Nepomniachtchi is asked what he will need to do to break through as white. “Whatever I am going to do, the trend will remain the same,” he says. “That’s not about my preparation or Magnus’s preparation. That’s about the current theory status.”
Asked what the difference-maker will be in a match that’s been played on level terms so far, Carlsen says: “It’s three games in. There’s a lot of time to go and as you saw [on Saturday], it could have easily been a decisive result. Obviously, for each game the most likely result is a draw. Saying otherwise would be quite disingenuous. But any game could explode. Not today.”
Nepomniachtchi says he’s experiencing “absolutely no frustration” after being unable to make meaningful headway in his first two games as white. “I guess it was a clean game and a very logical one,” he says at the post-game press conference. “Even in the endgame, if I would be given a couple of tempi I could have posed some problems in this bishops endgame. But especially once black’s king enters c5, there was never anything for white. This is the current status of the chess theory. It’s hard to find some advantage.”
Adds Carlsen: “I was obviously making some fairly ugly moves but it seems all to work out reasonably well. At least I couldn’t see any concrete way to pose serious problems. I think it was a reasonably logical game.”
Asked whether he feels as comfortable playing as black as it’s appeared from the outside, Carlsen is to the point: “I wouldn’t say very comfortable. I’ve been trying to equalize in both games without getting a lot of chances but it’s OK. It’s fairly normal procedure in these matches.”
“I wasn’t thrilled to have this ending but I felt that it was generally well within the drawing range,” Carlsen says immediately after leaving the studio. “I was happy to liquidate this pure bishops ending because I get to centralize the king and push the pawn and create a barrier.”
Carlsen says he satisfied with the positions he’s gotten so far playing with the black pieces, noting that today he “was trying to play a bit of a side line to try and get a game, but eventually I just had to try and liquidate, which I guess is what you normally end up doing in these positions anyway.”
Asked whether 10 … Re8 was part of that thinking, Carlsen expounds on his opening-stage surprise.
“Yeah, Re8 is a really, really dumb move because usually you would try to go Re8 without d6,” he says. “But it turns out even here he was well prepared and he didn’t give me even slight chances to play.”
He adds: “It’s good to get a rest day (on Monday). Now I’ve had two black games so far so the result is OK, but obviously I’ve got to create some chances at some point.”
Game 3 is a 41-move draw!
The players are breezing through their moves at this point: 33. Ke2 f5 34. Bc2 f4 35. Bb1 c5 36. Bc2 Bd7 37. f3 Kf6 38. h4 Ke5 39. Kf2 Kf6 40. Ke2 Ke5 41. Kf2. A draw is imminent … and there it is! The players shake hands over the board, settling for a half-point apiece after two hours and 42 minutes.
Carlsen, still ahead of his opponent on time, takes five minutes before playing 28. … Rab8. A pair of quick-fire moves follows (29. Rb1 Kf6) and the rooks are off the board after 30. Rxb8 Rxb8 31. Rb1 Rxb1+ 32. Bxb1 Ke5. Carlsen’s advanced king is crucial in this position and all but snuffs out Nepomniachtchi’s winning chances.
And Nepomniachtchi opts for 23. e5, bypassing the attack to threaten black’s knight. The engines indicate that Carlsen’s best response is taking white’s knight with 23. … dxc4 and he plays it after a brief two-minute think. The simplification that follows augurs a peaceful result: an exchange of queens follows (24. Qxd8 Rexd8) before white recaptures the knight (25. exf6). After Nepomniachtchi plays 25. … Bb4, an exchange of bishops and pawns follows (26. fxg7 Bxc3 27. bxc3 Kxg7). All of this points to a theoretical draw as Nepomniachtchi moves his king to a better square with 28. Kf1.
Carlsen finds 22. … d5 after more than eight minutes. That leaves Nepomniachtchi with two primary options: advance the e-pawn (e5) or capture black’s d-pawn (exd5).
Carlsen spends exactly 17 minutes before opting for 21. … c6. Nepomniachtchi responds with 22. Bc2. This effectively forces Carlsen to play d5, lest the challenger open a wide lead. The Norwegian supercomputer Sesse now evaluates the position as dead even.
Nepomniachtchi settles on a modest pawn push (21. h3) after nearly a half hour of contemplation. A waiting move and the challenger’s facial expressions indicate he’s not overly happy with it. Carlsen’s best responses here by some distance are d5 or c6.
