When the 2020 candidates tournament started, Fabiano Caruana was the majority’s favorite as per chess.com’s poll to qualify for the world chess championship. Ian Nepomniatchi, on the other hand, was backed by only 5% members to qualify for the World Championship. But he made sure that he is going to disappoint 95% of voters and be the surprise that not many expected to see in the world championship.
A part of his qualification is also down to luck. When the Candidates tournament got halted due to the severity of the Covid19 pandemic, Maxime Vachier Lagrave had caught up Nepo in the points table by beating Nepo himself. That loss could have a huge psychological impact on Nepo but the tournament halt in between gave him the time to recover from a bad day in office and he returned in 2nd half of the Candidates well-prepared winning games after games. Maybe you can call it fortune favors the brave and Nepo certainly was brave enough to make it through both phases of Candidates with flying numbers.
As far as the candidates’ tournament 2021 results stand, Ian Nepomniachtchi is the winner and Anish Giri, who fought very well in the 2nd half of the tournament, wasn’t able to catch up with his Russian rival. Nepo’s score of 8.5 / 14 was enough to take him to the Candidates. It seems like we have a Nepo at display who is more dynamic in his classical chess gameplay and out for more blood.
Check out the thoughts of Ian Nepomniatchi after winning the Candidates tournament in a video below:
Anish on the other hand was very sad in the post-match interview after losing to Alexander Grischuk.
And the emotions were clearly visible…
Things that happened between the two halves of the Candidates Tournament?
Most of the chess activity went online as the Coronavirus became severe globally. And recently in the Magnus Carlsen invitational, there has been some serious activity in top-level chess. Anish Giri won the tournament with some brilliant chess throughout the tournament, beating Ian Nepomniachtchi in the playoffs of the final.
But that’s a different story, it’s a thing of the past. The pandemic turned the candidates’ tournament into a halved thing and Ian Nepomniatchi clearly stood out to be the player of both halves. He is the champion among the Candidates and will now face the World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the World Championship event in Dubai in November.
Quite an uphill battle it was till round 13 in the Candidates! And If Nepo can take it that far, he certainly can take it beyond here. And among all the top grandmasters, he is the only one who has a positive score against Magnus Carlsen.
What is so Special in Ian Nepomniatchi?
During the pandemic, all the top-level chess tournaments went online and Nepo being Nepo surprised the chess world with his unique style of play.
Some of his Alpha Zero Esque games blew the minds of opponents.
Although a very unique styled player almost always blitzing his moves in the opening no matter whatever the format, Nepo is known for producing scoring results, which is quite rare in top-level chess.
Check his 2 games below:
As you saw in both the games, Nepo continuously pressured world champion Magnus Carlsen and Ding Liren. It can be easily speculated that Ian Nepomniachtchi has some serious chances to win against Magnus Carlsen, he can possibly go on and beat World Champion in November’s world championship.
If you look at his style of play, he is an oppressor, continuously grinding and setting fire to the chessboard combined with his Russian personality which makes him a unique chess player.
The most beautiful thing is that he does it in top-level chess where the margin of error is almost zero.
At least with the human standards.
His technique can’t be thought or maybe he is gifted in a special way.
And quite possibly he is a world champion in the making for the flare and aura he brings to the chessboard.
No chess coach will recommend his style of play. In fact, no one can because the level of engine details and preparation he comes up with is astounding.
I mean all super grandmasters do that, but Nepo is faster, stronger and more brilliant than anyone else.
The only thing bad in his play is his occasional blunders, unlike the always draw Anish Giri, (excluding the performance of Giri in Magnus Carlsen invitational), Nepo is a player known for producing results.
If a coach starts teaching his style of play, there won’t be any chess and only arguments about how awkward this style of play is.
Looking at Nepo’s past record:
In March 2019, Nepomniachtchi contributed to Russia winning the World Team Chess Championship.
These are some of the indicators that if he qualified for the World Championship, he seriously is a candidate to challenge Magnus for his thrown.
If we look at his career graph, it is on the rise.
There was a period between October 2014 and Jun 2016, when it remained steady on a level.
But ever since, he is on the rise and has climbed from 2700 to 2784 in 4 years.
And with recent performances, he is going to click the 2800 magical mark sooner or later.
Personal life and Chess:
Ian Nepomniachtchi is Jewish and comes from a country that takes chess as a matter of respect.
He graduated from the Russian State Social University. A big fan of video gaming. Other than Chess, he is also a huge Dota fan. Infact, his team won the ASUS Cup Winter 2011 DotA tournament.
He also served as a commentator at the ESL One Hamburg 2018 Dota 2 tournament, using the nickname FrostNova.
Other than Dota, Nepo also plays Hearthstone and introduced fellow Russian chess grandmaster Peter Svidler to the game; the two of them later provided feedback about the game to the Hearthstone developers.
Magnus Carlsen’s head to head record against Ian Nepomniachtchi:
For the first time in the history of chess, the right to the title match is received by a chess player (Nepo) who has a positive score against the current world champion (Magnus).
For more than 10 years, Magnus has shown confidence against his opponents in world championships, having a victorious positive scores against them before appearing in the most prestigious form of chess – The Classical.
But the world champion has one inconvenient opponent – his competitor since the youth tournaments Ian Nepomniachtchi.
