Ian Niepomniashi’s supposed psychological strength was a mask. The Russian, aspiring to the title of Magnus Carlsen, lost in a very strange way this Sunday the 8th round two days after his first defeat, in the 6th. The Norwegian now dominates the World Cup in Dubai 5-3, scheduled for the best of fourteen with two million euros in prizes. Niepómniashi will have the initiative of the white pieces on Tuesday, after a day of rest.
“It is true that after the first loss, Ian showed a composure that we have never seen before. Before, in similar circumstances, his body language and his manifestations would have clearly reflected his bitterness. Now he has seemed quite the opposite, but inside he was very bad ”. This explanation of the Dutch Anish Giri, 6th in the world, during his live comments for the Chess24 platform, fits very well with what some Russian journalists leaked a few days before: the applicant had worked in recent months with a psychologist specialized in sport high performance to correct the great weak point of his entire career, emotional instability. This was always a very normal practice among the stars of Russian sports, since the times of the Soviet Union. However, it seems unlikely that a problem rooted in three decades of high-competition chess can be eliminated in half a year, from the youthful age.
Some of that misrepresentation began before the referee started the clock. Niepómniashi was already sitting on stage, transmitting the message that he wanted to fight, while the guest for the kick-off, Michel Salgado, former Real Madrid footballer and now coach in the United Arab Emirates, spoke with EL PAÍS in the surroundings: “Always It seemed to me that there are similarities between chess and soccer. For example, the importance of controlling the center, the harmony of the pieces or the dewatering of spaces. Víctor Valdés, who was a Barça goalkeeper, took a coaching course with me, and he already represented the players as bishops, knights or pawns in his talks to the players, ”he explained. And then he made the first move by Carlsen, a great supporter of Real Madrid.
Another point in common between chess and football is that the players must be clear about the priority strategic ideas of that day before the fight begins. And it is obvious that Niepómniashi did not have them: with the black pieces, the Petrov Defense raised, very conservative; but then, when the champion made it clear that the draw was a good result for him, the challenger avoided an immediate change of queens that would have put the mat to a quick draw. Just two sets later, the Slav had another chance to switch queens, and he turned it down again. Such emotional swing was translated a little later into a clear error, which left him in a technically lost position.
Giving the reason to Giri, Niepómniashi showed his face at the press conference with total dignity: “I apologize to my followers. The level that I have shown today is inappropriate, not just for a World Cup, but for any great teacher. But I am not tired, and I am willing to continue fighting. The difference is that now I need two victories instead of one ”. Carlsen also maintained a respectful demeanor while standing before reporters six feet from his victim. But a few minutes earlier, in exclusive remarks to Norwegian television NRK behind the scenes, he displayed his usual sincerity, and was much more incisive: “I would never have won this game if I had not won the 6th on Friday.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.