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Carlsen Defends Passively To Draw Game 5 FIDE World Chess Championship
A fifth draw in Nepo-Carlsen. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Carlsen Defends Passively To Draw Game 5 FIDE World Chess Championship

PeterDoggers
| 138 | Chess Event Coverage

Going into the second rest day, the FIDE World Chess Championship is still tied as GM Ian Nepomniachtchi and GM Magnus Carlsen also drew their fifth game on Wednesday. The challenger got a slight endgame advantage in another Anti-Marshall, but Carlsen's position was, although passive, always solid. Game six is scheduled for Friday at 16:30 Dubai time (13:30 CET, 4:30 a.m. Pacific).

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Between 1886 and 2018 only six world championship matches started with five undecisive games, but the 2021 match has now also joined that club. Three of those six matches were played in the 21st century with a total of four decisive classical games, which shows the growing influence of ever-improving computer engines in the preparation but also the risen level of defensive skills among the players.

As one columnist in a major Dutch newspaper noted, just as in modern football, modern top grandmasters have been steering away from aggressive, 4-3-3 tactics and are successfully trying their luck with a 3-5-2 formation.

The fans can only hope that we won't see another match where all classical games end in draws. It seems Carlsen himself also held that opinion as he said today: "I think there is some magical cut-off point where draws, instead of just being normal, they become a problem, but I don't think we've crossed the rubicon yet. Obviously, the tension is rising and it's becoming clearer and clearer that it's going to be hard for both of us to break through."

Obviously, the tension is rising and it's becoming clearer and clearer that it's going to be hard for both of us to break through.
—Magnus Carlsen

Nepo Carlsen game 5 first move
H.E. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence and Commissioner General of Expo 2020, tried to spice up things with 1.c4 but once again the player himself had something else in mind. Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE.

For the third time, Nepomniachtchi opened the game by playing his king's pawn two squares. Although Carlsen once again used his Marshall-based repertoire, he was the first to deviate from the previous game; this time, after thinking for a minute and a half, he responded to the 8.a4 Anti-Marshall with the move 8...Rb8.

Afterward, Nepomniachtchi noted that he was not particularly displeased with seeing 8...Rb8: "Once you see a Spanish game you are already not so pleased," he quipped with a smile.

Carlsen: "I thought it's always good to spring the first surprise. Unfortunately, it didn't work out very well for me. I think he chose a very good line."

Position after 8...Rb8.

Nepo gazed in the direction of the spectators for 13 seconds, quickly opening up the memory drawer inside his head that holds all the prepared 8…Rb8 data, and continued moving fast with taking on b5 followed by pushing h3.

On the next few moves, Carlsen constantly spent a few minutes more than his opponent while the challenger continued to play his moves in under 30 seconds each.

Nepomniachtchi's first big think came after Carlsen's 15th move, where the Russian GM spent almost six minutes on 16.Qc2, but then he played his next move 17. Nf1 quite fast again. "I think it's possible that he has checked the line deeply," said GM Fabiano Caruana in the Chess.com live broadcast.

Nepomniachtchi Dubai game 5
Nepomniachtchi again prepared deeply for how Carlsen played. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Caruana was thinking about an outpost on f5 with sacrifices on h6 hanging in the air, and as it turned out, Nepomniachtchi had been looking at similar things.

"Basically, I had some idea of playing Nf5, Qc1, and Bxh6, but unfortunately, it didn't work," Nepo said afterward.

Position after 17.Nf1.

After playing his 17th move, Carlsen was half an hour behind on the clock and he was also slightly under pressure—the opening was once again a success for Nepomniachtchi.

A few moves later, having played lots of natural moves, it was time for White to play the slightly committal move 20.c4—at least, that's what the strongest engines were suggesting. As IM Daniel Rensch had also mentioned the move during the show, Caruana complimented him in the most subtle way.

Carlsen did see that key move during the game: "I thought his best chance was to go 21.c4 and try to get c5 because I thought after what he did I should gradually be fine," he said.

Nepomniachtchi obviously considered it as well. "Somehow the position was that pleasant that it was difficult to choose the type of advantage you want to see at the board," he said.

Key Move of the Day: 20.c4
Today's pick is a move not actually played in the game! Instead of 20.Red1, which was played, 20.c4 would have a better way to press for an advantage. In short, 20.c4 gains space and prevents trades, especially of light-squared bishops. This move intends to play c5 if allowed, and if 20...c5 21.Ba4, Black is not in time to block with 21...Bd7 as he did in the game. White would have a huge advantage after 21...Bd7? 22.Qd2 or even 22.Nf5. Review the game's key moments, get coaching explanations, retry mistakes, and more with Chess.com's revolutionary Game Review tool.
Chess World Championship


As it went, Nepomniachtchi played 20.Red1 instead after 10.5 minutes of thinking, up until then more than he used on any other move in the game.

