Carlsen draws with Nepomniachtchi in game seven to back up breakthrough

Magnus Carlsen played to a quiet 41-move draw with Ian Nepomniachtchi on Saturday in the seventh game of their world championship match in Dubai, only hours after the Norwegian champion dramatically took control of their deadlocked best-of-14-games showdown with a marathon game-six win that ended after midnight.

Nepomniachtchi, marshaling the white pieces, played 1 e4 before the pair blitzed out their opening moves into the same anti-Marshall line of the Ruy Lopez that had featured in each of the Russian’s three previous games as white (1 … e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 O-O Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3).

Carlsen took lengthy thinks of 33 combined minutes before his 12th and 15th moves, falling more than 20 minutes behind his opponent on time. But not long after the world No 1 gave up his stronghold in the center with the committal 17 exd4, a flurry of rapid simplification began and the action fizzled out fast.

After the players agreed to a peaceful result after 2hr 30min, Carlsen admitted his energy was low after Friday’s gruelling back-and-forth marathon, which surpassed the 124-move stalemate in game five of the 1978 title match between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi as the longest contest in the 135-year history of world championship matchplay.

“I couldn’t really sleep yesterday,” Carlsen said. “I was way too excited. But all the way today I was thinking, ‘I’m tired but it’s probably a lot worse for him.’”

Nepomniachtchi was quick to dispel the notion that Friday’s taxing affair affected his opening choice for Saturday’s game (“Absolutely not!), but noted: “It was quite a new experience to play two games in the same day.”

He also pointed out, with a hint of pique, that the late finish for game six was enabled by the late 4.30pm local start times, chosen for the convenience of other time zones.

Carlsen, who turned 31 on Tuesday, has been ranked No 1 for more than a decade and was considered the world’s best player even before he defeated Viswanathan Anand for the title in 2013. He’s making his fourth defense of the world championship against the 31-year-old Nepomniachtchi, the world No 5 from Russia.

The overall score at the midpoint of their €2m ($2.26m) showdown at the Dubai Exposition Centre is 4-3 in favor of Carlsen, who will have the white pieces in Sunday’s eighth game ahead of Monday’s rest day.

“Obviously with [Friday’s] result it’s going pretty well,” Carlsen said. “It’s a long way to go, half the match still. But I’ve made my breakthrough so the state is good.”