7 hours and 45 minutes, 136 moves. Game 6 of the World Chess Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi spilled past midnight Dubai time and brought the first decisive result in the classical stage of a World Championship match, breaking a streak of five years and 19 consecutive draws. It turned out to be the longest game in the history of the 135-year-old Championship. Carlsen, looking pleased with himself at having wrested the advantage in the best-of-14 games match, would remark that by the close of the protracted battle he was “running on fumes”.
Historically, Game 6 has been seen as a sort of disruptor. Bobby Fischer played the Queen’s Gambit for the first time in his life in a serious game, in Game 6 against Boris Spassky in their 1972 match. Spassky, who’d never lost a game with his favored Tartakower Variation, crumbled. He would later join the audience in applause for Fischer. On Friday, opening with a version of the Catalan with the White pieces, four-time world champion Carlsen trawled for options and ran into time trouble in a game that had both players missing chances.
Nepomniachtchi who walked in at the start of the game in a sharp black suit and matching waistcoat, had his white shirt hanging out, a few buttons undone, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his blazer and waistcoat thrown over the chair, rocking it with urgency and twirling a captured White pawn between his fingers like a fidget spinner. The battle strode into a tense endgame with Black’s lone queen up against White’s rook, knight and two pawns.
Carlsen squeezed a decisive result out of what may have appeared to be theoretically a draw. It’s been patently the Norwegian’s style to turn a tiny crack of opportunity into an advantage, hold on to it, force long games and tire out opponents. It’s a tactic he used gainfully in his first world title against Viswanathan Anand back in 2013 as well.
“It shouldn’t be easy in a World Championship match. You have to try for every chance no matter how small it is,” Carlsen would say after the game, “Part of it was by design, at some point I thought I should make the game as long as possible so that we would both be as tired as possible when the critical moment came. That turned out to be a good strategy.”
Nepomniachtchi appeared forlorn through the 15-minute mandatory press conference, passing up questions to his opponent on occasion. He will now have to summon the strength for a fight in Game 7, less than a day after a loss that now has him trailing 2.5-3.5 in the match. Asked how he plans to recover from the defeat, eyes still downcast and wearing a hint of smile he would respond: “Hopefully in style.” Carlsen will have the Black pieces on Saturday, and will carry the momentum of having landed the first blow. “The match has been deadlocked so far, so any win I can get is great but it’s far from over,” he would say.
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