Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen has won a gruelling game in the World Chess Championship, finally breaking the deadlock.
Magnus Carlsen has drawn first blood in the World Chess Championship in Dubai.
The Norwegian, the reigning world champion, finally broke the streak of draws which deadlocked the match with Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi.
Carlsen pulled out a surprise early, playing a pseudo-Catalan variation of the queen’s pawn opening. Carlsen’s sixth move b3 has never been played by a strong player in a serious game before.
Carlsen also offered a pawn sacrifice on move nine — playing adventurously with the white pieces, however Nepomniachtchi cautiously declined the invitation.
Nepomniachtchi then found an aggressive solution to his development problems with his eleventh move b5, which American grand master and Chess.com commentator Robert Hess called his best move of the match.
The shocking move did help Nepomniachtchi escape the opening complications and equalise. It did however expose his position to long term weaknesses.
The players traded off some pieces and entered a complicated middle game.
In a major imbalance, Carlsen swapped his queen for two rooks. Computer analysis showed the position as dead even.
Soon afterwards, Carlsen sat in for a long think — a very long think. He didn’t move again until just three minute remained on his clock, leaving him with 10 moves to make before the bonus time.
He pushed the h pawn forward and was soon gifted a chance to gain a major advantage.
The computer showed a mind-boggling line after Rcc2, however the Norwegian played Rd1, gifting the advantage to the Russian.
In the resulting time scamble, Nepomniachtchi tried to confuse his opponent and didn’t play the obvious move to win a pawn. He ended up hitting his clock with a tense three second left before the time control.
Carlsen again began to push for the advantage his long-term edge of the two rooks, bullying Nepomniachtchi’s dark square bishop.
Carlsen then sacrificed his rook to win the bishop and a pawn — a gripping finish to the game.
After a punishing endgame, Carlsen finally had mate in his sights, forcing Nepomniachtchi’s resignation.
At 136 moves and 7 hours and 45 minutes, it was the longest game ever played in the world championship.
Former world champion Garry Kasparov called it an “incredible game”.
“Remember this when you hear chess isn’t a sport, or that physical condition isn’t so important. Or when they say classical chess is dead!,” he wrote on Twitter.
Nepomniachtchi said after the game, “Obviously it wasn’t the most pleasant game but, anyway, life goes on. It’s not a big deal.”
Carlsen said winning wasn’t easy.
“I thought I should make the game as long as possible so that we would both be as tired as possible when the critical moment came. That turned out to be a good strategy.”