Carlsen versus Nepomniachtchi: FIDE World Championship Round 8
Round 8 of the FIDE World Championship was played today between the reigning champion, GM Magnus Carlsen and his challenger, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi.
(title image - FIDE / Eric Rosen)
Lichess is providing a broadcast of the moves being played in real-time. Additionally, GM Nijat Abasov is providing game annotations and insights on the games daily. Round eight’s game annotations can be found below.
Carlsen had the white pieces again today, just before the rest day - a good opportunity to make the most of it and push. Carlsen started with 1. e4, and Nepomniachtchi responded with the Russian defence (the Petrov). The game went into a niche variation, played only a handful of times at the top level, but the position looked drawish, and symmetrical overall.
With some feisty play Nepomniachtchi signalled his intention to push for more than an equal and symmetrical draw (with 9… h5), and Carlsen gambled on that (10. Qe1+). At worse, Carlsen would likely be risking a draw (with 10… Qe7). However, the gamble paid off, and Nepomniachtchi responded with 10… Kf8, giving up castling rights. Even so, the position was essentially equal.
Through the early middlegame, both players retained equality, trading off key pieces and for all intents and purposes the game looked like it would be a quick draw. However, with 21… b5 Nepomniachtchi blundered, saying in the press conference he simply miscalculated that his bishop was hanging in the continuation. Dropping a pawn for nothing, Nepomniachtchi had an uphill struggle.
Following some inaccurate play from Nepomniachtchi, white looked to have more active pieces, as well as an additional pawn. Further, Carlsen with a rook lift added more woes to Nepomniachtchi’s position, with possibilities of threatening Nepomniachtchi’s weakened f-pawn, or longer term pressure on an isolated h-pawn. Just over 20 moves in, and things were looking dire for Nepomniachtchi.
(image credit - FIDE / Eric Rosen)
Even so, Carlsen still had to play carefully and accurately to avoid the risk of any sneaky threefold repetition traps Nepomniachtchi could spring. Carlsen, in such a high-stakes tournament, was incredibly careful, highlighting in the press conference later that he was very conscious of not slipping up. Nepomniachtchi was unable to spring any threefold traps, and eventually resigned to Carlsen, three pawns up in a queen-pawns endgame.
Nepomniachtchi now has an uphill struggle to overcome Carlsen’s +2 lead in six remaining games. Carlsen is the overwhelming statistical favourite, with purely the numbers suggesting he has a 98.5% likelihood of winning the match outright. In a similar vein, across all his World Championships, Carlsen has only lost two classical games overall (one against Anand, and one against Karjakin). However, chess is more than numbers, but Nepomniachtchi has what appears to be a Herculean task ahead of him to equalise the score, let alone win the match in the classical portion.
In his annotations (above) GM Nijat Abasov touches on the difficult psychological challenge Nepomniachtchi has, sharing:
“Unlike game 6, where Magnus put enormous effort to win the game, it feels more like Nepo self-destructed today. It's extremely difficult to strike back after such unpleasant defeats. I have a sensation that Ian has burnt himself with declining draws in both Game 6 and today by taking too much risk. [...] Yet I genuinely hope the rest day tomorrow will recharge Ian and in the second half of the match, we see a completely different player - the true samurai in action! I am most definitely sure he is capable of keeping the intrigue until the very end and It's never over until it's over!”
The next game will be played after a rest day, so on Tuesday 7 December 12:30 UTC. For more details on the tournament, you can review our first round recap which has more information.
(GM Nijat Abasov achieved the GM title at just 15. He was Azeri national champion in 2017, also winning the Baku Open the same year. He has played the Tata Steel Challengers and the Grand Swiss (twice), amongst many other tournaments, reaching his all-time peak rating of 2670 in February 2020. He recently represented Azerbaijan at the European Team Championships, winning a board prize with a performance rating of 2760).