Chess World Championship 2021

Chess World Championship 2021

GM David Howell, IM Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare commentate live on the 2021 World Championship match in Dubai between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Grandmasters Judit Polgar and Anish Giri commentate live on the 2021 World Chess Championship match in Dubai between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi.

That was the blub for two of the hits when the term Chess World Championship 2021 is typed into YouTube while said championship was recently running. Actually, these were videos giving live commentary on the fourteen-game match between Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen (Magnus) and the contender, by virtue of winning “the candidates tournament” involving the next best chess players in the world, the Russian, Ian Nepomniachtchi (Nepo). Besides live commentary, there were the typically 10 to 30 minute analytical summaries of the games played, given by popular chess experts. I confess, despite not playing competitive chess for I while, I was hooked watching these videos. For the record, when watching live, I preferred the one involving David Howell as easier to follow and more fun. Interestingly, both live streams were hosted by Chess24, who did an excellent job.

Some will know my own chess playing career began as a ten-year-old when I was taught the game, including the ethos and etiquette that goes with, by two neighbours – brothers who today would be considered as coming from a problematic family (the older brother learned the game in Borstal, including the right, respectful approach that was needed). From then on, I played as often as I could, even making it my hobby project when doing a Duke of Edinburgh’s award. Over the years, I played chess with friends and family and even in competitions held in the work place. While stopping playing regularly until more recent years, I picked it up again, playing for a local club, including in competitions, the electronic version of correspondence chess in chess.com and, my favourite, with homeless folk I helped to support. Since Covid lockdown, I stopped playing regularly. As well as over the board play not being possible, I began to lose interest and while grateful I could still play a decent game when the opportunity arose, I decided I was not going to get any better and had too many other priorities to try – but then this …

We know now Magnus won against Nepo 7.5 – 3.5 with three games remaining, noting it was tighter in previous world championships involving Magnus. While the first five games ended in draws, for the connoisseur these were not boring. It is said that if God were to play God a draw would be result, even though the white God has the extra move. The reason being God never makes mistakes. To an extent it was true in this final match. When I used to analyze my own games on a computer, I found these were full of inaccuracies, mistakes and even blunders and the only reason I won so many was that was also true for my opponent. As for Magnus and Nepo, their play was near faultless in those early games and this was the verdict of the onlooking experts analysing their play (although there were a handful of hard to spot inaccuracies, which if picked up by the opponent might have been converted to a win) – that is, up to Game 5 – check out this video for one of the superb commentaries on Game 6, the longest game ever in world chess championship final history. Chess enthusiasts will understand it when I say the game was thrilling, made even more so with both players in time trouble when the position was complex and both missing opportunities to gain an advantage. In the end, Magnus won in what chess engines had considered to be a drawn position, and that was because Nepo was to blunder, although forgivable for normal mortals as it was hard to figure out the move he needed to force a draw.

And after that it was mostly downhill for Nepo as he lost three of the next five games. I suggest three reasons for this was a. Magnus had the ability to play solid chess whatever the situation (and that was enough), b. Nepo had to win to level and likely overreached – in each case making uncharacteristic blunders and c. psychologically he was compromised following his defeat in Game 6. As they say, congratulations to Magnus (a worthy champion that like past great champions appears invincible) and commiserations to Nepo, who did what my borstal attending friend told me I needed to do – to maintain dignity and respect for the game and my opponent.

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