Carlsen closes on retaining world chess crown after Nepomniachtchi draw

Norway’s Magnus Carlsen inched closer toward the fourth successful defence of his world championship on Wednesday, playing to a quiet 41-move draw with Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi in the 10th game of their showdown in Dubai and maintaining his commanding three-point lead with four scheduled contests remaining.

Less than 24 hours after Nepomniachtchi missed an elementary tactic and made an extraordinary blunder from a promising position to effectively seal his fate in the best-of-14 match, the challenger appeared willing to settle for a peaceful result ahead of Thursday’s rest day before making one final push.

The 31-year-old Carlsen, playing as white, started with 1 e4. But the swirling hopes that Nepomniachtchi would go for broke were quickly extinguished when he played into the Petrov Defence (1 … e5 2 Nf3 Nf6), the identical solid but drawish opening he had opted for in Sunday’s ill-fated eighth game.

“Frankly I hadn’t thought about him playing the Petrov today at all,” Carlsen said afterwards. “I was preparing for various sharp openings that he could play. The thought was if he goes 1 e5, I’ll see. I didn’t think making a draw against the Petrov would be a major issue.”

Dopo 3 Nxe5 d6 4 Nd3, Nepomniachtchi captured white’s e-pawn (4 … Nxe4) to extend the same line Carlsen played in the epic sixth game of the 2018 world title match against the American Fabiano Caruana, which he nearly lost. The players remained in familiar territory (5 Qe2 Qe7 6 Nf4 Nf6 7 d4) until Nepomniachtchi played the first new move (7 … Nc6), a novelty Carlsen spent nearly 20 minutes contemplating.

“It was a bit surprising because I thought this move order was not supposed to be that good,” Carlsen said. “But I guess you have to play [Be3] in order to try and do something against it and I was not in the mood for that.”

Not long after Carlsen bypassed more ambitious options for the natural 8 c3, the queens came off the board (10 Qxe2+ 11 Bxe2) before the position rapidly simplified with more exchanges of material. Carlsen said he believed he was slightly better after 17 g3, but was more than happy to settle for the half-point after a brisk 2hr 5min, the shortest encounter of the match so far.

“I think if I played a little more patiently there I could have had the tiniest of edges, but naturally I would have hunted for it more diligently if the match situation had been different,” Carlsen said. The 31-year-old Nepomniachtchi defended his placid opening choice, detto: “Even if you play a so-called sharp opening like Sicilian, if white wants to shut it down white surely will shut it down. It’s not realistic. I have a couple of tries with the white pieces in the remaining four games. Of course it depends on what I produce in the 11th game. But today it was just an idea to play a normal game, try not to blunder something in my moves.

Carlsen leads 6½-3½ in the €2m ($2.26m) match at the Dubai Exposition Centre going into Thursday’s idle day. The proceedings will resume on Friday with Nepomniachtchi marshalling the white pieces.

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