The Long Road To Victory!

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Today the World Chess Championship continued in Dubai after a rest day. Defending champion Magnus Carlsen squared off against Ian Nepomniachtchi again with the white pieces in game six.

The previous five games had ended in a draw, leading to many complaints about the drawish nature of world championship play. This writer will point out that these are two of the finest players of the game, and are not there to entertain spectators, but to fight to at least not lose. It is typical that world championship games end in a draw, simply because of the excellence of the competitors, and what is at stake.

So, today Magnus opened with d4, playing into a Catalan-style opening, and many records were broken.

Magnus and Nepo ended up playing the longest game in world championship history, with the game concluding on move 136! Game play began at 4:30 Dubai time and ended after midnight, which meant the game approached a gruelling eight hours’ duration.

There may be another record in this game, as the move e3-e4 (but e4 nonetheless) was played by White on move 110! We’re not sure, but this may be the latest point in any game to see e4 recorded on a score sheet (as it is often recorded on move one.)

The fact that this game was decisive is extraordinary. On move eighty Carlsen simplified the position, sacrificing a rook to win a pawn and bishop. This move was slightly confusing at first glance, but its brilliance soon became obvious. This exchange left Nepo with just a queen and pawn against rook, knight and three pawns, and over the next thirty or so moves Nepo valiantly tried to gain ground as Carlsen created a fortress-like position that was virtually impossible to penetrate.

And, as we know from Fischer’s brilliant “Game of the Century,” a queen can be quite useless when trying to attack a well-defended position.

After move 115 and an exchange of pawns, we entered the esoteric world of the tablebase. For those who don’t know this term, let’s put it this way. We all know that there are positions that have an obvious conclusion with accurate play. For example, king and queen versus king is a very easy mate. There are many endgame positions, with few pieces left, that have long been “solved” by humans as a win for one side or a draw with accurate play.

With the advent of computers, we’ve managed to go deeper. The tablebase is essentially a catalogue of every possible chess position with seven or fewer pieces on the board, along with ideal results. So when we’re down to seven or fewer pieces, chess itself has been “solved” with the assistance of chess engines.

The position that resulted after Carlsen sacrificed his rook for a pawn and bishop was something that is in the tablebase. And the tablebase said this is a known draw with perfect play.

And then we saw why Magnus is the world champ.

Carlsen’s legendary tenacity was on full display as he incrementally converted this draw into a win, finally trapping Nepo’s king on the back rank and advancing his two remaining pawns. Ian conceded the game on move 136, as he was unable to prevent the white king from finding a safe harbour, free from continuing queen checks, on Black’s own back rank!

With this absolute stunner of a game Magnus Carlsen took the lead 3.5-2.5 in the best-of-fourteen match.

As a nod to the increasing popularity of chess, at one point chess.com reported that their live stream of the game was the #1 viewed stream on Twitch!

Here is a recap of this stunning game.

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