World Championship Game 9: Disaster strikes for Nepo

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/7/2021 – The World Championship match in Dubai might theoretically finish after 11 (out of 14) games, as Magnus Carlsen scored a third victory in four games after Ian Nepomniachtchi inexplicably blundered a piece in an equal position on Tuesday. The challenger now needs to win 3 out of the 5 remaining encounters to take the match to tiebreaks. | Photo: Niki Riga

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Full expert analysis of the game will be published shortly on our news site. Game 9 will be annotated by Filipino-born American grandmaster Wesley So!

Magnus CarlsenMuch of what happened during the first half of the match in Dubai (until Saturday) might be described as somewhat predictable — an excellently prepared challenger was keeping things under control against the experienced defending champion, who incidentally is one of the strongest chess players in history.

Even on Friday, when Magnus Carlsen won a marathon game, it seemed like things were following a relatively normal path. A loss in a long endgame after surviving a tough position in the middlegame is nothing to be extremely tormented about — again, especially while facing the world champion. However, that turned out to be the beginning of the end for Ian Nepomniachtchi.

The way the challenger has all but lost any chances to win the match is what is more disconcerting. After losing game 6, he did not get much with white on Saturday, and blundered away two games in a row to find himself 3 points down with 5 games to go in the match. The extremely unexpected blunder from game 9 points to some psychological factor having to do with the sudden collapse.

After losing game 8, it already seemed like Nepo only stood a remote shot at winning the match. Understandably, as Carlsen himself pointed out, the Russian decided to make significant changes after the rest day, not only regarding his opening preparation but also at a more superficial level — Nepo arrived in the playing hall with a new haircut, after having worn a man-bun for the last few years. Moreover, the Russian was joined by former World Championship challenger Sergey Karjakin, a top-notch aide without a doubt.

A sharp fight resulted from Nepo playing 1.c4, and Carlsen going for a trying line with 3...d4, when he could have easily taken a safer route. The position was simplified after Nepo failed to find the most precise continuation on move 15 (according to the engines, of course).

In hindsight, however, the first 26 moves were only the prelude to a deciding moment in World Championship history, as this is the kind of game that will be mostly remembered for a single move — a ‘simple’ pawn push...


27.c5 artlessly gives up a piece. Of course Nepo is capable of calculating that after 27...c6 there is no way to defend the bishop on b7, which is trapped near the corner of the board. The piece was trapped via 28.f3 Nh6 29.Re4 Ra7 30.Rb4 Rb8


Nothing short of a miracle would save Nepo, as after his 27th move some commentators even thought the Russian would immediately resign. And, in fact, there was no miracle: Carlsen had no trouble converting his material advantage into a 39-move win, his third of the match.

A single-word tweet was shared by Anish Giri and by the member of Nepo’s team who had been flown into Dubai to deal with the crisis...

Already in his fifth match for the world crown, Carlsen was dumbfounded.

After playing 27.c5 and seeing his opponent respond with the logical refutation, Nepo left the playing hall for almost 20 minutes. The world champion could not believe his eyes — he knew that his opponent had hung a piece, but perhaps felt somewhat disappointed (at least for a while) to all but secure a fifth consecutive success in a World Championship match after seeing his challenger, an extremely strong player by any standard, blundering egregiously.

In the post-game press conference, Nepo was still shell-shocked, as he confessed:

I could not imagine there is a way to blunder in that position.

While Carlsen was the favourite going into the match, Nepo’s showing at the Candidates Tournament and his perceived change of attitude towards the game indicated that we were about to witness a fighting confrontation, similar to the ones seen in 2016 and 2018. However, we saw a somewhat anticlimactic abrupt collapse — a good reminder of just how tough it is to get good results consistently at the very top of the chess elite.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Magnus Carlsen

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Niki Riga

The match is not over yet, and even though it is almost statistically certain that Carlsen will keep his crown for one more cycle, we can still hope to see a few more fighting games. Perhaps this is a good chance for Nepo to loosen up and show the sharpest lines from his theoretical preparation?

