FIDE World Chess Championship 2021

The contestants

Champion: Magnus Carlsen, Norway

Challenger: Ian Nepomniachtchi, Russia

Match conditions

  • The first player to reach 7½ points wins;
  • If no winner after 14 games, there will be a series of play-off games at progressively quicker speeds – rapid/blitz/Armageddon – until a winner is found;
  • Match conditions also stipulate no agreed draws before move 40;
  • Rate of play: 40/120 then 20/60 then the rest of the game in an additional 15 minutes, with 30 secs per move added from move 61.


26 November 2021 – Round 1 6 December 2021 – Free day
27 November 2021 – Round 2 7 December 2021 – Round 9
28 November 2021 – Round 3 8 December 2021 – Round 10
29 November 2021 – Free day 9 December 2021 – Free day
30 November 2021 – Round 4 10 December 2021 – Round 11
1 December 2021 – Round 5 11 December 2021 – Round 12
2 December 2021 – Free day 12 December 2021 – Round 13
3 December 2021 – Round 6 13 December 2021 – Free day
4 December 2021 – Round 7 14 December 2021 – Round 14
5 December 2021 – Round 8 15 December 2021 – Tie-break games (if needed)

Links: WCC website

Match synopsis

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Total
Carlsen ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 n/p n/p n/p
Nepomniachtchi  ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 n/p n/p n/p
Moves 45 58 41 33 43 136 41 46 39 41 49  
Opening C88 E05 C88 C42 C88 D02 C88 C43 A13 C42 C54  

The games

Tip: to flip the board, click on e7 (with Black at the top) d2 with (White at the top).

Download: All WCC 2021 games in pgn (zip)

Games blog

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Game 11

Magnus Carlsen World Champion

10 December 2021 – 0-1, 49 moves

Magnus wraps up the match with his fourth win, all coming in the last six games.

In  Game 11, Ian introduced a Guioco Piano for the first time in the match. Magnus, playing with a freedom that comes from his dominant position in the match, sacrificed the exchange to open up Ian’s king, then transposed to a R&P ending with an extra pawn. Magnus’s passed h-pawn charged down the board unmolested, Magnus giving up his rook to queen the pawn. Ian’s match-ending resignation came shortly after.

It was a match for five games, then came the epic Game 6 – 136 moves – which could have gone either way. But Magnus ended up winning, a result that was critical for the destiny of the title since after Game 6, Ian had to  go for wins which opened up the play exposing a gulf between the two players.

Game 10

8 December 2021 – ½-½, 41 moves

Not much incident in this game, played quickly and agreed drawn as soon as they passed move 40.

Game 9

7 December 2021 – 0-1, 39 moves

Ian Nepomniachtchi had to win two of the remaining six games to take the match into a play-off; given how rarely Magnus Carlsen loses, this is a tall order. As Game 8 demonstrated – and this is undoubtedly stating the obvious – the problem is how to press for a win without Ian leaving himself open to a Magnus counter. Surely Ian must vary from the Lopez which he has played in all his previous games with White.

Indeed, he has! 1 c4.

Ian developed a decent game, though no better than level. Then made the disastrous decision to play 27 c5, overlooking the simple reply 27 …c6 trapping Ian’s bishop on b7, which Magnus subsequently captured to go a piece up. Ian’s only compensation was a passed a-pawn which he  pushed to a7. But when Magnus took any doubt out of the situation by solidly blockading the pawn with …Ra8 Ian had seen enough. Disaster.

We can see no way back now; two from six was long enough odds, three from five is out of reach.

Game 8

Magnus goes two up

5 December 2021 -1-0, 46 moves

The start of the second half of the match. Magnus has White.

We recall the previous match of 12 games where the artificial device of switching colours at the half way stage was employed to ensure that in each half of the match the perceived advantage of having the White pieces first was shared. In the current match, by the simple expedient of extending the match to 14 games this consideration is taken care of automatically as each half is an odd number of games. Ian started the first half with White, now Magnus has White to start the second half and no-one has to have the same colour two games running.

Another Petroff. The opening moves were rattled off, quickly reaching a symetrical position after eight moves looking for all the world like a draw. Magnus castled, 9 O-O, to which Ian responded with 9 …h5, clearly trying to generate a quick attack. Magnus had a long think – 40 minutes 41s – before playing 10. Qe1+ and Ian’s embryonic attack got no further.

After exchanges into a Q&P ending, Magnus picked off Ian’s a-pawn, his own isolated d-pawn being protected by a tactic. From this point, Ian’s prospects of saving the game were very slim and soon he was two pawns down. He played on clutching at the straw of an unlikely swindle by perpetual check. It didn’t happen and Magnus went two up with six to play.

Game 7

4 December – ½-½, 41 moves

Ian at least had White for the next game after his defeat in the Round 6 marathon game. We had another Lopez which has been played in all the games where Ian is White. Magnus repeated 8 …Rb8 which he tried in Game 5 and improved on his play in that earlier game. After intial tussle for the centre, rapid exchanges led to a level endgame eventually reaching a R & P ending which only had one result. The last dozen moves or so were played at blitz speeds as the players charged headlong to the agreement to draw once 40 moves had passed. It is quite clear that this condition – no agreed draws before move 40 – is a nonsense and in our opinion should have no place in our game.

Game 6

Magnus wins slow-burning thriller

3 December – 1-0, 136 moves (new World Chess Championship record length)

Well, that was worth waiting for, wasn’t it! What a game. Apparently this was the longest game in the history of the World Chess Championship – 136 moves and 8 hours.

