-game duel. The contenders will get a second rest day on Thursday. | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

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“Of course I’m disappointed”

Full expert analysis of the game will be published shortly on our news site. Game 3 will be annotated by world number six Anish Giri.

Magnus CarlsenThere was a slight turning of the tide at the World Championship match in Dubai, as for the first time Ian Nepomniachtchi clearly came out of the opening on top and got to put pressure on his opponent from the get go. The Russian failed to make the most of his chances, while his opponent defended meticulously until getting a 43-move draw.

Nepo’s approach of keeping things under control served him well in the first four games — avoiding a loss against the defending champion while under pressure due to the high stakes in play can certainly be called a success. However, in game 5, it was somewhat disconcerting to see the ever-dynamic challenger steering away from complications in what was a plainly advantageous position for him. His assessment after the game?

Of course I’m disappointed

It must be noted, though, that Carlsen did not look all that happy after the game either. After his early deviations in previous games allowed him to — for the most part — call the shots at the outset of the match, he now knows that his opponent is capable of getting the upper hand early in the coming games.

A second rest day in Dubai, which coincides with the UAE Golden Jubilee celebrations, will allow both players and their teams to regroup. Despite the disappointment from game 5, the success in the opening might prompt Nepo to look for more aggressive alternatives for the remaining encounters, while Carlsen’s team might react to the fifth game by uncorking more radical surprises out of the opening.

Out of a Ruy Lopez, the first one to leave theory, once again, was the world champion. However, his 13...d5 was a logical move which, as could not have been otherwise, was deeply studied by the challenger. Carlsen had already begun to fall behind on the clock at this point, but he got a clear time disadvantage after spending almost 20 minutes on move 19.


In a very strategical position, Carlsen opted for 19...Qe8, when he discarded the alternatives 19...Bd7 and 19...Qe7. Of course, figuring out which one of these moves was the most precise is by no means easy. As the world champion himself confessed, his main concern was a potential 20.c4 by White.

The commentators of the online webcasts began to talk about Nepo getting real winning chances if he pushed his c-pawn. However, after a 10-minute reflection, the Russian went for the rather timid 20.Red1

Naturally, he was asked about this decision in the post-game press conference. The Russian responded by acknowledging that it was difficult for him to choose which kind of advantage to opt for amid a number of attractive possibilities.

There followed 20...Be6 21.Ba4 Bd7 


Here Nepo continued with 22.Nd2, when commentators were mostly looking at 22.Bxd7 Qxd7 23.c4, again pushing the c-pawn to increase the pressure on the queenside. Instead, the queens were swapped shortly after the text move — 22...Bxa4 23.Qxa4 Qxa4 24.Rxa4

As noted by Nigel Short, White had a slight edge in the ensuing endgame. Was Nepo going to ‘pull a Magnus’ against the world champion himself? The Russian missed what was perhaps the biggest chance to do so on move 29.


Nepo’s decision to play 29.Nf5 was disapproved by Anish Giri, who had found the more trying 29.h4 during the commentary webcast. The idea is that Black cannot play 29...h5, and White will get to push his own pawn to the fifth rank, fixing Black’s pawns on dark squares. 

Eventually, White got to fix his pawns on light squares, but the tempo lost on move 29 was crucial — Carlsen showed precise defensive technique to keep the balance in the end.

The world champion was happy with the result, naturally, but needing to defend passively never leaves top grandmasters fully satisfied, even when such approach gets the job done.

After the rest day, games will be played on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For the first time, the world champion will get two whites on a three-day span. And who knows? Perhaps we get to see the first decisive result in a classical game of a World Championship match since 2016.

Magnus Carlsen

Nine games to go — Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

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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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