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Check mates: Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi to take on Magnus Carlsen as chess ‘bad boys’ and training partners face world title clash

Check mates: Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi to take on Magnus Carlsen as chess ‘bad boys’ and training partners face world title clash
Russia’s highest-ranked chess ace, Ian Nepomniachtchi, has earned the right to challenge Norwegian ‘King of Chess’ Magnus Carlsen – and the world champion has spoken about their understanding from their training sessions together.

Nepomniachtchi won the World Chess Federation Candidates Tournament title with a round to spare, securing a clash with Carlsen after drawing his game against Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave while his main rival, Dutchman Anish Giri, lost to Russia’s Alexander Grischuk.

The 30-year-old Russian grandmaster had been sharing first place with Vachier-Lagrave when the tournament was abruptly halted after round 7 due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When the tournament resumed in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Nepomniachtchi produced a dominant performance, taking two wins and registering four draws to secure victory with one round remaining.

Russia’s number one chess player will play for the world crown in a showpiece which is scheduled to take place at the end of this year in Dubai.

"It feels like a huge milestone in my life and my career," Nepomniachtchi said afterwards, fielding questions on the distinctive green chair he uses and admitting that he had found it difficult to sleep because of the exacting tournament. "I don't think I would like to have to play a tournament that lasts more than a year again.

"I worked on my chess and my mental aspects, but there are always a lot of things you can work at. It is very important to constantly improve. You need to work all the time. Compared to when I was 20 or 25, I work on chess a lot more."

Now devoting less time to football and other games, Nepomniachtchi will be the fourth player attempting to dethrone Carlsen after Vishy Anand failed in 2014 to reclaim the title that he had lost to Carlsen the year before.

In 2016, Russia’s Sergey Karjakin tied the title match with Carlsen but lost the rapid tiebreak, and two years later US grandmaster Fabiano Caruana also lost to him.

"[It] will be at least twice as entertaining as his match against Sergey Karjakin," predicted chess historian Olimpiu Urcan.

"These two 'bad boys' from the class of 1990 are both outspoken, fast, unconventional, imperceptibly subtle when it's a must and explosive when necessary."

Carlsen claimed he was "not unhappy" to be facing a foe he is very familiar with. "He's a very, very strong opponent but somebody who also plays very aggressively and usually gives his opponent chances as well," he said of Nepomniachtchi.

"So in that sense, there's every chance that it's going to be an exciting match. In terms of potential excitement, he's a very good opponent."

Analyzing Nepomniachtchi last week, Carlsen said the pair had "different strengths", speaking of the time they had spent testing one another in the past.

"Ian is somebody who plays very quickly," he observed. "He is extremely strong even from simple positions, where he can spot little tactics.

"He has a problem that he can play a little bit superficially and lose focus. We would have these training sessions where one day he would feel great and have a slight edge or we'd be equal.

"On another day, he wouldn't be in top shape and I'd win seven or eight games in a day. He's very much a player who used to be very influenced by his mood on a particular day, and that's kind of what's been setting him back, more than pure chess talent.

"I've known him for many years and he couldn't understand why he wasn't consistently playing in the best tournaments six or seven years ago.

"I said, 'it's because you have to maintain focus – you should be one of the best players in the world. It's all up to you.'

"I'm very happy for him that he's figured things out. He's one of the most talented players of this generation, without a doubt.

"Raising your 'floor' is just as important as raising your 'ceiling' and that's the only real reason why Ian is not [contending] in every tournament: his 'floor' is still very, very low."

Nepomniachtchi is a full point ahead of Giri ahead of the closing Candidates round. The wrong set of final results for the Russian would still see him victorious on the first tiebreaker, as he defeated the Dutchman in the first round.

Also on rt.com ‘He can outplay me’: World Chess champ Magnus Carlsen lauds Ian Nepomniachtchi as Russian races in front at tournament in homeland
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