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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

World Chess Championship: If Magnus takes the lead in crucial fourth game it could get one-sided

Nepo has played two games with the white pieces and he cannot be thrilled with what happened, but he shouldn’t be disappointed also with the outcome

By: Surya Sekhar Ganguly |
Updated: November 30, 2021 1:52:59 pm
Nepo’s next game with the white pieces would be Game No.5. If he plays e4 again, not necessarily that Magnus would repeat e5. He might do it, he might not. He could well turn to c5, the Sicilian defence. (File)

I think the first three games followed the pattern of a typical World Championship match. The two players were testing each other on different lines, without any obvious weakness on either side in terms of opening or strategy. But Magnus (Carlsen) should definitely be happy, especially about the third game, where he had a relatively easy draw despite playing with the black pieces.

Delving into the technical side of things, Nepo’s (Ian Nepomniachtchi) first move was e4 (King’s pawn opening) in both games where he played with the white pieces. Magnus responded to that with e5 in both games. Against e5, Nepo adopted Ruy Lopez. Magnus countered that with the Morphy defence, employing the Marshall variation. Nepo didn’t want to allow that and resorted to the Anti-Marshall counter. It’s a step by step process.

Nepo’s next game with the white pieces would be Game No.5. If he plays e4 again, not necessarily that Magnus would repeat e5. He might do it, he might not. He could well turn to c5, the Sicilian defence. But I think in the fifth game, Nepo would most likely play d4 – the Queen’s pawn opening – to try and figure out how Magnus’s team has prepared against that. He has played e4 in his first two games with white, and maybe he can think that it’s time to change.

After two games with the white pieces, Nepo has enough information about how Magnus’s team has prepared against e4. Now Nepo’s team is expected to work on cracking the existing line – Magnus’s e5 – while trying to get information about the latter’s preparation against d4. Different teams have different match strategies. When we were at the World Championship, especially during (Viswanathan) Anand’s match against (Boris) Gelfand, our strategy was that we would play both e4 and d4, and with the black pieces, we would start with e5 against e4 in the first couple of games. And when the opponent would start spending time on that, we would shift to some other opening. So it’s very much possible that Magnus would now turn to the Sicilian, but this is something you can’t predict. He might well stick to the existing line.

As a player, I am not speculating anything. I am excited about the World Championship but as regards to openings and/or moves, I don’t speculate. Of course, when Anand was playing, it was completely different, for I was directly involved. Here, I am looking forward to a great match and that’s what I am seeing.

The second game was very entertaining and at the post-game press conference Magnus spoke about committing a “blunder”. But I don’t read too much into that. Comments at press conferences are usually very generic and I don’t take them seriously. There will be mistakes in every game. If I run every game through the computer and put it under the microscope, some mistakes can be found. Very rarely do we see an absolutely flawless game – one out 10, that’s the ratio and even there also, it could be a case that the second-best move was played somewhere instead of the best one. Mistakes will happen.

I had earlier mentioned that if Nepo could take the match deep with the scores level, his chances would increase. Whether that would happen, it’s too early to say. In general, when draws pile up, the challenger’s confidence level goes up, while the world champion tends to get a tad nervy. For example, if there’s a stalemate even after the Game No. 13, then Carlsen no longer remains the favourite. From that point of view, Nepo should be happy to take the match deep. Then again, Magnus has got more energy in general. He will not get tired.

In the only game that Magnus has played with the white pieces so far, he went for the Catalan opening. But I don’t expect him to repeat it in the next game. In fact, based on my experience, I would be surprised if he does it. Nepo has played two games with the white pieces so far and he cannot be thrilled with what happened, but he shouldn’t be disappointed also with the outcome. The match hasn’t taken a departure from the normal as yet. With the black pieces in the second game, Nepo was under serious pressure at one point. But other than that, it’s still about the two players testing each other.
I think the fourth game is going to be very crucial, Magnus’s second attempt with the white pieces. If he takes the lead here, it could easily get one-sided.

(Grandmaster Surya Sekhar Ganguly was one of Viswanathan Anand’s seconds and assisted him in winning the World Championship matches against Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov. He spoke to Shamik Chakrabarty)

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