Fans will be grateful if the Russian employs this approach, although we cannot blame him if he simply keeps things short and focuses on moving on after such devastating pair of blunders.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Nepo has remarkably kept his composure during the press conferences | Photo: Niki Riga

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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genem genem 12/9/2021 03:38
The analysis commentary about Nepo's blunder '27. c45??' perhaps should have more explicitly mentioned that the blunder prevents '28. Nb3-c5', and that from square c5 White's knight presses on White's B@b7 plus on the bishop's escape square a6. Nepo would have been fine if, by magic, he would simply have skipped his 27th turn.
Papatactics Papatactics 12/9/2021 06:54
Zagliveri_chess - good point but I would guess a good portion of this will go towards his team/seconds. Unless he had some sponsorship that dealt with that aspect
karavamudan karavamudan 12/8/2021 01:19
As Gligoric succinctly put it, Ian should play against the pieces and not against Magnus. This way, the menacing presence of Magnus (the more subtle version of Kasparov) may perhaps be neutralized.

Perhaps only way you can beat Magnus is to have both players wearing masks (like fencing) so that they may not see each other :(.

Good chess has gone out of the window and perhaps the first nail has been sunk in the coffin for classical chess.
methos methos 12/8/2021 10:59
What's with all these silly comments about how good Carlsen is playing.
His sub par play shows he is ripe for the picking and Firouzja will destroy him.
das monde das monde 12/8/2021 09:12
Nepo tried to beat Magnus on cheap: clocking pressure and all. This is not good for the Russian chess karma. On the other hand, it is a big advantage to the champion that his challengers show up without any relevant match experience.
Zagliveri_chess Zagliveri_chess 12/8/2021 09:08
I am not sure how much of the prize money will be tax for the loser of the match and how much the preparation cost to Ian, but, as @thing50 says, 800k euros is a rather decent compensation for his pains. I have to work 3+ years to get that net and I am probably rather privileged. If you convert the total compensation to hours, the resulting rate is insane.

Carlsen blundered badly against Anand and got pale until the latter missed his chance. Of course we will never know what the result would have been if Anand had spotted the blunder. In the present match Carlsen is dominant. +3 is an enviable score. In the previous 2 matches he was anything but dominant. Rapid/blitz tiebreaker is a foolish WC match clause. Champion has draw odds, challenger keeps his/her head high if the match is drawn.

If Firouja keeps working hard and nothing out of the norm happens in the next candidates tournament, the next WC match could be very a change of the guard.
MauvaisFou MauvaisFou 12/8/2021 08:24
Aighearach, I never noticed that Karjakin or Caruana collapsed.
MauvaisFou MauvaisFou 12/8/2021 08:16
Why does not S.K. tell I.N. first to remain seated at the table ? It would help him concentrate, and is disrespectful to M.C. I think I remember that Spassky first used this trick in a Candidates match against Korchnoi, but these two hated each other. Anyway, I.N. never had a chance. Plays too quickly and often blunders, not only in this match. Wasn't there an enormous blunder against Anand in an endgame ? He won the Candidates in very special conditions. Ding was the clear favourite and he or Caruana would have been a much tougher opponent for the WCh.
thing50 thing50 12/8/2021 04:55
Look on the bright side are getting 800,000 euros for your pain
rakerchess rakerchess 12/8/2021 04:50
The move 14....e5, which many commentators were getting excited about and strongly recommended, does not change anything compared to Carlsen's 14....a3=, according to the Beast (Fat Fritz 2 running on 48 cores).

14....e5 15 Re1 Rd8 16 b4 (16 Na4 Qb4 17 b3 ed4=) ab3 17 Nb3 e4 18 h3 Nh6 19 Ne5 f5 20 Nc6 bc6=.