Around that time, GM Robert Hess was wondering whether Nepo, who has improved his game and can now play more restrained if needed, was playing too restrained.

Ian Nepomniachtchi Dubai Niki Riga
Is Nepomniachtchi playing too restrained? Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE. 

Meanwhile, the private resting areas for the players both have a television showing the game position, which makes it possible for them to stay away from the board more often than is usual. Today, players were away from the board so often that Rensch celebrated the moment on move 21 when both players were actually at the board, while scenes like the following have not been uncommon:

Nepomniachtchi eventually managed to activate his pieces further, placing his rook on a6 and the knights on c4 and f5. Carlsen did look somewhat passive there, but strong engines still called it equal.

"I thought the endgame was quite unpleasant," said Nepo, "but somehow it turned out that this passive plan exists, with 27...Ne8, 28...Nf8."

After 30…Rd8, another passive move that holds everything together, Nepomniachtchi showed another one of his regular frowns as he unbuttoned the cuff buttons on both arms. (FIDE informed Chess.com that the temperature is 23 degrees Celsius (73.4 Fahrenheit), per request from the players before the match.)

While the players approached the time control, the situation didn't change much. As it turned out, Carlsen's fortress was real—by now, the famous quote that he doesn't believe in fortresses is hopelessly outdated.

"This is why Magnus is so strong," writes our Game Of The Day annotator GM Sam Shankland. "When he has a solid position without immediate weaknesses, it's almost like watching a magician the way he can coordinate his pieces. Not only did he hold—he made it look easy!

It's almost like watching a magician the way he can coordinate his pieces. Not only did he hold—he made it look easy!
—Sam Shankland

Chess.com Game Of The Day Collection

Magnus Carlsen Dubai 2021
Carlsen's Marshall-based repertoire still holds. Photo: Niki Riga/FIDE.

Match score

Fed Name Rtg 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 Score
Magnus Carlsen 2855 ½ .½ ½ ½ ½ . . . . . . . . .
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2782 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ . . . . . . . . .


It seemed Nepomniachtchi was more disappointed with this draw than with the one in game two. Asked for his general feeling, he replied without hesitation: "Of course, I'm disappointed."

Of course, I'm disappointed.
—Ian Nepomniachtchi

A bit later in the press conference, he elaborated: "Today, it's basically not about him defending well but me using all the opportunities I had. But in general, I believe these games are pretty much tense and despite it's all draws we're trying to play reasonable chess. I should have tried harder to use the momentum."

Carlsen was satisfied with the result, but not about how the game went. "I'm not thrilled with the game where, unless you count …Ra2 and …Ra1 at the end, I didn't make a single active move—so, you know, that's not ideal. It doesn't win you many games. But the result obviously is fine."

Magnus Carlsen press conference Dubai
Magnus Carlsen at the press conference. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Carlsen added: "Actually, I kind of knew it's hard to completely equalize in this line. I thought there is limited material and it's fairly symmetrical, so I'll figure it out if it comes to that, but it was a little more unpleasant than I had hoped."

About having to defend passively, he wasn't that negative, though: "I didn't mind, it was OK. It's a perverse kind of taste to like defending these positions, but I do enjoy it from time to time. And I had a clear goal of what I wanted to do, which was to reach the fortress that I had in the game. In that sense, it was a job well done and that was definitely satisfying."

It's a perverse kind of taste to like defending these positions, but I do enjoy it from time to time.
—Magnus Carlsen

At the press conference, the challenger was asked whether he has indeed changed his style and whether this is going to win him the match. In a tweet, GM Nigel Short had suggested something similar.

Nepomniachtchi: "It might seem that my style has changed a little bit, but in general, just as previously, I'm trying to play some good moves and pose some problems [so that] perhaps my opponent feels some pressure and makes mistakes. That's it. In general, that's how you try to play chess; you try to play well. If you play well, then you have some chances for sure."

Ian Nepomniachtchi Dubai press conference
Nepomniachtchi: "I'm trying to play some good moves and pose some problems.” Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In the final question, the players were given the hypothetical opportunity to use a time machine and go back in their careers. What would they change?

Nepomniachtchi: "Start working earlier!"

Carlsen: "There were a couple of moments that I could've changed, but I've had so much good fortune that I don't think I would've changed anything and risked the butterfly effect!"

Nepo Carlsen Dubai photographers
The photographers inside the glass box... Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Nepo Carlsen Dubai photographers
...awaiting the players. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Nepo Carlsen Dubai photographers
The challenger arriving in the arena... Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Nepo Carlsen Dubai photographers
...and the world champion as well. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Nepo Carlsen Dubai photographers
The arbiter starts the game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Andrea Alexandra Botez
Andrea and Alexandra Botez have also arrived in Dubai. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

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