At the moment, Ian Niepómniachi is not going to cut his throat, risking a lot, as he usually does, despite the fact that his chances of beating Magnus Carlsen otherwise seem slim. After the tie in four hours, the Norwegian will have the advantage of the white pieces this Saturday in the 2nd of the fourteen scheduled games (1:30 p.m., Spanish peninsular time). The duel takes place at the World Expo in Dubai (United Arab Emirates).
“Ian was already more solid than usual when he won the Candidates Tournament, and I suppose this today is like a continuation of it. In any case, he is a very strong player ”. Carlsen thus implied that the choice of the Russian in the opening had not surprised him much. However, his body language after Niepomniachi’s 8th move indicated otherwise. Most likely, the Scandinavian expected the more aggressive version of the Slav, because winning the first round can greatly damage the psychological stability of the adversary.
The prolegomena were interesting. Niepómniachi arrived 20 minutes before the stage, glazed and opaque: the players cannot see the spectators to avoid that one of them, armed on his mobile phone with any of the chess programs that calculate millions of plays per second, can transmit some by signs. Given that it is his first final of a World Championship, everything indicates that he did it to get used to the environment: a cloud of photographers who did not stop shooting, the special feeling of contesting the king’s crown … And three minutes later he left, to do not return until shortly before the start time.
The candidate has long assumed that his flag in this duel cannot be the Russian one, due to the sanctions against his Government for collaboration in the doping of many athletes; instead, he plays under the banner of the Russian Chess Federation. But the master of ceremonies, the American Maurice Ashley, introduced him as “Ian Niepomniachi! From Russia!”
If the Spanish clergyman Ruy López de Segura, the first unofficial world champion (16th century), close to Felipe II, would now raise his head, he would be astonished to see that the opening he invented, the Spanish one, is still one of the most used. It was the one chosen by Niepómniachi, and it is clear that the champion was waiting for her because she responded very quickly. However, when the Norwegian’s 7th cast indicated that he was going to raise a very sharp variant, the Marshall Gambit, the Russian avoided it. And that’s where Carlsen’s gestures made it clear that he was surprised to see the candidate so conservative.
The champion was then consistent with the style that prevails in him since, in January 2019, he decided to be greatly influenced by this revolutionary program AlphaZero, by Deep Mind (Google). Since then, Carlsen does not mind sacrificing material – in this case, it was just a pawn – in exchange for initiative, good piece harmony, and two bishops in a position with open diagonals. It was soon seen that the challenger’s lead pawn was more of a decorative object, and that he could not win the first round.
Not only that. After 25 moves, the only one who could play to win was Carlsen. He tried, but his lead was microscopic, too small for it to be worth going round and round the position to tire the opponent, as the Norwegian has done so many times with success. So peace was signed after set 41, with a very rare epilogue at the World Championships: they both stayed on stage for a few minutes, exchanging impressions in a friendly tone.
Niepomniachi said he was not “particularly disappointed”, adding: “Magnus has played very well. So the tie is normal ”. But it is worth wondering if this strategy of not risking, contrary to his natural style, is only for the first games or if he wants to extend it until near the end of the duel. One thing is clear at the moment: the opening fight was played on Carlsen’s ground (very technical positions), not in the mud, where the Russian likes to batter himself.
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