FIDE World Chess Championship 2021, Game 4, Dubai: Another draw in the championship as Magnus Carlsen(White) could not find a win on his birthday against the challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi(Black).
The experts suggested Carlsen to win the match, however, Ian pretty smoothly enjoyed a draw with Black pieces. The reigning champion shifted tactics from the previous 1.d4 to 1.e4 in this match. Ian interestingly avoided Grunfeld and Nardorf like sharp opening and followed with Petroff.
“I guess he wasn’t very surprised,” Nepomniachtchi would say after the game. “He went for a very long and forcing line which is, I believe for those who dig deep into the Petroff lately, these people should be familiar with this line.”
Carlsen: “No, it was one of the main openings that I expected, seeing that he played it in the Candidates and also in the first black game he went for a more classical approach rather than a sharp one, so it was very much expected. I couldn’t know, obviously, which exact Petroff line he was gonna go for but the Petroff in itself was very much expected.”
Caruana: “I thought that the most logical thing for Ian would be to play the Berlin; that seemed like a natural choice for him in case Magnus were to play 1.e4. But the Petroff is interesting, I really did not expect this.”
The Norwegian looked prepared for this setup as he quickly pushed 5.d4 instead of mainline 5.Nc3. Both players were following a 2017 game between Vachier-Lagrave vs Caruana played at the Norway Chess tournament.
The game deviated its course on 18.Nh4!?, with Carlsen taking the charge. 18.Nh4 is fascinating,” said Caruana. “I didn’t know this move and this is probably an excellent idea from Magnus.” Even Nepomniachtchi was impressed by this move and called 18.Nh4 “a very interesting try,” adding: “Perhaps I even wanted to play this as White one day!”
The excitement of witnessing something different was on everyone’s mind. However, after 22.Bf4 few trades were made, which took Carlsen three minutes his longest think-up at that point. The birthday boy was curious about finding some kind of checkmate pattern which seemed like trouble for Black, however, the engine suggested Black was decent.
FM Mike Klein (One of Nepo’s seconds.): “It’s a complex game. Black has their own chances; for example, we already have a passed pawn. If Magnus does not care about that, in some pawn endgame it might help us!” (He might have had game eight of the 2016 match in mind there, which Karjakin, also assisted by Potkin at the time, won with a passed a-pawn.)
Carlsen’s first really big think came on move 25, where he decided to go for a setup with a knight on f6 protected by a pawn on g5. Meanwhile, Nepomniachtchi’s defense consisted of a counter-attack: he simply started running with his a-pawn, as his compatriot had done five years ago. And while his opponent was thinking, the Russian GM was away from the board a lot, spending ample time in his private resting area.
After the move 29.a3, the defending champion thought for 34 minutes. He gave two checks after which he took another 14 minutes on move 32. Magnus Carlsen could not find a winning pattern and repeated his moves to claim a draw.
“It sometimes happens at world championships that you work a lot before the match and you work a lot during the match on openings and such and somehow this makes you work less over the board,” Carlsen said about this final phase. “My approach was very clear there that I didn’t think particularly that I had anything, but I had two hours for the game and I should spend them all for whatever chances can be found.”
Caruana called Carlsen’s choice to repeat moves “a good practical decision under the circumstances” but at the same time felt the game was “a big success for Ian” in terms of preparation and psychology.
Our Game Of The Day annotator, GM Sam Shankland, agreed with Caruana, writing: “Magnus did not get much against the Petroff, and the moral victor of the day was certainly Nepo for making an easy draw with Black even when he was hit with a new idea.”
At the press conference, Ian Nepomniachtchi elaborated, specifically about 18.Nh4: “Fortunately, I knew the idea, and more or less I could remember what to do. Of course, I was kind of surprised, because it’s one of the sidelines but at the same time it’s very principled. It’s better to remember your moves than to find them over the board.”
And, after giving some more details about the end of the game, he remarked: “I believe more or less until the last move, I am not sure, but I think I have seen something like this.”