Carlsen crashes into a wall

Federico Marín Bellón



Nobody hurts as much as Magnus Carlsen sign a quick draw, without squeezing every last possibility, even less with white and on his birthday. If the gestural language makes sense, which it does, it was clear that the Norwegian was turning in his chair because after a little more than twenty movements he could not see the way to continue fighting for victory, in the fourth game of the World Chess Championship . «I tried something concrete and it didn’t work. It is a normal result, “he said. This is “modern chess”. The ugly side of how sophisticated the game has become is that in his defenses of the title the champion has been 18 draws in a row in classical chess, not counting the tiebreakers: two against Sergey Karjakin in 2016, twelve against Fabiano Caruana in 2018 and the four that he has already signed against Ian Nepomniachtchi.

The champion crashed into the Russian defense of the Russian, a relative surprise that worked for him. “Nor has he coughed,” summed up the great Spanish teacher Pepe Cuenca. The downside of this opening is that it is so solid that it gives very few chances to win with Black. With it, the applicant made a declaration of intent: the previous applicants collapsed in the quick tiebreaker games, but with me it will not be so easy. In this psychological war that is always such a duel, any detail has its importance.

The truth is that the fourth game has been the least fought and the second in a row without much chicha. For the first time, the two great masters performed many movements without needing to stop to think, this time without bluffing or deception. After play 20, you could see that Carlsen, above all, was still playing from memory. Nepo was nailed to think about 21 for a few minutes. Everything looked like a general liquidation of stocks, no longer queens or bishops on the board, but against Carlsen even in the simplest positions you have to be extremely careful. You leave a splinter unsweetened and the Norwegian sets you on fire.

To all this, commentators continue to be struck by Nepo’s frequent visits to the restroom or its rest area. “It’s a little weird,” said the Dutchman. Anish Giri, which comments on Chess24 with Judit Polgar. For something similar (or not) a good one was mounted in the World Cup that Kramnik won Topalov, which was also the last time a Russian won the crown. The ‘toiletgate’ was a major scandal, although nothing was ever tested. This time it is played in Dubai and not in Russia, on the other hand, but as a psychological weapon it may be useful for something.

By the time Carlsen also stopped to think, beyond move 30, and even earlier, the position gave off a stench of boards that he pulled backwards. Number one was thinking in search of some possibility. He resisted for several movements the possibility of forcing the tie by triple repetition of plays, but there came a time, with less time on his watch, when the stubbornness began to be dangerous. On move 33, he yielded to the evidence and accepted the draw.

Relaxed press conference

Nepo did not deny that he was satisfied with having called so easily with Black: “From the moment I play the Petrov – as the Russian defense is also known – I am,” he admitted. “The key was not to mix up the ideas or do anything stupid, because as far as I know, this line is generally pretty safe.”

One of the good things about this duel, in tough and mature games, is that the atmosphere at the subsequent press conferences is quite relaxed and the players show off their humor. Thus, Carlsen was asked if he would share a piece of his birthday cake with Nepomniachtchi, and this was his answer: «With the history of the World Championship duels, I don’t think you should ever accept any food that comes from the opposing team».

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