The third game of a world championship match reveals a little bit more about the months of work done by the players and their teams. Will they return to the site of their first battle, or will one of them feint and run, expanding the number of possible opening variations needed to be scrutinized and gathering more information about where they should make their stand?
What have we learned?
The first two games have followed an unexpected course, and champion Magnus Carlsen called them 'atypical'. Both games featured early pawn sacrifices from the titleholder in return for long-term pressure - the kind of aggression and risk usually associated with his opponent. This ambitious approach very nearly backfired in game two, when Carlsen suddenly found himself on the ropes after overlooking challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi's defensive resources.
While the early games of the match may have been atypical in style, they do fit in with conventional wisdom about title bouts. The champion is advised to push hard in the early games, before the challenger has time to acclimate to the unprecedented nervous tension of the occasion.
Magnus admitted before the match that he was keeping this in mind as an early strategy. Ian Nepomniachtchi has had a mantra here when asked about early nerves. He agrees they exist, but he insists they evaporate as soon as the first move is played. Then it is just chess, and he just enjoys playing chess.
Setting the stage
Ian 'Nepo' Nepomniachtchi had the advantage and onus of the first move today. One early online prediction came from tweeter extraordinaire, the world number six, Anish Giri. The Dutch grandmaster, who predicted the opening of game one, now believed the chess public was in for a day of dull safety, a common reaction to the incredible stress and complications of the preceding round. But will the challenger really 'burn' a white after a near-miss the day before?
The making of the first move is a daily ceremony, and if you are watching live, it offers an extra moment of mild excitement or confusion. The move played on the board by the dignitary of the day for the cameras is not necessarily the one requested by the player. On day one it was accurate, but since then, the wrong central pawn has been ceremonially advanced. Yesterday 1.e4 was seen before Magnus chose his d-pawn.
For game three FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich was joined by Her Excellency Mrs Hanan Al Aleeli, the UAE Ambassador to the Republic of Latvia, and Anastasia Myskina, the first Russian female tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title, at the 2004 French Open. Myskina had the honour of starting the players off, and her choice of 1.d4 caused a murmur of surprise in the theatre audience before Ian went back to his game one repertoire after the reset.
The opening followed the path of game one, and the now familiar rhythm of a brief pause from Magnus on the move eight, the sight of his eyes wandering as he consulted his memory banks, and then a resumption of the usual pace. The champion took a surprisingly longish 5-minute pause on his 10th, with general expert agreement that this was again a psychological moment, where Carlsen was making a subtle decision about where an ambush might lie, as well as which of his own prepared lines best suited his mood.
As play entered the middle-game phase, the position remained in approximate balance, with white still enjoying the slight superiority inherited from the first move.
Tension and resolution
The critical segment of the game arose as the players hit move 20 and invested long thought tackling the subtle complexities of the position. According to the various computers examining the position, Carlsen had a very narrow road to full equality, but he neutralized any dangers efficiently. Nepomniachtchi seemed somewhat disappointed by failing to make an impression with his second white, but his advantage had been kept in check throughout, and another draw was inevitable.
Immediately afterwards, Magnus said that It would be good to get a rest day tomorrow. "Of course, I've had two blacks, but I have to create some chances at some point."
The press conference touched upon a number of familiar topics apart from the game: plans for the coming rest day, the drawishness of top-level chess, and a new one, doping – as the players faced a control after today's exertions.
Ian focused on engine consultation being the only real form of chess doping, while Magnus joked that he might investigate possible drug enhancement someday 'if his level drops drastically'. The players agreed that a binge of watching sports on TV and getting in some needed physical exercise were on their agendas.
FIDE's social media followers produced the session's final question of the day, directed at the champion, wondering how he thought he would be remembered in 50 years time. Carlsen said he didn't think his legacy was something to discuss during a world championship match before finding an answer with a call-back to the questions about the lack of decisive results in recent title matches: "Hopefully as someone who won a classical game in a world championship match after 2016!"
While we focus on the world championship, we can't forget its setting. Dubai Expo 2020 is a World Expo, a spectacular event with the slogan 'Connecting Minds, Creating the Future', making it an easy link to the world championship match. Chess, particularly its educational value, has a starring role in the Spain pavilion, which is also the venue of the World Schools Team Championship.
Leontxo Garcia, who has been organizing the chess activities at the pavilion alongside expanded duties as the reporter for chess-mad Spanish daily El País, reports that a little bit of history was made there today at the schools event.
The first-ever over-the-board team match between the UAE and Israel took place there this morning. Further détente is planned for tomorrow, when the closing ceremony of the World Schools Team will feature an exhibition game between two mixed pairs, boy plus girl, with UAE and Israel joining up to form both teams.
FACT SHEET, Game 3 FIDE (International Chess Federation) World Championship:
White: Ian Nepomniachtchi
Black: Magnus Carlsen
Match score: 1½ - 1½
Game length: 41 moves
Opening: Ruy Lopez/Spanish
Trivia: On this day in 2018, Magnus Carlsen completed his title defence against US grandmaster (GM) Fabiano Caruana.
Text: Jonathan Tisdall, Press Officer firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Eric Rosen and Niki Riga