Nepomniachtchi in deep thought. He’s just passed 25 minutes while contemplating his 21st move in response to Carlsen’s 20. … Be6. That gives him 58 minutes (and counting) to make his next 20 moves until the extra hour under the classical format. Long thinks like this are hardly unique to world championship matches given the stratospheric stakes, but Nepomniachtchi will no doubt want to avoid the specter of time pressure.
Nepomniachtchi makes a thematic central pawn break with 18. d4. A quick-fire exchange of pawns then knights follows (18. … exd4 19. Nxd4 Nxd4 20. Qxd4). Carlsen ponders the position for a minute and a half before electing for 20. … Be6, which is best. Nepomniachtchi is more than three minutes into his think now, eyes darting back and forward while shifting in his seat.
Some uneasy body language from Carlsen as he thinks for more than 13 minutes before deciding on 15. … a5, which is best. Any other move would have allowed Nepomniachtchi to occupy a5 himself with his pawn, knight or even bishop, forcing black into an uncomfortable struggle for space and control. Both step away from the board again and Nepomniachtchi returns first, playing 17. Bc3 after seven and a half minutes. A bit of commentary on the position from Nigel Short, the British grandmaster who famously challenged Garry Kasparov for the world title in 1993.
The engines say Carlsen’s best move is for the light-squared bishop to return to its home square (Bc3), but that’s an awfully difficult move to find without the aid of computer study. But if anyone is capable of sussing it out …
… and indeed Carlsen does, playing 17. … Bc8 after a five-minute think.
Carlsen chooses 15. … Nc6 and Nepomniachtchi settles in for his longest think of the game so far. After more than five minutes, he goes with 16. Rc1. The engines say a5 is the best response for the champion, who’s been inspecting the position for the last six minutes (and counting).
Nepomniachtchi plays 12. Bd2 in less than three minutes. Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri says the challenger’s pace suggests he still in his opening preparation. The next series of moves includes the first capture of the game (12. Bd2 Bf8 13. Ne3 Ne7 14. c4 bxc4) after which both players walk away from the board.
After a brief spell, Nepomniachtchi and elects to recapture with his knight (15. Nxc4)
Carlsen thinks for more than five minutes before settling on 10. … Re8. Another rare move by the world champion! That’s the fifth most popular choice (after Na5, Nd7, Qd7 and h6). For the third straight game to open this world title tilt, Carlsen is the first player to mix things up with an unusual move.
Nepomniachtchi takes more than four minutes before responding with 11. Nf1. Carlsen counters with 11. … h6.
Nepomniachtchi steps away from the board after the opening flurry. Carlsen takes about a minute before playing 8. … Bb7. Following the next series of moves (9. d3 d6 10. Nbd2), Carlsen has pondered this position for the last three minutes (and counting).
Game 3 is under way!
Nepomniachtchi playing with the white pieces opens with 1. e4. The players blitz out their following moves (1. … e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. a4). Same as Friday’s first game, it’s another anti-Marshall, a branch of the Ruy Lopez opening.
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. (Both Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi are on one point after draws in Friday’s Game 1 and Saturday’s Game 2.)
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 Game 3 of the World Chess Championship. We’re back for a third straight day following a pair of draws in Game 1 and Game 2 that were notable for longtime champion Magnus Carlsen making early pawn sacrifices in exchange for long-term initiative. In either case, Ian Nepomniachtchi’s opening advantage ultimately didn’t hold up and he was forced to rely on precise endgame play to emerge with a result.
The general consensus around today’s highly anticipated third encounter is that both Nepomniachtchi (who will be marshaling the white pieces) and Carlsen (playing with black) will have a real go at a decisive result before the first rest day of the match on Monday.
For those of you just coming aboard, Carlsen, 30, 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 Viswanathan Anand for the title in 2013. Nepomniachtchi, 31, is ranked No 5, having earned his place at the table by winning the eight-man candidates tournament in April with a round to spare. It’s the culmination of a rivalry that started nearly two decades ago when they first met across the board as boys at the 2002 European Under-12 Championship in Peniscola, Spain. Notably, Nepomniachtchi enters the title tilt with a winning lifetime record against Carlsen in classical matches (four won, one lost and eight drawn). That makes him unique among today’s top players, even if two of those victories came in youth championships.
The best-of-14-games match is scheduled to take place at the Dubai Exhibition Centre over the next three weeks, 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).
We’re a little more than a half hour from today’s first move, so not much longer now. In the meantime here’s our Sean Ingle’s interview with Carlsen from earlier this week.
Bryan will be here shortly. In the meantime here’s Sean Ingle’s report from Saturday’s second game of the world championship match.