Chess - Carlsen & Nepo
Norway's reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen (right) and challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi exchange pleasantries during their World Championship game in Dubai on Tuesday. Image Credit: AFP

Kolkata: Magnus Carlsen took a giant step towards retaining his Fide World Chess Championship crown for the fifth time when he opened up a 6-3 lead over his challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, winning the ninth game for his third win in four games on the sidelines of Expo 2020 in Dubai on Tuesday.

Unlike the previous title-fights which were 12-round affairs, there are five more games to go in the 14th round contest - but it’s difficult to foresee the Norwegian slipping up from here onwards.

“Pressure gets to everybody,” the 31-year-old Carlsen said later. “As I said before, no style points awarded. I’ll take it. It was a tough game in which I was under pressure both on the board and on the clock. Just to turn it around like that was unexpected.”

The biggest game in the sport lived up to it’s billing with it taking sixth games for a decisive result - and Carlsen seemed to have created a psychological edge when he broke through Nepomniachtchi’s defence in a seven hour 45 minutes epic on Friday after 136 moves - the longest game in the recognised 135-year history of world championship matchplay.

Nepomniachtchi made an extraordinary blunder in the middlegame on Tuesday evening that immediately pointed his Norwegian opponent towards a straightforward win in just under four hours.

Entering the ninth game on Tuesday, Russian Nepomniachtchi was attempting to become only the third player in the history of world championship matches to win after trailing by two or more points. The others were Max Euwe, who trailed 5-2 against Alexander Alekhine before winning 15½-14½ in 1935, and Bobby Fischer, who trailed 2-0 against Boris Spassky before winning 12½-8½ in 1972.

“I couldn’t imagine there is actually a way which exists to blunder in this position. The position was somewhere between slightly better and much better during most of the game ... It’s even funny there’s a way to blunder this position in one move. Who could know?, ” he said after the ninth round loss.

“You work a whole lifetime for one shot and this is what happens on the biggest scene,” three-time British champion David Howell said during his commentary. “He’s probably never blundered like this in his whole career. It’s just so sad.”