After ten games of the match, Magnus Carlsen was just one point away from winning the event. Ian Nepomniachtchi, the challenger, had to score 3.5 points in the remaining four games. This didn’t seem possible, but we could expect at least a big fight at the end of the match.
The eleventh game started with a new opening choice by White.
No, it wasn’t the King’s Gambit. The challenger went for the Italian Game. This opening is full of nuances and is fashionable at the top level nowadays.
Let’s see what it led to.
Nepomniachtchi, Ian (2782) – Carlsen, Magnus (2855) [C54]
FIDE World Championship 2021 Dubai (11.1), 10.12.2021
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.c3 d6 6.0–0 a5
The more traditional way is to play 6…a6, but it is trendy nowadays to play …a7-a5 in such positions. Black grabs more space and prevents White’s ideas connected with b2-b4.
7.Re1 Ba7 A waiting move. If 7…0-0, White would have the possibility to play 8.Bg5. This move could lead to double-edged complications. This is why Black delays castling.
8.Na3 If now 8.Bg5, then Black can push the pawns on the kingside without weakening the king that much. White develops the knight to a3 instead of d2, so the c1-bishop is not blocked and can still go to g5. 8…h6 Now the option of pinning the knight by the bishop is not there anymore.
White could play place the knight to b5, but Nepomniachtchi chose a more restrained approach: 9.Nc2 0–0 10.Be3 Bxe3 11.Nxe3 Re8 Planning to trade the light-squared bishops without doubling the pawns. 12.a4 Be6 13.Bxe6 Rxe6 14.Qb3 b6
The position is a bit more pleasant for White, but Black is very solid. 15.Nd5 deserved some attention here, although it is still hard to believe Magnus would lose this as Black.
15.Rad1 Ne7 16.h3 Qd7 17.Nh2
This move was a little bit weird. Black couldn’t play …d6-d5 with the knight being on f3 because the e5-pawn was hanging in all of the variations. Since the knight is gone, Black starts preparing for the break in the center.
17…Rd8! 18.Nhg4 Nxg4 19.hxg4 d5!
Here White found a good equalizing move 20.d4. After 20…exd4 21.exd5 Re4
The easiest would have been 23.Rxd4 Rxd4 24.cxd4 Nxd5 25.Nxd5 Qxd5 26.Qxc7 Qxd4 27.b3, with a completely equal position. The game would have been finished in a draw for sure.
Instead, Ian thought for 10 minutes and went for the shocking 23.g3?? Unbelievable! This is a horrible blunder that is hard to explain.
At the press conference, Nepomniachtchi admitted, “The things that happened to me here had never happened to me in any other events.”
Magnus Carlsen after Ian Nepomniachtchi’s 23.g3??, another pawn blunder, in game 11. pic.twitter.com/hCHjC4wM7Q
— Olimpiu G. Urcan (@olimpiuurcan) December 10, 2021
After the simple 23…dxe3 24.gxf4 Qxg4+ 25.Kf1 Qh3+ 26.Kg1, White’s position is completely lost.
The easiest would have been 26…exf2+ 27.Qxf2 Rd6. The rook is coming to g6, and White can resign.
Instead, the champion decided to start with 26…Nf5, but after the tricky and strong 27.d6!, it turned out the game will continue for some time. Black still had a winning position, of course. Magnus spent some time choosing the direction and went for a winning rook endgame. 27…Nh4 28.fxe3 Qg3+ 29.Kf1 Nf3!
Let’s hope Ian Nepomniachtchi has not started to smash the furniture. pic.twitter.com/Yl0Zuk4L5N
— Olimpiu G. Urcan (@olimpiuurcan) December 10, 2021
Of course, 30.dxc7 is not possible: 30…Qg1+ 31.Ke2 Qg2#
30.Qf2 Qh3+ 31.Qg2 Qxg2+ 32.Kxg2 Nxe1+ 33.Rxe1 Rxd6
The rook endgame is winning for Black. Knowing that White decided not to defend passively and try to show some activity.
34.Kf3 Rd2 35.Rb1 g6 36.b4 axb4 37.Rxb4 Ra2 38.Ke4
The king goes after Black’s queenside pawns. The computers don’t approve this plan, but waiting would not have led to anything good for White either.
