Born in the same year as Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin, Nepomniachtchi initially had the edge over his rivals, winning the European U10 and U12 Championship (twice) and claiming the 2002 World U12 Championship ahead of Magnus Carlsen. He subsequently admitted that the success had gone to his head and he lost focus, allowing his peers to press ahead. Nevertheless, his talent never went away. In 2008 he won the Aeroflot Open to qualify for the first supertournament of his career in Dortmund, where he finished joint second — half a point behind Peter Leko and ahead of Vladimir Kramnik.
He really made his mark, however, in 2010, when he won the European Individual Championship and the Russian Championship and also starred for the Russian B team at the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk. He began to be invited to the top tournaments and didn’t look out of place in Wijk aan Zee 2011 or the incredibly strong Tal Memorial later that year, where he beat Vladimir Kramnik and drew his remaining games.
Nepomniachtchi's major tournament victories include a second Aeroflot Open in 2015, Hainan Danzhou and the Tal Memorial in 2016 and Dortmund in 2018, while he's also won the World Team Championship and European Team Championship as part of the Russian team. In rapid and blitz he's scored numerous silver and bronze medals in the World Championships, but is yet to take gold.
Amazingly it was only in 2019 that Nepo finally broke into the Top 10 for the first time in his career, later ending the year in the Top 5. He finished second in the FIDE Grand Prix to qualify for the first time for a Candidates Tournament, and got off to a brilliant start in that event in Yekaterinburg, Russia. He beat Anish Giri, Wang Hao and Ding Liren and would have been the clear favourite to win if not for a Round 7 loss to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who thereby caught him in the lead.
The second half of the tournament was then postponed for over a year, but when it resumed Ian was ready and picked up wins over Kirill Alekseenko and Wang Hao before going on to clinch victory with a round to spare. A last-round loss to Ding Liren was of no significance.
The victory means that it's Ian Nepomniachtchi who plays a World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen in Dubai in November 2021, and it has the potential to be one of Carlsen's toughest challenges yet. Ian, with a 4:1 score in classical wins against Magnus, is a player with no need to have an inferiority complex before the match.
With almost unlimited resources available from Russian backers, Ian is likely to be very well-prepared, and if he can keep his focus and limit blunders his tactical speed and vision may pose Magnus real problems.
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