A new terminology enters chess lexicon: The mosquito gambit. The 30-year-old Russian was seen swatting, swiping and swishing the air as the match unfolded, at times almost slapping himself on the face.
The first round of the two-legged semifinal in the Crypto Cup between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So was meandering to a dour draw when a flock of mosquitoes intruded into Nepomniachtchi’s room and snapped his fierce focus. In the onslaught of the insectile intrusion, the Russian, who would challenge Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship later this year, lost his monkish poise, made a slew of uncharacteristic errors and found himself trailing 2.5-1.5 before the second round on Saturday night.
In snatches of the games released on the tournament website, the 30-year-old Russian is seen swatting, swiping and swishing the air as the match unfolded. There were times he almost slapped himself on the face when trying to fend them away. Like a high-pitched sonata, their buzz amplified when they wandered around the loudspeakers.
A frazzled Nepomniachtchi was at his wits’ end in the post-match press conference. “It seems like a shamanic ritual, I was doing all sorts of wierd movements with my hand. But I have never seen such a big amount of mosquitoes in one place. It was just unbelievable. In the camera, it looks so funny, but right there it was not so,” he narrated the ordeal.
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His concentration dishevelled, reverie distorted, he began to make ludicrous moves. Between swatting mosquitoes flying around him and watching his adversary’s moves, he made careless bishop moves and lost territory. Before this, the game had a draw written large on it, as all the pawns were on the same side of the board, a position the computers would adjudge as a draw. Ever so alert to his opponent’s follies, the usually defensive So broke Nepomniachtchi’s defences with his black king to create a winning position.
By that time though, the Russian’s priorities had changed from clinging onto the game to surviving the charge of the mosquito brigade. “In the last game I didn’t care about winning the game at all I just didn’t want to get eaten by mosquitoes! This was incredible, I swear I have never had more annoying playing conditions than this. It was next to impossible to win the game,” he said.
Chess players are notorious for blaming the playing conditions for defeats. But this one seems to be genuine. Twice he took bathroom breaks, thinking the mosquitoes would leave the room if he’s not there, but he was proved wrong. He considered approaching the arbiter for replaying the game for he thought he “was the better the player in the game and at least deserved a draw,” but then decided against it. “I had a lot of luck in the previous game against (Fabio) Caruana. Maybe, my luck evened out. Anyway, I was happy with the way I am playing at this moment, and I able to get into winning positions, though I could have won the first game,” he reflected.
Even his opponent So was shocked at the unnatural antics of his opponent. He wondered whether it was some kind of method to distract him. “I did not realise what was happening, I knew he was a bit disturbed. Now it makes sense,” he said.
For the second round, Nepomniachtchi would be more worried about repelling mosquitoes than wondering about his opponent’s strategies. “Yeah I should do something, maybe buy a special uniform or wear masks and keep the windows and doors permanently shut. I don’t want another of this situation. It was a nightmare,” he said.
So has a piece of advice and a prayer. “He should have closed all the doors and windows, or applied some mosquito repellent cream on the body. I know these mosquitoes are quite irritating. But I just hope they would keep attacking him in the next round of the games,” he said, bantering.
With Nepomniachtchi unlikely to forge a comeback, the dream final between him and Carlsen, seems improbable. The party-spoilers, Nepomniachtchi would testify, was a flock of mosquitoes. It would turn costly too, as the finalists are assured a prize-money of $ 220,000. And a new terminology enters chess lexicon: The mosquito gambit.
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