Wednesday April 28, 2021
“Time to say Dubai”
Old friend calls on chess genius Carlsen
Magnus Carlsen greets his challenger moodily via Twitter. In the duel for the World Cup crown, the world chess champion has to seriously reckon with his friend Jan Nepomnyashchi. The Russian convinced at his home game and won early.
Chess world champion Magnus Carlsen had bet on Fabiano Caruana or Ding Liren before the World Cup Candidates Tournament. From the Norwegian point of view, Jan Nepomnjaschtschi was “an interesting outsider”. Now the Russian has already prevailed as a World Cup challenger in Yekaterinburg before the last round. Carlsen conveyed his congratulations to him on Twitter with a pun: “Time to say Dubai”. From November 24th, the Emirate of Dubai will host their 14-game title fight, which is endowed with two million euros.
Nepomnyashchi’s rise to the top of the world did not go smoothly. As U10 and U12 world champion, he showed his talent early on. At 19 he became European champion and Russian champion in the same year. But invitations to world-class tournaments were a long time coming. He played computer games like DOTA or the card game Hearthstone and watched a lot of soccer. “I considered myself a professional chess player, but I didn’t work like a real professional,” he says in retrospect. Now he’s got a more professional attitude. “It’s very important to keep improving. All you need is to keep working.”
Nepomnyashchi also did so after the candidates’ tournament was interrupted with the start of the Russian lockdown on March 26, 2020. Mostly online he analyzed with his coaches Vladimir Potkin, Ildar Khairullin and Nikita Witjugow. The last time to join the team was the Hungarian vice world champion from 2004, Peter Leko, who otherwise coaches the German talent Vincent Keymer.
“Better a boring draw”
His family name means “the one who doesn’t remember”, and Russian chess circles like to joke about it. But in practice, Nepomnyashchi remembers his preparation perfectly and always came back well from the opening phase in the candidates’ tournament. In the past it often happened to him that he played too fast and made a mistake in the process. Before making his only wrong decision, which he quarreled with afterwards, he pondered for thirty minutes. This resulted in his only defeat against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
In addition to pragmatism, he has an excellent feeling of what a position requires and how to put pressure on his opponent. In the classic time to think about it, Nepomnjashchi has defeated Carlsen four times, two wins from youth tournaments, and only lost once. “He’s one of those people who can outplay me. Jan plays fast, is extremely strong, tactically inventive,” said the world champion of his challenger. They have been friends since they met at youth tournaments, both are 30, Nepomnyashchi is only five months older.
Nepomnyashchi attributes the fact that he won the first time he took part in a candidates’ tournament to the fact that he followed the two previous editions intensively as a commentator. He sums up what he has learned as follows: “You shouldn’t drive yourself crazy and, if possible, not lose. Better a boring draw.”
The President of the Russian Chess Federation, Andrei Filatov, revealed that his victorious compatriot had long since been vaccinated against Covid-19. Nepomnyashchi brought a doctor and his girlfriend to Yekaterinburg. After the tournament resumed, he slept poorly at first. When things got better, he won two games. When asked if he was already thinking about preparing for the World Cup, the Muscovite said: “I want to go home first and have a good night’s sleep.”