The 2021 World Chess Championship is now effectively over, due to yet another bizarre blunder by the challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi. You can read our previous coverage here and here.

Once again excellent breakdown of the game is done by the team of GM Fabiano Caruana, GM Robert Hess, and IM Daniel Rensch.

The game starts out interestingly enough, with Nepo playing 1. c4, the English opening, and fianchettoing his light squared bishop. This made perfect match sense, with this being likely to give Nepo a fighting game.

Carlsen surprisingly played aggressively multiple times, and a very interesting early middlegame arrived. As one of many exciting examples, below we see the position after Carlsen, with black, pushes his pawn to a3 on move 14. What should Nepo play in response to this move?

In the game, Nepo played the fairly reasonable bxa3, a move that allowed black to equalize fairly easily. Instead, commentators suggested that Nepo play 15. b4!, a move that, at first glance, appears to simply drop the pawn. Can you find the reason why Carlsen’s response of 15. Nxb4, doesn’t simply drop a pawn, and in fact gives white a better position with best play?

It’s complicated, and quite difficult. But white actually has multiple tactical responses to black taking the pawn with the knight. Rb1 works. How does white punish black if he takes the now undefended pawn on a2 with the knight?

A: Qd2, and the knight is trapped, there are no available squares.

The line can get even more complicated and tactical than this, but Nepo played bxa3, so it’s a moot point regardless.

The reason we’re spending so much time on a line that was never played, is because Nepo made an absolutely shocking blunder very early in this game. The below position is extremely sharp, and dynamically equal. Try to play a good move for white.

Nc5 is recommended, but complicated. Retreating the bishop to, say, e4 is also fine. There are multiple reasonable moves, some better than others, all of which are superior to the blunder that Nepo played in the game.

Instead, Nepo pushed the pawn forwards to c5, a complete blunder. Capitalizing on this mistake is not hard, but try to see the move Carlsen played to win the bishop.

With c6, the bishop is trapped, and in a few more moves was lost.

Nepo resigned after 39. Ra8.

I’m pretty bummed out. I was cheering for Carlsen, but I’d thought we would get a better championship match than this. And it’s not so much the score, but for an almost 2800 rated player to essentially throw two games away with head scratching blunders, is not the chess we were all hoping for.

The 2021 WCC is now effectively over, with Carlsen being the victor. The match will end once Carlsen gets to 7.5, meaning he only needs to draw three of the next five games in order to retain his title.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m ~1500 elo and I feel like I would only rarely miss the bishop getting trapped .
    Normally I only ever understand GM play in retrospect but that particular blunder was pretty bad.
    Really enjoy your analyses btw.

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