Traps, Tricks & Mistakes: Nepo’s Bishop

Carlsen became World Chess Champion in 2013 roughly one week before his 23rd birthday after defeating Viswanathan Anand. He has successfully defended the title in five matches. The last one against Ian Nepomniachtchi in 2021. However, soon after that match, Carlsen announced that he would not defend the title again. alleging lack of passion. As he stated in December 2021:

“I have by now played against the previous generation and three leading players of my generation. Being result-oriented has worked out for me in these matches, but it doesn’t feel sustainable long term. Passion must be the main driver. It is unlikely that I will play another match unless maybe if the next challenger represents the next generation.”

According to the experts, the duel against Nepomniachtchi didn’t match the expectations. The challenger’s level of play was lower than in the previous two matches (against Karjakin, 2016 and Caruana, 2018). Because Nepomniachtchi lost the match after 11 classical games (from a total of 14) with a score of 7,5 to 3,5, it wasn’t necessary to play the remaining three. On the contrary, both Karjakin and Caruana reached the limit of the 12 scheduled classical games with a score of 6-6 being necessary a tiebreak in rapid chess.

In the 9th game of his match, Nepomniachtchi even ruined his position after making a fatal mistake self-trapping his bishop.

The diagram below shows the critical moment in the game. Nepomniachtchi makes pressure on Carlsen’s position. White’s e-pawn is attacking the knight, Black’s queen stays dangerously on the same file as the white rook and White’s bishop is pointing at Black’s b-pawn.

Apparently, Nepomniachtchi was aware that Carlsen would try to trap the bishop advancing c6. It is not dangerous as long as White’s pawn is on c4 because with Nc5 he could defend the bishop. But eventually, in the process of his thinking, Nepo forgot about it.

“I couldn’t imagine there is actually a way that exists to blunder in this position,” said Nepo at the press conference. On his turn, Carlsen commented: “You don’t expect to basically win a piece for nothing. What can I say? It’s also a bit of bad luck that he doesn’t have any try that gives him any chances. I think absurd actually covers it pretty nicely.”

Nepomniachtchi has shown an irregular progression throughout his career. He tends to play too fast in critical positions and he also tends to get quickly demoralized after his defeats.

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