One Misplaced Pawn May Have Just Clinched The World Chess Championship

Magnus Carlsen now holds a commanding lead.

12/7/2021 9:35:00 AM

One misplaced pawn may have just clinched the World Chess Championship. Via FiveThirtyEight:

Magnus Carlsen now holds a commanding lead.

This lovely arrangement appears 11 times inChessBase’s database, historically leading to five wins for white and six draws, though it had only been played before by amateurs. Symmetrical positions rarely lead to symmetrical results at the highest levels, and the parade did not appeal to Nepomniachtchi, who had the black pieces — he grimaced, stared into space and buried his head in his arms.

Both grandmasters dug in for a fight, and it wasn’t lovely for long.In the position above, Carlsen castled and Nepomniachtchi ventured a pawn h5, an unnatural-looking but bold move, representative of lessons recently taught to humans by advanced neural networks. Both players eschewed lines that appeared drawish, and all across the board, Carlsen began to accumulate the tiny edges he is famous for pursuing.

When Nepomniachtchi did appear in his chair, he moved quickly. On his 21st move, he moved his pawn forward to the b5 square, as shown below, pressuring Carlsen’s bishop and likely handing Carlsen the world championship.In a matchdefined by accuracy, with so many moves earning the annotator’s exclamation point, this was roundly given a question mark or two. It blunders away a pawn: Carlsen moves his queen to a3, putting Nepomniachtchi in check. After the black king slides to safety, Carlsen grabs the pawn on a7 while invading Russian territory with his queen.

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After this, Nepomniachtchi disappeared.Carlsen stood up and prowled the board.Nepomniachtchi reappeared, made another reckless move,1and disappeared again.The Norwegian’s advantage grew to two pawns and then three, and converting such an edge is elementary for a super grandmaster. After a master class of Carlsen’s exacting endgame play, Nepomniachtchi reappeared to offer his hand in resignation. After the game, Nepomniachtchi called his play “a chain of slightly weird decisions” and apologized for his performance.

With six games remaining, the path to victory now for Nepomniachtchi is very narrow and very steep. TheChess by the Numbersmodel gives Carlsen a 98.5 percent chance to retain his title and cement his status as the greatest of all time.

Read more: ABC News »

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