Beauty in Chess VI: Ian Nepomniachtchi

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Daumier Honoré - 
Les Joueurs d’échecs (1863-67)After examining Planet Nisipeanu in the precedent column in this series, we now continue our cosmological research with a look on a bright new phenomenon that appeared on the horizon: Ian Nepomniachtchi. This week the Russian grandmaster will face Viswanathan Anand, Levon Aronian and Arkadij Naiditsch in Mainz.

By Michael Schwerteck

Just a short explanation before we start: while in the universe the boy comes from people may be able to pronounce and spell his name without difficulty, normal human beings (i.e. yours truly) obviously can’t. I think I read somewhere that he doesn’t like to be called „Nepo“ either, so for the sake of simplicity I decided to use his wonderfully short first name. After all, Ian has just turned 19, so I hope he doesn’t mind.

The reasons why I chose to portrait Ian are varied. The most obvious explanation is that he will participate in the so-called Rapid World Championship in Mainz this week and I assume some of our readers may want to learn more about him. Another reason is that I wished to satisfy my own need for attractive chess after looking at the fizzles coming from Dortmund. After this tournament I wonder if the organizers have realized that, of all top tournaments, it is usually Dortmund that is by far the most boring. Already last year the magazine Schach observed that „the players agree a draw as soon as a shadow of risk appears on the horizon“. At the same time they felt that there was more (!) fight than in some of the previous editions. I would say that this year’s edition was worse. Kramnik did play some nice games, but in many cases the players’ lack of fighting spirit was entirely beyond belief. Peter Leko, for instance, played so little chess that one could easily overlook that he was participating at all. Why not make use of the Sofia rules, which have really proved their value?

I acknowledge that there is more than one legitimate way to play chess and it is certainly hard to criticize a professional for doing what he thinks is best for him. Still, I must say that I’m quite fed up with such super-pragmatic, overcautious play and I don’t buy the players’ attempts of justification. Their reasoning sounds approximately like this: „We prefer to play correct chess rather than gamble. We believe in the logic of the game. We actually show our respect for the game by playing like this.“ To this I would reply as follows:

1. I do like clean and logical chess. However, it has nothing to do with the logic of the game when you agree a draw as soon as the position looks equal. The logic of the game is that it has to be played. You show your respect for the game by fighting till the end and trying to achieve the maximum result. 2. „Taking risks“ is not the same thing as „gambling“. Nobody forces you to knowingly play bad moves, but you should be able to leave your „comfort zone“ once in a while and play double-edged positions. Chess is a fight; if you don’t like risks, don’t play it. When there’s a risk to lose, there’s usually also a „risk“ to win, have you thought of that?

Ian NepomniachtchiSo, as a „refreshment“, I wanted a player who is completely different. Someone who always fights for the win and doesn’t agree draws when the board is full of pieces. Someone who doesn’t solely rely on computer-assisted opening preparation to win a game. Someone who has guts and doesn’t always need a safety net. Someone who is really creative instead of using well-known patterns. Someone who plays spectacular, crowd-pleasing atttacking chess, full of sacrifices and daring mating attacks. And this is exactly the kind of chess that Ian plays.

The most difficult aspect of writing this article was to make a selection of Ian’s games. They are all so entertaining! If you like his style and want to see more, I can only recommend that you open your database and pick some of his games at random. You will hardly ever be bored!

Game viewer by ChessTempo


I was really impressed by Ian’s attitude at the board – composed, confident and fearless, but not arrogant. I was reminded of a quote of Kasparov’s: „Topalov plays chess“. I think the same simple statement also applies to Ian. He simply plays chess the way it should be played – beautiful, refreshing chess, without any inhibitions, always fighting for the best result. Let’s hope that he will be able to develop his unique talent even further and play many more enjoyable games. I also encourage tournament organizers to invite him more often. This is the kind of chess that most people want to see, not 2700s making 20-move draws!

There are many other games I could have selected, but I had to make the cut somewhere. Please find more of Ian’s games in your database – you won’t be disappointed. If you like rapid chess, you might want to start with the recent strong tournament in Natanya, where Ian took 2nd place and beat players like Polgar, Beliavsky, Smirin and others. He seems to be in good shape – we can look forward to Mainz!
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