How To Stop "Magnus Almighty": Does Nepomniachtchi Have A Chance Of Salvation In His Clash With Carlsen?

Alisa Barladyan
08 Dec 2021
1 comment

In the match for the title of the world chess champion between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi, the Russian is losing 3:5 after the 8th game. Candidate master in chess and chess teacher Yury Kudryaev specially for, recalls the history of rescues in duels for the crown and draws parallels with the current match.  

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Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi

"Miracles" in chess happen more often than is commonly thought

Without arguing that Nepomniachtchi's chances now are worse than before the match, we disagree with those who have already "buried" our grandmaster. The history of World Chess Championships knows quite a few examples of players who, like the Phoenix, "rose from the ashes".

In 1886, in the first official match for the title of "Chess King", Johannes Zukertort won after five games 4 to 1. The result of that confrontation was 10:5 in favor of Wilhelm Steinitz, who became the first world champion. Six years later, Steinitz had a match against Mikhail Chigorin in which he lost 5-7 after 12 games, but the second half of the match was much better.Steinitz won 12.5-10.5 (although there was a real drama near the finish: the Russian grandmaster overlooked mate after two moves in the winning position).

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Alexander Alekhine, brought up on Chigorin's games, approached the 1935 match against Max Euwe as a favourite. After the 9th game, the contest's outcome seemed to be decided - Alekhine led 6-3, but the Chess World was surprised to see the result 15.5-14.5 in favour of the Dutch grandmaster.

A lot of Anatoly Karpov's matches were very dramatic. In 1978, he led 5-2 against Viktor Korchnoi and let his opponent score the equal, but still managed to win that game 6-5. Garry Kasparov also managed to pull out of a death spiral in his first match with Karpov (1984/1985). Losing by 0-5, the challenger won three games (there were 40 draws in that legendary match), after which FIDE President Florencio Campomanes intervened to stop the match.

In 1986, when Kasparov was already champion and led by +3, he lost three games in a row but managed to stop the decline and win the match. In another battle between the "two Ks", in 1987, Kasparov won the decisive 24th game and then managed to draw the match (according to the rules during that time, the champion retained his title in case of a draw).

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Karpov versus Kasparov
Karpov versus Kasparov

Kasparov's "heroic deed" (winning the final game "on request") was repeated in 2004 by Vladimir Kramnik in a duel with Peter Leko. Two years later in a match with Veselin Topalov, which was marked as a "toilet scandal," Kramnik avoided defeat and then won games with shortened time limits in the end too. Magnus Carlsen followed the same scenario when he played against Sergei Karjakin in 2016, first winning back and then dominating the Russian in rapid chess.

Incidentally, a year later, Ian Nepomniachtchi reminded Karjakin of that defeat. The grandmasters exchanged a few sarcastic tweets ("Can you teach me how to feel victorious if I lose the championship?", "As soon as you lose it, I'll teach you", "Cheering for a hysterical person is a thankless task", etc.). Later the grandmasters reconciled, and now Karjakin is a member of Nepomniachtchi's team.

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Nepomniachtchi needs to sort himself out: the reason for his failures is psychology

Let's return to the current match. Ian's situation is complicated because there are only six games left until the end of the match. Theoretically, three games each for white and black. It doesn't look like white doesn't work for the Russian, but they don't bring him much profit either. Except for Game 5, when Carlsen hesitated by playing d6-d5, Magnus equalised clearly in the remaining games.

Nepomnyashchiy versus Carlsen
Nepomnyashchiy versus Carlsen

Maybe Nepomniachtchi's team should switch to something new (like c2-c4 as the first move) instead of breaking through the anti-Marshall. As this game shows, the Norwegian makes mistakes in tight games. Black should be guided by the way he played in Game 6, with a tough fight all over the board with a maximum of pieces, and not by "pokes" like h5 or Krf8 in Game 8 (we saw where that led to). In general, if it hadn't been for the tragedy in Game 6, Nepomniachtchi would have reached the equator of the match with at least an equal score.

The champion's strong card (apart from his chess merits) was his experience of previous matches. The challenger's strong card was great motivation and self-confidence. Rudolf Zagainov, a well-known sports psychologist, wrote in his book "As A Conscious Duty" (it was written after the 1987 match for the world champion title between Maia Chiburdanidze and Nana Iosseliani): "As a psychologist, it was important for me to prove that excessive tension, and not the opponent's play, was the decisive reason for the failure.

Nepomniachtchi should at least try to play with a tabula rasa in the remaining games. If he fails to win this time, it will be a crucial experience for the future.


On December 7, there will be the 9th game in the showdown for the title of the World Chess Champion. Nepomniachtchi will play white, and therefore, the analysts of the Betcity betting company believe in him a little more than in Carlsen. The Russian's victory can be bet at odds of 5.20, the defeat can be played at odds of 5.70, and a draw can be bet at 1.40.

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Comments (1)
Taba Caleb Nembo Carlosca22
The match will be a draw
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