When Nepo almost said, “You can’t be serious!”
Before the beginning of the world championship, GM Peter Svidler came up with a nice piece of wisdom, “There is no such thing as a boring world championship match.” And the second game started off with a clear, if not extra-ordinary proof of those words.
The second game began on a comical note in the opening itself, at least for the spectators of the Live commentary. Ding Liren having the white pieces, it went 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5, and now the commentators Vishy Anand and Irina Krush saw Ding’s hand going for a short pawn move on the kingside.
Assuming that he had continued with 4.g3, Irina started talking, “It seems it is going to be a Catalan...So, the Catalan is something that Nepo has lots of experience, and at some point….Whoah! Is that the pawn to h3??!”
Anand came up with a long suppressed chuckle, and the subsequent moments were well articulated:
Krush, “Wow! Wow!”
Anand, “Okay, h3.”
We could also see on live relay, Ding’s opponent Ian Nepomniachtchi giving a considerable grin, and having a glass of water. It always helps, after all, a glass of water, when life gives you a lemon.
Recovering, the commentators settled down:
Krush, “That feels like something (GM Richard) Rapport (Ding’s second) must have been working.”
Anand, “And Ian has permitted himself a nice, big smile!...He just sat there, rolled around in his chair...and there was a light smirk, as in, ‘You can’t be serious’. Isn’t that McEnroe?!” [Vishy was referring to the mercurial tennis star John McEnroe’s famous outburst to an umpire at Wimbledon, and later adopted as the name of his autobiography].
Needless to say, we were already entertained.
But Nepo kept his cool. To get surprised in the opening is always not such an unpleasantness – it’s a part of professional chess life. And, the strongest of minds put up a dogged determination in the subsequent part of the game, which may sometime even tilt the game in their own favour. A strong mind fighting back is always an unpleasant foe, after all.
Nepo stopped smiling, responded aggressively, true to his style. Treating the game as a regular Queens Gambit Accepted, he played sharp, and got ready to castle on the opposite sides of the board. When he played the daring 12. Nxf6 gxf6! this seemed to be the moment when the game tilted:
Ding had actually consumed more than 30 minutes on his clock for 12.Nxf6 but admitted in the press conference that “12...gxf6 came as a total surprise”.
Nepo played true to his style, playing active chess and aiming for the initiative, exactly the time when he becomes a dangerous player.
The final finish started with an obvious, but attractive sacrifice 20...Rxg5!, the point being 21.Nxg5 Nxd4 and Black had a commanding position. The game ended in Nepo’s favour in 29 moves.
The press conference after the game was a sombre affair, for Ding Liren. “I missed nearly everything in the game”, he claimed. Indeed, looking at the lack of form he seems to be suffering from, he might be facing an uphill task already.
(Picture courtesy: Anna Shtourman / FIDE)