And again, Magnus concedes a pawn for the initiative and a better pawn structure. If it were not the very beginning of the match, one could think it's a strategy. One thing is sure: Magnus' preparation is incredibly deep and strong. He deliberately chooses lines that the engines don't like so much to steal the initiative from his dangerous foe. In the Catalan Magnus chose for Game 2, he had Nepomniachtchi thinking already with the rare 8.Ne5!?
At this level, showing you're surprised is not an option; on the other hand, replying quickly to a move that takes you out of your comfort zone is extremely dangerous. Posing this kind of problem to your opponent, being sure you can play an "inferior" move and still be able to keep the game balanced, is a tremendous psychological advantage. Even the great Vishy Anand commented his admiration for this attitude of the World Champion:
"You really appreciate Magnus' preparation. It's tough to get such an interesting position in a match..."
Now, is this enough to destabilize the strong Russian? Probably not, but in the long run, such a strategy will tire Nepo, a player who likes to get the initiative in every game he plays. On the other hand, Nepo is a super-strong-super-GM, and his adaptability to different play situations is well known.
Today, after the surprise, Nepo spent a lot of time on the position and found himself slightly worse. But then, according to Sesse, Carlsen wasted all of his advantages with 17.Ne5 - and then got slightly worse with 20.Rb1. Fabiano Caruana, during his commentary, said that at that point, Carlsen had minimal chances to win the game, as his compensation is purely defensive, and there are no attacking ideas. At move 24, Carlsen played Be4, which the engines see as a minor blunder.
But it's all too easy to talk when you have an engine help you evaluate a position, isn't it?
Nigel Short seems to agree with us:
Nepo didn't see the right move and gave back all his advantage to Magnus by playing 24...c3. Ian gave Magnus the chance to clear the mess on the Queenside, and the game, at move 27, was equal. After this small tsunami, the game continued in a much more placid way, and the players agreed on a draw at move 58. After the game, Magnus said in an interview that he wasn't planning to sacrifice all the material he did lose during the game and found himself "hanging in there, trying not to lose," but also that he had some chances to get a much better position than his opponent.
An up-and-down game that GM Illescas will analyze for us in his daily recap!