The phenomenon of the ′′ inconvenient opponent ′′ was previously encountered by other couples of the world’s leading chess players. For example, during the period 1954-1984, Victor Korknoy was an inconvenient opponent for Mikhail Tal. The score in their parties, excluding draws, was 12:2 in favor of Korchny.
The history of the competition behind the chess board of two peers and the bright chess gifts of Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachti began on October 3, 2002 at the 5th round of youth (under 12 years) of European championship. The tournament in which Magnus, playing black, chose Alekhin’s defense, that ended on the 41st move with the victory of Ian, who became European champion in that tournament.
Ian continued it with another victory over Magnus at the Youth World Cup (under 14 years old).
But as the threshold of youth tournaments ended, Magnus’s successes began to exceed Ian’s achievements.
By the time of their first meeting as an adult at the Wijk aan Zee chess tournament-2011 the difference in ratings was already significant in favor of Magnus-2814 vs. Ian 2733.
But still the game between them in that tournament ended with a victory of Ian, who played black.
Carlsen’s total personal account – Unmemplified in the classic became + 0,-3, = 2, which was in controversy with their successes with other players. And of course it was difficult to imagine how differently their sports careers will turn out in the coming years.
Two years later Magnus becomes the sixteenth world champion, and Ian had no bright victories for five years.
The rising curve illustrating Elo’s change in Ian’s 2011-2016 ranking turns into a line that can be reproximated straight.
The opportunity to meet the world champion on a chess board in the classic was presented only six years later.
The era of renaissance in Ian’s chess began in 2016 with victories at representative tournaments in Chinese Danzhou and Mikhail Tal memorial in Moscow.
In 2017, he met Carlsen on a chessboard again, but now Carlsen is three times world champion.
Two parties in Wake-en-Zea and St. Louis ended up with no one’s win, and in London, Ian again defeated the world champion and brings personal score to + 4,-0, = 4.
Thanks to this victory, Ian added his name into the register of members of the symbolic Club Michael Chigorin.
Magnus managed to take rematch from Ian for defeat in London on July 2, 2019, besides they had two draws in Wake en-Zee-2019 and St. Louis-2019.
Total score with Magnus at the start of the 2020/21 Candidates tournament, which first made it to Ian, is + 4,-1, = +3 in Nepo’s favor.
It will be a 1st time that Magnus will face Ian Nepomniachtchi in a world championship match-up and chess world is waiting for a great battle in Dubai in November.
FIDE has announced the Schedule of the World Championship:
Consulting with the players and organizers, FIDE has announced the schedule of the World Championship between Magnus Carlsen and the challenger (i.e. Ian Nepomniatchi to be) between 24th November and 16th December 2021. This time it will be in Dubai.
There were several other potential host cities also in consideration from several countries where the event could be moved to and still some options are there, in case of restrictions reappearing in UAE.
FIDE is very keen to resume the World Championship cycle as one of the main tasks.
The World Championship cycle is also an important event to increase the popularity of chess around the world.
Despite the challenging times, FIDE knows that millions of fans around the world are keen to watch the best chess players in the world, and the organization is sparing no effort to make things possible.
Ian Nepomniachtchi’s team for World Championship:
Ian Nepomniachtchi’s seconds for the world championship matchup against Magnus Carlsen are the 3 super GMs Peter Leko, Iidar Khairullin, and Nikita Vitiugov. They will accompany GM Ian Nepomniachtchi at the World Championship event in Dubai as they face defending champion GM Magnus Carlsen.
Apart from them there is another name that also joined which is GM Sergey Karjakin. The Russian grand master was GM Magnus Carlsen’s challenger at the 2016 Chess World Championships.
Sergey Karjakin can prove to be a very competent and helpful addition to Nepo’s team because of the world championship experience he will bring to table for Nepo playing against Magnus.
Magnus back then couldn’t beat Karjakin in the standard event and eventually lost in the shorter format but his experience can help Nepo against Carlsen a lot.
Karjakin says he has spent a lot of time with Nepo in training camps. For Karjakin the main thing he wanted was to bring that world championship crown back to Russia.
When asked what advice did he give to Nepo? Sergey replied “I gave some advice and we also analyzed the opening. “But it’s all just words because the main thing is what happens later during the game,”.
Karjakin objectively said Magnus is a favorite. He’s a world champion, has won more tournaments, and is higher in ratings. He’s a very complete chess player with no visible flaws. Magnus plays equally well in all positions: opening, middle game, and the endgame.”
But while at the game against him, you have to forget all that. This is a new match up and what already happened is happened and should not be a burden to be carried,”.
Increase in chess popularity during the pandemic:
The 2020 Candidates tournament was seen on prominent pages in the media around the world (Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, to name a few), giving chess attention that was absent for years.
Ever since the 1st part of the candidates’ tournament, interest in chess has globally risen. The commentaries and live streamings of the 2020 Candidates tournament have endured a viewership of several million people around the globe. Top chess players (including World Champion) participated in chess shows to give insight into the games. Overall, chess sources with live commentary saw a great increase in viewership.
To mention the great work, players like Hikaru Nakamura, are the true gentlemen of chess.
Probably, the most viewed chess streamer in the world.
He started a series of pogchamps, where beginners got prepared by top chess players to compete with each other online.
That’s all in this article.