The players took their time over the opening moves today, which indicated that we were not in deep preparation as was the case, for instance, with Game 4. Magnus played the opening creatively to generate chances, or at least a degree of imbalance. Ian, however, was once more up to it and after a dozen moves appeared to have the better position. After 21 Kg1, Ian’s Queen on b7 strafed the long diagonal while Magnus’ distaff monarch (heard that phrase somewhere) was tucked away on a2. So where did Ian go wrong? Not sure he did, really and certainly had chances to seize a clear advantage. So much happened in this marathon encounter with so many twists and turns it is a game that transcends analysis on that level. It was a battle, a drama, a sporting encounter that will stamp its place in the long history of the World Chess Championship as one of the most dramatic games.

The point at which the long endgame was set in stone was 25 …Rac8 which led to Magnus exchanging Q for two rooks. The balance of play swung sharply in both directions as the game moved to a thrilling time scramble at the end of the first time period, both players making the time control by their fingertips. The graph given on the WCC website shows the fluctuating struggle in this phase with the horizontal line being equality, above the line being advantage to White, below the line advantage to Black – picture taken at move 47:

The impression of that period of play was that Ian had missed several chances for the advantage. The first time control passed, the position appeared level – Magnus’ two rooks being balanced by Ian’s Q and a3 passed pawn and, despite the drama of the time-scramble it appeard another draw was the likely result. There followed a long period of manoeuvres while Magnus tried to get an edge. This was one of those games where the outcome hinged on moments in the struggle. 52 …Qe4 may be shown by analysis to be the second such moment (25 …Rac8 being the first), as it enabled Magnus to capture the a3 pawn when it appeared, so long as Ian held the pawn with Q and B, that a draw was inevitable. Instead, with 52 …Qe4, Ian exchanged that passed pawn for White’s much less impotant h-pawn. Yet even after that event, the game was not lost. A further error was needed which ultimately proved to be 72 …Ba7 which allowed Magnus to gain leverage to improve the position of his rooks, resulting in the gain of Ian’s f5 pawn. The final moment in the topography of the game was when Magnus gave back the exchange with 80 Rxf7+ to set in place the final endgame phase with Magnus’ R, N and 3P v Ian’s Q and 1P.

Could Magnus possibly fashion a win in the face of relentless checks from the Q? That this phase of the game was played out in the final time period (15 minutes + 30 seconds per move, in addition to time carried forward) is the icing on the cake. In fact the winning strategy was played out at blitz speeds, the players down to 3 minutes or less plus increments, Magnus always having less time than Ian and at one time, by our observation, as low as 27 seconds. And what a tour de force that endgame win was, Magnus managing his forces in a cohesive group edging up the board while Ian’s Q chipped away with checks, until this drama was brought to a close on move 136 after a marathon playing session of 7 hours 11 minutes (12:30 – 19:41).

They have to do it all again tomorrow! No postponements are allowed and no agreed draws under 40 moves, so if they want a short game they will have to engineer a repetition.

Game 5

1 December – ½-½, 43 moves.

The third Ruy Lopez of the match. Game 5 was a partial moral victory for Nepomniachtchi who emerged from the opening moves with a slight advantage. Magnus varied from 8 …Bb7 played previously with 8 …Rb8; it didn’t work out for him and he had a difficult position, without being in immediate danger. The situation resolved to a degree with multiple echanges on a4, leading to a rook and minor piece late-middlegame/pre-ending – to coin a phrase. Magnus sorted out a game plan and re-organised his forces, thereafter playing quickly as if to establish that he no longer had any problems. Ian began to look weary and perhaps a little frustrated, realising that any advantage for him had disappeared and that he cold not avoid another draw. The second half of the session was played quickly, the players seemingly impatient to reach move 40 so that they could conclude the game.

Game 4

30 November – ½-½, 33 moves.

Magnus has White and it is his birthday today, 31. Draw by repetition.Magnus played 1. e4 and Ian responded with Petroff’s defence. The opening moves were played very quickly, both players clearly well-prepared – it was reported that Ian’s preparation went as far as move 24, i.e. essentially the whole game. Magnus’ efforts centered on pressure on Ian’s K position with R and N, Ian’s counterplay was advance of his passed a-pawn to a3. Ian had apparently out-prepared Magnus who thought a long time trying in vain to find a win (22 minutes on move 25 and 34 minutes on move 30) before bringing the game to a peaceful conclusion by repetition.

Game 3

28 November – ½-½, 41 moves.

Another Ruy Lopez, but without the drama of Game 2. Frequent exchanges reduced the game to an ending B+5 each, which was agreed drawn after they passed move 40.

Game 2

27 November 2021 – ½-½, 58 moves

A tense struggle from a Catalan with Magnus a gambit pawn down for counterplay on the long diagonal, h1-a8. Nepomniachtchi was equal to the situation and worked a knight into d3. When he added his other knight via c5 it invaded b3 and Magnus had to let the exchange go, but in compensation had established an advanced outpost of his own with a huge knight on d6. Nepomniachtchi was effectively a piece down with a bishop imprisoned on a8. At this point, while the engine was affording the Challenger a clear advantage, the commentators started analysing a mating attack for Magnus, following 24 Be4, based on 25 Bxh7+ Kxh7 26 Qh5+ Kg8 27 Rd4-Rh4. Nepomniachtchi chose to meet this threat by returning his extra pawn with 24 …c3!? as this afforded sufficient counterplay to neutralise Magnus’s embryonic attack; the engine preferred 24 …Qe7–/+. However, it was after 24 …c3 that Nepo’s theorictical advantage began to dissipate and Magnus steered his position out of danger. When Nepomniachtchi returned the exchange (37 …Rxd6) the game was clearly headed for a draw, which was agreed on move 58. Score 1-1.

Game 1

26 November 2021 – ½-½, 45 moves

The Challenger opens the match with a Ruy Lopez. Not a lot to write about this, a gentle opening game to get the match under way.