38…h5 39.Kd5 Rc2 40.Rb3 h4 Black’s pawn will soon reach h2 and force White’s rook to go to the first rank. After that, the c3-pawn falls. 41.Kc6 h3 42.Kxc7 h2 43.Rb1 Rxc3+ 44.Kxb6
44…Rb3+! The final point. 45.Rxb3 h1Q 46.a5 Qe4 Black easily stops White’s pawn from marching forward. Right now …Qe6+ is the threat. 47.Ka7 Qe7+ 48.Ka8 Kg7 If now 49.e6, then 49…Qe6! 50.Ra3? Qe8+ 51.Kb7 Qe7+ and 52…Qxa3. 49.Rb6 Qc5 1-0 White resigned both the game and the match.
At the press conference, Magnus concluded, “I am very happy, of course. I didn’t expect it to go quite like this. I think it was a very good professional performance overall. I have no regrets at all. I’m satisfied.”
People said the championship was 60/40 pic.twitter.com/OZbbh6uhMj
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) December 10, 2021
He also commented on the flow of the match, “After five games there were five draws. I had very few chances to play for anything more and then everything clicked and I think after that, it all went my way. You don’t necessarily expect to run away with it in a World Championship. He couldn’t show his best at chess, which is a pity for the excitement in the match. But I guess that’s what happens when you get into a difficult situation. All the preparation doesn’t necessarily help if you can’t cope at that moment.”
Nepomniachtchi said, “First of all, it was a big experience that I couldn’t get in any other way. The good news is it was nothing about chess. The match consists of many aspects; physical and psychological aspects are also important. It is extremely tense, a little bit tenser than I expected. But the tension is not the reason to overlook some simple things that you would never overlook even in a blitz game. I should find out why it happened and improve.”
When asked about the reasons for his blunders, he said, “I have no idea. If I knew what was going on, I would’ve fixed it during the match. I guess the level of blunders was much below the worst examples of pathetic shape. I should take some time to rest and then see what went wrong. I have noticed some interesting patterns, but it is nothing about chess.”
Magnus compared this match with one of his earlier matches, “The most similar to this was my first match with Anand. It was quite even and nervous at the start, but once I got my first win, it went relatively clean from there. This time, the start was difficult and very tense, but after that, it was one of the easiest matches.”
He also said which game he liked the most, “Game 6 was excellent. Regardless of the quality of the moves, it was a great fight. It just decided everything.”
The world champion also commented on his opening strategy, “I definitely played a lot more conservatively as Black than I did in the match against Fabi. With White, I wouldn’t necessarily say I was that conservative. I was at least trying different lines, trying to play. With hindsight, I think it worked pretty well.”
The founder of lichess, Thibault Duplessis, asked the champion about his numerous blitz and bullet games played on the website before the match. Magnus revealed, “I had a bit of a cold the last couple of weeks before the match. I felt quite miserable, so that’s why I was blitzing and bulleting more than thinking about the preparation. I think it never hurts to win some games and gain some confidence.” According to Carlsen, the chess aspect of his preparation was great, but the physical shape was not optimal.
At the press conference, he said that the team had remained more or less the same. Only Nils Grandelius was missing; Magnus used the chance to thank him publicly for the amazing job for the matches in 2016 and 2018.
Later, it got known the team for the match consisted of grandmasters Peter Heine Nilsen, Laurent Fressinet, Jan Gustafsson, Jorden van Foreest, and Daniil Dubov. The latter one has been in Magnus’ team for a long time, but still, the Russian side found his help in the match against Nepomniachtchi controversial.
— Peter Heine Nielsen (@PHChess) December 10, 2021
Nepomniachtchi also thanked his team, “My team remained more or less the same as in April. I would like to thank them for their amazing work and apologize that it didn’t result in anything impressive.”
Magnus also commented on the recent rise of Alireza Firouzja, “I was really impressed with his performance in Grand Swiss and the European Chess Championship. I would say that motivated me more than anything else.”
About being the best player of all time, he said, “I don’t think it is up to me to judge and I think there is still some way to go. I’m not done with my chess career yet.”
On a final note, Ian Nepomniachtchi shared his opinion on what everyone can learn from chess, “Chess teaches you responsibility. At the end of the day, you’re the one who moves the pieces and makes all the decisions and you face the consequences.”
Let’s hope he will be able to recover from the consequences of his moves in this match and get back stronger!