And Nepomniachtchi opts for the natural 15. bxa3. A relief for Carlsen, who can recapture immediately and avoid the forced lines of the alternative. Additionally, the challenger spent less than five minutes before playing it. His haste at crucial moments throughout the match has been a recurring criticism.
Carlsen plays 14. … a3 after exactly four minutes. Interestingly, the engines say the best move for Nepomniachtchi is pushing the b-pawn two squares forward (b4). That’s effectively a pawn sacrifice to black’s knight or by en passant with the potential of recapturing in the next few moves. Will he find it?
Carlsen plays 12. … a4 after four minutes. A forced trade of bishops follows (13. Bxe7 Qxe7) before Nepomniachtchi goes forward with his knight (14. Nc5).
Nepomniachtchi finally pushes the pawn (12. d4) after nearly 25 minutes. The Norwegian supercomputer Sesse now evaluates the position as dead even.
Nepomniachtchi is in the think tank for the first time today. He’s been considering his response to Carlsen’s 11. … O-O for 22 minutes (and counting). “What Ian has done so far I really like,” American grandmaster Fabiano Caruana says on Chess.com’s broadcast. “Everything: his new approach to the opening, his play thus far, although we can safely assume it has been preparation. He’s gotten a fighting position. The only thing is, I really do feel like Magnus still knows the position even though he’s taking a lot of time.”
Carlsen plays 10. … Ng4 after three and a half minutes. Nepomniachtchi keeps the time pressure on by quickly playing 11. Bc5. Another long think for Carlsen, who ponders the position for 10 minutes before castling (11. … O-O). He’s more than an half-hour behind on the clock.
Carlsen plays 8. … Be7 and Nepomniachtchi quickly plays 9. e3. The champion opts to capture instead of defending his central pawn (9. … dxe3) and Nepo captures back with his bishop (10. Bxe3). Some interesting body language from Carlsen, who appears frustrated with the position, head in his hands.
“The only concern I have for Ian is that Magnus must still be in book,” Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri says on Chess24’s broadcast. “You don’t play the world championship and develop the bishop to c5 without prep. The riskiness of this approach is so high. [Carlsen] could play improvised like that in a random blitz game. But this is a world championship match. He’s leading by two points. Losing this game would be really a huge disaster. He cannot not be prepared.”
Carlsen has another lengthy think before playing 7. … a5 and Nepomniachtchi immediately answers with 8. Nb3. A very positive opening for the challenger, who’s created a complex position with no easy answers for black while opening a 20-minute edge on the clock.
Says Sergey Karjakin, the 2016 world title challenger who’s been summoned to Dubai to assist Nepomniachtchi’s comeback bid: “The position is complicated, and it’s basically what Ian needs to go to get to complicated positions to try to outplay Magnus.”
Carlsen spends 10 minutes on his sixth move. Ultimately, he goes with the predicted 6. … Nf6, transposing into a more mainstream position. Nepomniachtchi answers with 7. Nbd2.
A quick note on the scale of the task facing Nepomniachtchi. The world No 5 is attempting to become only the third player in the 135-year history of world championship matches to win after trailing by two or more points.
Nepomniachtchi waits three minutes before playing 4. Nf3. Carlsen immediately answers with 4. … Nc6. A much slower pace today relative to Nepomniachtchi’s other white games and surprisingly aggressive for black. And after 5. O-O Bc5, we’re already in rare territory: only six games in the database have followed this line and none at the highest level. Nepomniachtchi follows with 6. d3.
Game 9 is under way with an English Opening!
New haircut, new opening. No closed Ruy Lopez today. Nepomniachtchi opens with 1. c4, the English Opening. Carlsen plays into the Agincourt Defense (1. … e6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2) and is now taking his time here. And after four minutes he plays the very ambitious 3. … d4. Game on!
The biggest news of the morning: Ian Nepomniachtchi has cut off his man bun. The challenger appears to have had a haircut on the rest day and has turned up to the playing hall today with a brand new look.
A quick refresher on the format for this world championship match. It will consist of 14 classical games with each player awarded one point for a win and a half-point for a draw. Whoever reaches seven and a half points first will be declared the champion. (Carlsen leads 5-3 over Nepomniachtchi after Sunday’s second win.)
The time control for each game is 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus an additional 30 seconds per move starting from move 61.
If the match is tied after 14 games, tie-breaks will be played on the final day (16 December) in the following order:
• Best of four rapid games with 25 minutes for each player with an increment of 10 seconds after each move.
• If still tied, they will play up to five mini-matches of two blitz games (five minutes for each player with a three-second increment).
• If all five mini-matches are drawn, one sudden-death ‘Armageddon’ match will be played where White receives five minutes and Black receives four minutes. Both players will receive a three-second increment after the 60th move. In the case of a draw, Black will be declared the winner.
Notably, Carlsen’s second and third title defenses both came down to tiebreakers. But many believe the increased length of this year’s match (from 12 to 14 games) and the stylistic matchup at hand promises a decisive result in regulation.
Hello and welcome back for the ninth game of the World Chess Championship. The overall score in the showdown between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi is 5-3 to Carlsen after the Norwegian’s breakthrough wins in Game 6 and Game 8, putting the Russian challenger into something of a desperate situation with six contests remaining.
On Sunday, a fatal blunder by Nepomniachtchi donated a pawn to Carlsen in the middlegame, gifting the 31-year-old world champion an advantage he leveraged until the Russian challenger resigned after 4hr 6min.
For anyone just coming aboard, Carlsen, who turned 31 last week, has been at No 1 in the Fide rankings for 10 straight years and was considered the world’s best player even before he dethroned Vishy Anand for the title in 2013. Nepomniachtchi, also 31, is ranked No 5, having earned his place at the table by winning the eight-man candidates tournament in April.
The best-of-14-games match is taking place at the Dubai Exhibition Centre with the winner earning a 60% share of the €2m ($2.26m) prize fund if the match ends in regulation (or 55% if it’s decided by tie-break games, as happened in Carlsen’s second and third title defenses).
We’re a little under a half-hour from today’s first move. Will we see Nepomniachtchi play yet another closed Ruy Lopez? Or will the challenger go for broke as the situation demands?