Unlike the precedent seen in the days leading to many World chess championship title matches, the polite exchanges between two friends, champion Magnus Carlsen and challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, is a welcome change.
These fierce over-the-board rivals gave a fine account of themselves and a peak into their mindset when taking questions from the media on Wednesday, less than 48 hours before commencing their much-anticipated 14-game encounter at the Dubai Exhibition Centre as part of the Expo 2020 Dubai on Friday.
Nepo, as he is fondly called in chess circles, will play with white pieces in all odd-numbered games in the first half. In the second, Carlsen gets a similar privilege.
Asked who could win the $2 million title-clash, the Russian challenger kept his response simple. “Well, normally I think the best player wins!”
In contrast, Carlsen’s tongue-in-cheek reply was, “I predict that the person who scores the most points over the next three weeks is going to be the winner, and hopefully that’s going to be me. And if I do win, it will probably be because I made a lot of good moves and good decisions under pressure.”
Carlsen is an overwhelming favourite to retain the title held since dethroning Viswanathan Anand in 2013. Though Nepo leads Carlsen 4-1 after 11 encounters in their head-to-head encounters over the past two decades, it includes two victories that came their junior days.
Though Carlsen is clearly a better player with more experience in World championship matches, Nepo’s chances rest on his astonishing sense of positions where the battle for seizing advantage looms large. A prime example of this quality was Nepo’s victory over Carlsen in 2011.
Secondly, Nepo’s opening preparation from the white side is often seen as his potent weapon. Here, Carlsen relies more on his general understanding of positions rather than banking on deeper preparation of the lines over the board.
Unlike Carlen’s rivals in two previous title-matches, Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana, Nepo plays sharp, double-edged positions.
This normally leads to tactical battles which not only engages the spectators but also ends up producing more decisive battles.
The chess world is excited about the upcoming contest.