World championship without Magnus Carlsen
World championship without Magnus Carlsen
The World chess championship match 2023 is scheduled to start soon at Astana, Kazakhstan, from April 09 to May 01, 2023. It will be fought between Grandmasters Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia and Ding Liren of China, in a match-play format of 14 games, with tiebreaks in the end if necessary. At stake is the prize money of Two million Euros, which will be split 60:40 in favour of the winner in case of an outright win for either of the players who would score 7.5 points, or 55:45 if the match enters tiebreaks.
Nepo is currently ranked second in the world with Elo 2795, while Ding is a close third at Elo 2788. Nepo emerged as the convincing winner of the Candidates tournament 2022 held in Madrid, Spain during June – July 2022. It was almost a single horse tournament with Nepo stamping his superiority over a strong field with a score of 9.5 points from 14 games, a full point and a half ahead of Ding who finished second with 8 from 14.
Candidates tournament 2022:
But an interesting question here is, how did they both qualify for that Candidates tournament at all?Nepo was beaten by Carlsen with a dominating 7/5-3.5 score in a one-sided World championship match 2021 held in Dubai, UAE during November – December 2021. After a sedate start of five draws in the beginning, Carlsen scored four wins in the next six games to end the match in just 11 games, rendering the remaining three games unnecessary. Carlsen had confidently stated before the match, “...my biggest advantage is that I am better at chess."
However, being the losing challenger, Nepo once again played the Candidates in 2022 and won in convincing style. But Ding’s path to the Candidates was much more ‘interesting’.
Ding Liren participated in the Candidates tournament 2020 at Yekaterinburg, Russia during March 2020, which was abruptly truncated after seven rounds due to global pandemic lock-down because of the onset of Covid-19. After a long hiatus (which was a normal for almost the whole professional chess world at that time) he returned back to the chess board in April 2021 to complete the remaining games of the Candidates. He finished fifth in a field of eight players.
He stayed away from playing chess after that too, playing only a warm-up match against fellow Chinese Grandmaster Lu Shanglei during November 2021, which he won with a score of 3-1. Thus, he originally missed out on qualifying for the Candidates at Madrid during June – July 2022 not being one of the original qualifiers, a victim of travel ban to participate in tournaments outside China during the period.
FIDE had announced the qualification path for the Candidates 2022 in May 2021 itself. When the Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced in February 2022, Grandmaster Sergey Karjakin of Russia, one of the original qualifiers made pro-Russian statements about the war. His public statements praising the invasion were viewed as a breach of code of ethics by the FIDE Ethics and Disciplinary Commission who banned him in March 2022 from playing any FIDE events for six months, which would include the Candidates.
This paved the way for Ding, who had to qualify for the event by becoming the highest rated player in the world in the May 2022 rating list who had already not qualified for the event, and had played a minimum 30 rated games between June 2021 – May 2022.
When all roads lead to HangZhou, China:
Ding did just that! The Chinese Chess Association conducted three events in quick succession: 2022 China HangZhou Chess Grandmaster Tournament between 26th March 2022 to 02nd April 2022, the six game 2022 China HangZhou Chess Grandmaster Match against Wei Yi from 05 – 10 March 2022, and The 2nd Qualifying Tournament for Chinese National Men's Team for Asian Games at Hang Zhou (where else!?) between 14th to 25th April 2022. The first was a quadruple round robin between four players (12 games in 8 days!), the second one a two-player match and the third one a double round robin between six players. Thus, a total of 28 games in a span of a month, all held at the same venue, all against fellow Chinese Grandmasters!
Thus, he qualified for the Candidates 2022, finished second to Nepo, and now has become eligible for the World Championship due to Carlsen declining to play for the crown anymore.
Carlsen the Elephant:
Now, the enormously omnipotent elephant in the room is, of course, non-participation of Magnus Carlsen, reigning world champion and one of the greatest ever player in the history of the game.
Why is Carlsen staying away from the title fight? He came up with a bizarre statement just after the world championship in Dubai, "If someone other than Firouzja wins the (next) Candidates Tournament, it is unlikely that I will play the next world championship match." A strange statement. Carlsen probably saw the Iran-born French Grandmaster Alireza Firouzja as potentially the most interesting opponent at that time.
When Nepo further won the Candidates 2022 in July 2022, Carlsen promptly announced that he was not going to defend the title.
We can say politically correct statements like, ‘Let’s respect his decision’, ‘Chess is strong – the crown can be fought between others too’, etc. But let’s face it – it’s simply devastating to see the World chess championship without Magnus Carlsen playing.
In Carlsen’s abstaining from the match, I can see only one positive outcome: it won’t be a one-sided match, as it is difficult to predict a favourite between Nepo and Ding, though the former seemed to have played more chess and produced better results in the past couple of years, and at his career-best rating currently.
So, how do we conclude?
The King is away, the battle begins for the kingdom!