A stunning blunder by Russian challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi gifted world champion Magnus Carlsen his second win in three games in their scheduled 14-game world chess title match in Dubai Sunday.
The result gave the Norwegian champ a 5-3 lead and a seeming stranglehold on retaining the crown he has worn since 2013. The first player to score 7 1/2 points wins the match, with a one-day rapid and blitz playoff set for Dec. 15 if the match is tied.
Nepomniachtchi played strongly in the early games of the match, which opened with five consecutive draws. But he suffered a devastating, record-setting 136-move defeat against the champion in Friday’s Game 6, and after a quiet draw with the White pieces in Game 7, seemed to collapse in Sunday’s clash.
Facing the Petroff’s Defense for the second time in the match, Carlsen’s maneuvering with the relatively rare line 7. Nd2 and the subtle 10. Qe1+ forced Black to be creative just to maintain equality. Nepomniachtchi missed several chances to neutralize White’s play, then committed the worst blunder of the match so far to lose a pawn without compensation.
The key moves came on 20. c4 dxc4 21. Bxc4 b5??, a bad oversight for a top grandmaster as it loses a pawn to the simple tactic of 22. Qa3+ Kg8 23. Qxa7, and if 23…bxc4, White gets back the bishop with 24. Qxd7. The discouraged challenger failed to put up tough resistance in the play that followed, as White simplified down to a queen ending where he had two extra pawns.
When Black’s hopes of generating checks against the White king disintegrated after 44. d5 g4 45. hxg4 h3 46. Qf3, the Russian resigned the game.
After a rest day Monday, Nepomniachtchi will have the advantage of the White pieces in Tuesday’s Game 9, but faces a monumental task of closing a two-point deficit with just six games to go. The challenger has yet to win a game in the match.
Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi, World Championship Match, Game 8, Dubai, December 2021
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 Nxe4 4. Bd3 d5 5. Nxe5 Nd7 6. Nxd7 Bxd7 7. Nd2 Nxd2 8. Bxd2 Bd6 9. O-O h5 10. Qe1+ Kf8 11. Bb4 Qe7 12. Bxd6 Qxd6 13. Qd2 Re8 14. Rae1 Rh6 15. Qg5 c6 16. Rxe8+ Bxe8 17. Re1 Qf6 18. Qe3 Bd7 19. h3 h4 20. c4 dxc4 21. Bxc4 b5 22. Qa3+ Kg8 23. Qxa7 Qd8 24. Bb3 Rd6 25. Re4 Be6 26. Bxe6 Rxe6 27. Rxe6 fxe6 28. Qc5 Qa5 29. Qxc6 Qe1+ 30. Kh2 Qxf2 31. Qxe6+ Kh7 32. Qe4+ Kg8 33. b3 Qxa2 34. Qe8+ Kh7 35. Qxb5 Qf2 36. Qe5 Qb2 37. Qe4+ Kg8 38. Qd3 Qf2 39. Qc3 Qf4+ 40. Kg1 Kh7 41. Qd3+ g6 42. Qd1 Qe3+ 43. Kh1 g5 44. d5 g4 45. hxg4 h3 46. Qf3 Black resigns