Calsen's 14....a3 was the much more pragmatic choice in the situation. There was no need to enter "complications" with 14....e5, which would simply have resulted in an equal position as well, but with more "risk" for Carlsen.
Aighearach Aighearach 12/8/2021 03:44
The same people who complain about safe draws, also complain about decisive games. All through the history of chess, there have been blunders in WC matches. The increased pressure is simply part of the conditions of the event. Part of what makes a World Champion is being consistent under those conditions. Few have achieved it. Carlsen is a monster, when his opponent loses, loses again, and then collapses, Carlsen should get full credit for having brought that about. And he doesn't do any of the Kasparov psychological tricks, screwing the piece into the square to embarrass his op after a mistake, etc. He breaks them with his moves, with his chess. Truly the greatest.
rakerchess rakerchess 12/8/2021 03:36
The Beast (Fat Fritz 2 running on 48 cores) comments:

Equality all the way until move 27.

15 b4 instead of 15 ba3 does not change the evaluation: 15 b4 Nb4 16 Rb1 b6 17 Rb4 bc5 18 Rb5 Ra6! (18....cd4?? 19 Nd4+- would have been a blunder) 19 Rc5 Bb7 20 Qb1 Ba8=.

Nepo's 27 c5??-+ was clearly a blunder. He should have played 27 f3 Nh6 28 Be4 Nf5 29 Bf5 ef5 30 Red1 Rd1+ 31 Rd1 Kf8 32 Rd5 Rc4 33 Rc5 Ra4 34 Rc7 Ra2=.

Carlsen's 37....c5! was worthy of note. Nepo's 38 a7 was the best reply, 38 Nc5 Nf5 39 a7 Ra8 40 Ra6 Nh4 41 Kf2 Ng6 42 Ne4 Ne5-+ would have been worse for him.

Instead of 39 Nc5, Nepo could have tried a "swindle" with 39 Rb1, hoping for 39....Ba4?? 40 Rb8 Bc6 41 Rd8+ Kh7 42 Kf2 Nf5=. Carlsen would most likely not have fallen for this, however, and he would rather have played 39....Ra8 40 Rb8 Ra7 41 Re8+ Kh7 42 Nc5 Nf5-+.

After Carlsen's last move 39....Ra8, if Nepo had not resigned, play could have continued with 40 Nb7 Nf5 41 Nd6 Bd7 42 Kf2 Nh4-+.

It seems Nepo is an "impulsive" player, in the Bent Larsen (1935-2010) mold. Like Larsen, he will therefore never reach the highest summit (become world champion).

All the intensive months of secluded preparation and training (including, one assumes, psychological training, due to the influence of Nikolai Krogius (1930 -), author of "Psychology of Chess" (1976), still hanging in there at 91 years old!) by the Russian chess establishment apparently did not manage to change or ameliorate Nepo's basic "character".

All the top "world class" grandmasters (by my definition, the top 12 players) have the necessary chess skills to become world champion. Those skills are the foundation of any world championship attempt, but one also needs the right "character" to become and, even more importantly, remain world champion, as Botvinnik used to say.

Nepo lacks the "character" to become world champion.
NoSystem NoSystem 12/8/2021 03:30
I would like to have Magnus's skills and Nepo's strength of character and sportsmanship.
Mr Toad Mr Toad 12/8/2021 03:25
Like Fischer, Carlsen beats players before they even sit down at the board. In Game 6, Nepo was tortured for 136 moves over a period of 7 hr 48 mins. That would break anyone's will to resist.

It was akin to the fear and dread of being hunted as prey by a seemingly invincible jungle beast. This might explain why he was "absent from the board" on so many occasions - Leavenfish's Borg reference is entirely valid.
chessgod0 chessgod0 12/8/2021 03:20

He shouldn't go headhunting...but if the opportunity arises to utterly break Nepo and annihilate him then he should take it. He needs to make sure Nepo does not have the pscychological wherewithal to ever challenge again. Also, he has already defeated the leading lights of his generation (except Ding) and now is the time to send a message to Firouzja and the crop of young Indian talents surging through the 2600s that they need to get comfortable in second place because he's going to be on top for a long time.
trill trill 12/8/2021 02:50
Will Carlsen go for the jugular and Nepo's sanity by attempting to win the match with a "Fischeresque" 8-3?

