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2021 World Chess Championship - Game 9

 

GM Joel Benjamin reviews games 9 & 10

Should we be afraid now? Five games into the World Championship we have not seen a decisive game, after the two games since the break, games four and five, ended in fairly short draws.

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The great Vishy Anand was interviewed before the game, and to the question "Can Ian do this?"

"He HAS to do it! It's, of course, a gamble, but Ian needs to try something"
--Vishy Anand

And this is the feeling that more or less everyone had with game 9 approaching and Magnus ahead 5.0 to 3.0. Nepo arrived at the playing venue with Karjakin and a new hairdo. The Russian got rid of the man bun and sported a much young-looking hairstyle.

"They didn't ask for my opinion; they just sent me the tickets!"
--Karjakin

Did Nepo want Sergey with him as a "consigliori," an adviser? Maybe someone able to recharge the Russian and give him mental strength in this challenging moment. New haircut and new opening! For the first time in the match, Ian opened with 1.c4. After 1…e6, 2.g3 d5, 3.Bg2 Magnus went with the most ambitious move in the English: 3…d4

21...b5

It is fascinating to consider the psychological aspect of the match. When someone is ahead, getting overly defensive is statistically a mistake in all sports. You get your opponent to press and push, trying to at least equalize. Soccer is a typical example. Magnus, who is a passionate fan of several sports, knows this very well, and today he went for an audacious variation of the English, which seemed to send a clear message to Ian: "You know what, Ian? You want to be aggressive? I don't fear you, and here you go."

On the other hand, is Ian trying to get Magnus to be aggressive, and then he's got a plan to punish the Champion? It's the beauty of a match and perhaps an attempt from those who commentate to make the match look still interesting. For the first ten moves, Ian took only 10 minutes, leaving the fish right after moving, to follow the game from his lounge room. The position after move 11 looked lively:

21...b5

The position was unbalanced, and Magnus was using a lot of time. It looked good for Ian. After Magnus castle, Ian went into a long think, and after 25 minutes, he played 12.d4. Then Ian started playing again like the game were Blitz. At move 21, Magnus had 28 minutes on the clock, whereas Ian had 1 hour and 2 minutes. Deep in his thinking, Magnus showed an expression that we had probably never seen before.

21...b5

Was that the realization that he had missed something? Or did the Champion see a winning continuation? At move 27, the drama. Ian plays without thinking 27.c5?, a decisive and horrible blunder. After Magnus' 27…c6, Ian's bishop is trapped, the game is over.

21...b5

Ian Got back to the board after 10 minutes, looking desperate. How is it possible that such a strong player misses an obvious move like c6? In the short interview after the game, Magnus tried to explain it.

"Pressure gets everybody"
--Magnus

In the post-game press conference, Nepo candidly admitted that he didn't see 27…c6 until Magnus made it on the board! Now Magnus leads 6:3, and it's hard to imagine a comeback by the Russian. It was almost heartbreaking to see how Magnus was sad when he realized his opponent had blundered away the game. A true champion wants to win differently by fighting and earning victory.

21...b5


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