Carlsen versus Nepomniachtchi: FIDE World Championship Round 11

@AbasovN @CynosureChess

Magnus Carlsen defends World Championship title for the 4th time

Round 11 of the FIDE World Championship was played today between the reigning champion, GM Magnus Carlsen and his challenger, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi.

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 eleven’s game annotations can be found below.

(title image - FIDE / Niki Riga)

Nepomniachtchi had the white pieces again today, and many suspected he might try something more daring, like in his previous game with white where he opened with 1. c4. With the score at the time of the game being 6.5 - 3.5 in Carlsen’s favour, Nepomniachtchi was running out of time to even out the score and stay in the match. However, he settled for 1. e4, but diverged for an Italian Game rather than the anti-Marshall Ruy Lopez he’d gone for in their previous encounters.

Once again, Carlsen was able to carefully neutralise any threats, and ensure the position was equal out of the opening. If anything, Carlsen appeared to be getting a position which seemed to favour his endgame and positional strengths, despite the engine evaluation considering the position completely equal for both players.

However, the pressure got to Nepomniachtchi, and again he gave an uncharacteristic blunder, again by a miscalculated pawn move. The miscalculation allowed a tactical combination by Carlsen, with an exchange that ended in his favour, with an attack on Nepomniachtchi’s suddenly exposed king, and being a pawn up with a passed h-pawn. The pressure then seemed to get to Carlsen and he had a chance to be two pawns up but seemed to miss it; in any event, whilst he lost some of his advantage he was still the favourite.

Carlsen settled his nerves by the endgame, playing it with ruthless efficiency and was easily able to keep his advantage. Nepomniachtchi, seeing the inevitable, chose to resign on move 49 rather than needlessly prolong the game. 

With the match score becoming 7.5 to 3.5 in Carlsen’s favour, Carlsen has successfully defended his title for a 4th time. Including the occasion he won it from Viswanathan Anand in 2013, this made it his 5th World Championship title. Despite having one of the largest margins for victory in a World Championship match, Carlsen was nevertheless subdued about the match overall.

Nepomniachtchi was equally circumspect about his play, highlighting that he did not believe his level of chess explained his loss of the match. Instead, Nepomniachtchi indicated that there may be other factors which came to explain his loss.

(image credit - FIDE / Niki Riga)

To an outside observer, it appears that the pressure and stress of the match got to Nepomniachtchi after he failed to hold a theoretical draw in game 6. After that marathon game which required Herculean effort, Nepomniachtchi appeared unable to rally himself after that loss. Going into game 6, both players were on 2.5 - 2.5; yet after game six Nepomniachtchi only managed to get two further draws out of five further encounters, perhaps indicating his psychological resilience was lacking after game 6.

Nepomniachtchi is of course an excellent chess player on his best days, but is more prone to fluctuations in strength. As Carlsen himself touched on in the press conference, his greatest strength is remaining consistent even on his strongest and weakest days; his range of strength is grouped much more tightly than any other player in history - and the statistics support this. 

In the press conference, both players remained coy about their teams and seconds. It’s well known both players utilised their long-time seconds, GM Vladimir Potkin (for Nepomniachtchi) and GM Peter Heine Nielsen (for Carlsen; also his chess engine specialist). But beyond this, not much is known about the additional human seconds for Nepomniachtchi beyond GM Sergey Karjakin (GM Teimour Radjabov and GM Peter Leko were also rumoured to have been involved), whereas Carlsen shared his team recently. His team composition was: GM Peter Heine Nielsen, GM Laurent Fressinet, GM Jan Gustafsson, GM Jorden van Foreest, and GM Daniil Dubov.

Likewise, Nepomniachtchi had earlier highlighted he worked with a Russian supercomputer and during the press conference specified he used Stockfish 14 NNUE and Leela. However, Carlsen remained coy also about his software and hardware preparation, directing the question to be asked to Heine Nielsen instead.

A further question in the press conference asked Carlsen about whether his bullet and blitz played on Lichess had been part of his preparation. Prior to the match, Carlsen played several matches in fast time controls online, “adopting” a couple of grandmasters. Carlsen indicated that “it didn’t hurt at least” for his chances; and that was certainly proven in the match result.

(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).