Magnus Carlsen, the king, retains his crown

Magnus Carlsen beat Ian Nepomniachtchi by 7.5-3.5, the biggest margin in the chess world championship since 1993.

Viswanathan Anand: "He is always willing to adapt, to learn and there is no doubt in my mind, that had Magnus lost the sixth game, he would not have collapsed like his rival."   -  AP

By the time the eighth game was over it was looking obvious that Ian Nepomniachtchi's chances were vanishingly small. He had to win two games in the last six games. What was especially worrying was his performance in game 8. Game 6 could have happened to anyone, but Game 8 looked like the play of a man in freefall. Carlsen said before the match that Ian would fall to pieces after a setback. Was he going to be proved right?

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When a match goes against you, you have to change something. It is not even a question of having something better at your disposal. Each time you play the old stuff, you feel that you are reliving the unpleasant events of the past few days. At least changing course mentally clears your head. The problem is that since you are improvising with limited time, the ideas you have tend to be incomplete. Ian, on the contrary, looked impressive in game 9. He played his second-best line, the English Opening. Even though Magnus played a rare line only seen in a handful of games, Ian seemed to know his way around and played the best moves — for a while. If he had found 15.b4, (a fairly human move even if the supporting variations are very computerish) he would have had a solid edge.

15.b4

Even 15.bxa3 didn't spoil it and he seemed to be getting some chances. However, Magnus concentrated and carefully found the right way to get compensation. His good pawn structure meant that his position wouldn’t get too critical. And then Ian blundered. He thought for just five minutes and blundered with 27.c5 and a shocked Magnus who could barely believe it, played 27…c6 to trap the enemy bishop.

And that was it! End of a comeback. Three points down. Ian went through the motions of resisting, but he could have just resigned on the spot. It wouldn’t have made any difference.

The next day, he played a sensible game in game 10 and made a draw. But he was kicking an open door. A draw suited Magnus just fine as well. By now, the life had gone out of the match. It could have been different if Ian had done this in Game 8.

In Game 11, the only question was whether Ian would even try. He did play the Italian opening and Magnus had to solve one difficult issue. He did. He found 21…Re4 and 22…Rf4

22..Rf4 has solved all Black's problems.

Now people assumed the game would end in a draw. Unbelievably, Ian actually played 23.g3

What is this?? Anyone can see that 23…dxe3 24.gxf4 Qxg4+ can only be better for Black. It seems like every spectator, with or without a computer could see what the challenger had missed. Or deluded himself into believing. The fact that he no longer appeared to care whether he drew or lost meant he was broken by the course of the match — when you lose any faith in your ability to win a game.

 

Magnus couldn’t believe his eyes. In fact, he missed several easy wins but never lost the advantage. The unbelievable events must have affected his ability to think clearly. However, he gets the job done. Even when your opponent is falling to pieces, you have to play well. Even a demoralised opponent who appears to be flailing can suddenly come to life if you give him half a chance. Magnus keeps up the intensity and effort regardless and it is representative of his formidable work ethic in chess. He is always willing to adapt, to learn and there is no doubt in my mind, that had Magnus lost the sixth game, he would not have collapsed like his rival. That is still the difference between him and the others. He can work harder than anyone else at the board. His dominance in the chess world remains unchallenged. The thoughts of the chess world have moved on to the next match. There is a formidable slate of candidates including Fabiano Caruana and the enormously talented Alireza Firouzja. They all still have a mountain to climb.

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