World Championship Game 9
The ninth game between Magnus Carlsen and Yan Niepomniashchy was played on 07/12/2021.
Carlsen was now 2 games up, so rather than further explore the backwaters of the Ruy Lopez, Niepomniashchy, who needs to play for a win, in remaining games, opened with an English, which Carlsen turned into a sort of reverse Benoni with a black bishop at c5 rather than the c-pawn, and the black e-pawn at e6 which potentially loses a tempo if e6-e5 is played in due course.
In this game Carlsen allowed his b-pawn to fall, with 25. … h5, on the basis that he could recoup the pawn. When, after 26. Bxb7 Niepomniashchy replied to 26. … Ra4 with 27. c5 allowing Carlsen to trap the bishop with 27. … c6, things got complicated. At this point it appeared Niepomniashchy’s plan might have been 28. f3 Nh6 29. Re4 (29. … Rxe4 30. fxe4 Rb8 31. Nh5), but 29. … Ra7 30. Rb4 Rb8 looks good for Black, as after 31. Bxc6 R8xb7 32. Bxf8 Rxb3 the white c-pawn cannot promote. In the event, the above line was followed up to 30. … Rb8, but then Niepomniashchy player 31. a4, and Niepomniashchy had sacrificed the bishop with a view to trying to promote his a-pawn supported by R + N, with the black bishop for the time being confined to barracks. After 36. a6, white had the possible “plan” 37. a7 Ra8 38. Ra6 and 39. Na4 and 40. Nb6, but Black can swing his knight to b5 via d4, or more effectively with 36. … Nxg3 37. a7 Ra8 38. Ra6 Ne2+ 39. Kf2 Ne4 to meet 40. Na4 with 40. … Nb5. However, White opted for what was probably a desperate “plan B”, (36. … Nxg3) 37. Na4 c5 (allowing the black bishop access to c6) 38. a7 Rd8 39. Nxc5 Ra8, whereafter the black knight can sidle round to c8 via f5 then e7, and White has no way forward.
So, Carlsen had once again out calculated Niepomniashchy.
This left Carlsen 3 games ahead, and the ultimate winner of the match in little doubt.