Or will Carlsen choose the pragmatic approach by drawing the next three games and win the match by 7.5-4.5?

If 8-3, he cements his place in history and frightens Firouzja and the rest of the contenders or are they pretenders?
Masquer Masquer 12/8/2021 02:11
@tom_70 Pray tell, then who should be the challenger, if not the Candidates winner? Anyone can have a bad match, and besides we knew Carlsen was much stronger based on rating alone.
Perhaps Carlsen should hand pick opponents? <sarcasm>
SunriseK SunriseK 12/8/2021 01:45
"might theoretically finish after 11 (out of 14) games" or... after 12 (out of 14) games? ;-)
tom_70 tom_70 12/8/2021 01:42
This game just further illustrates why Nepo should never have been here in the first place. Winning the candidates does not mean you are worthy to challenge to the world champion.
albitex albitex 12/8/2021 01:33
When will we return to see an interesting world match?
turok turok 12/8/2021 12:43
never belonged in this title game
Leavenfish Leavenfish 12/8/2021 12:39
The moment that shall go down as symbolic for this entire match: After playing 25...c6 Carlsen sitting there...all alone for...what was it, 10 - 20 minutes (?) facing an empty chair.

That image said it all.

Nepo, time and again in critical positions, moved too quickly, got up...and left. He was absent from the board much of the match in both mind and body and... especially after game 6 when (some of you will get this) it seems the Borg leaned over and whispered to him "Resistance is futile".
bbrodinsky bbrodinsky 12/7/2021 11:54
let's not forget that double blunder of Anand vs.......CARLSEN! 6th game, 2014 I believe. These things DO happen.
caliche2016 caliche2016 12/7/2021 11:28
A sad day, but not only for Nepo I believe, but also for chess in general and in particular for the history of the World Chess Championship matches. Certainly Carlsen is right in pointing out that also other players have made that kind of mistakes in these matches, quoting Vishy's error (probably thinking of 28.Nf1? of game 9 in the 2013 match), but still, not all mistakes are equal…

What I find curious is how relax Nepo has been playing, relax in this case meaning with a self destructive overdose of optimism, or as Giri put it, without being able to sense the danger at all. Going back to game 1, even if not losing, his 22.Bf4?! was already a very bad sign: if there are (according to the engine) at least 10 better options, why voluntarily choosing a move that destroys your pawn structure and forces you to defend an unpleasant ending?

In tennis they talk about "unforced errors", errors when you have things under control, well, that sounds exactly like the kind of mistakes Nepo has been doing in this match: 22.Bf4 (game 1), 10...Kf8 (game 8) and now 27.c5 (game 9). About today’s mistake, it looks like Blumenfeld's old recommendation, quoted by Kotov in his "Think like a Grandmaster" still holds true even for top GMs: you must do an elementary check before making a move, making sure you're not blundering anything, there is no hanging piece, no checkmate in one or two, etc.

I hope Nepo will pull himself together and keep fighting to the end.
e-mars e-mars 12/7/2021 11:11
Do not forget that Kramnik during what is considered the true, final world championship between human race and computers got mate in 1
CarlosCleto CarlosCleto 12/7/2021 11:04
Such things happen when a monster takes on a human grandmaster ... In the nineties, K & K trounced the humans: Kasparov 12,5 x 7,5 Short (with 3 wins in the first 4 games), Kasparov 10,5 x 7,5 Anand (with 4 wins in 5 games), Karpov 12,5 x 8,5 Timman (with 3 straight wins in games 14-16) and Karpov 10,5 x 7,5 Kamsky (with 4 wins in 6 games). Seem is very hard to maintain focus when nothing you try is able to stop the punching. Even a soul as strong as Anand broke under pressure when matched against Carlsen.