Pravin Thipsay writes: Ian Nepomniachtchi shows good presence of mind to draw with Black
Such an entertaining World Chess Championships, which has seen both players attack, win and defend whenever they have to, could be decided by a single point. Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi, who leads Ding Liren 5.5-4.5 after 10 games, is probably banking on it. He has his task cut out: he just can’t afford to lose a game.
Game 10 on Sunday at the St Regis in Astana, Kazakhstan, was a clear indication that Nepo is not going to go on the offensive when playing with Black pieces. More importantly, he’s prepared to not give Ding any chance of getting that equalising win. This means that Ding will have to come up with something truly extraordinary in order to win. With only four games to go, it seems a Herculean task. (Grandmaster Pravin Thipsay has been analysing games of the World Chess Championship for The Indian Express. You can read his analysis of Game 9, Game 8, Game 7, Game 6, Game 5, Game 4, Game 3, Game 2, and Game 1.)
But Ding is doing everything he can to give himself a shot at victory. He started the game with English Opening, an opening which he had played in the fifth game of the match in which he scored his first win. However, he changed the Pawn structure set-up as early as on move 4. The only problem was that this is a variation that Nepo himself plays with White.
Being well versed with this variation, Nepo showed good presence of mind and the ability to take a quick decision as early as on move 4, by choosing an option Ding had never faced before. Nepo had already played the variation three times in the past, including one in a draw with Carlsen with Black. In the other two games he played this variation, Nepo scored wins with White over Levon Aronian and Cardoso.
In fact, the players followed the Nepo-Cardoso game till move 13. On move 14, Ding deviated from the above game by castling instead of playing a Pawn move. However, this improvement didn’t lead to any significant advantage for him and though he won a Pawn, there was no real hope for victory.
Nepo defended the position accurately and forced a theoretically drawn Rook ending with a nice Bishop sacrifice on move 34. The game was declared drawn on move 45 when both the players were left only with a lone King each.
The draw may have been dull and effortless but what it has done is considerably brighten Nepo’s chances of winning the match. He will play with White in Game 11 on Monday and most likely go with the Spanish Opening, something that Ding isn’t too fluent with. If he manages to win, it’s game over. It’s highly unlikely Ding will stage a comeback with two points down.
That’s why Game 11 is a must-watch. Nepo is going to press hard but at the same time, not give Ding an opportunity to win. Ding will try and do the same. But the only difference is that he has nothing to lose.
(Pravin Thipsay is an Indian Grandmaster and a recipient of the Arjuna Award.)
Moves (Game 10): 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.e4 Bc5!? 5.Nxe5 Nxe5 6.d4 Bb4 7.dxe5 Nxe4 8.Qf3 Nxc3 9.bxc3 Bc5 10.Qg3 Kf8 11.Be2 d6 12.Bf4 Qe7 13.Rd1 h5 14.0–0 h4 15.Qd3 g5! 16.exd6 cxd6 17.Bxd6 Qxd6 18.Qxd6+ Bxd6 19.Rxd6 Be6 20.f4 Ke7 21.Rd4 gxf4 22.Rfxf4 h3! 23.g4 Rac8 24.Kf2 Rc5 25.a4 Ra5 26.Bd1 b6 27.Kg3 Rh6 28.Rfe4 Kf8 29.Rd8+ Kg7 30.Ra8 Rc5 31.Rxa7 Bxc4 32.Rae7 Rhc6 33.R7e5 Rxe5 34.Rxe5 Bb3 35.Bxb3 Rxc3+ 36.Kh4 Rxb3 37.Rb5 Ra3 38.Rxb6 Rxa4 39.Kxh3 f5! 40.gxf5 Rf4 41.Rb5 Kf6 42.Kg3 Rxf5 43.Rxf5+ Kxf5 44.h4 Kg6 45.h5+ Kxh5 Game automatically declared drawn as per chess laws.