Consequences of Carlsen’s retirement

The reigning world champion decided not to defend his crown. How does this affect competitive chess?

The reigning world champion decided not to defend his crown. How does this affect competitive chess?

Theirs is one of the most unique clubs in the sport. So unique, only 16 members have been added to it in 136 years. Becoming the undisputed world chess champion is one of the most difficult things to achieve in sports or any other field of human endeavour. Furthermore, the club’s most recent member, Magnus Carlsen, has chosen to relinquish his crown, which has sat firmly on his head since 2013.

But when he announced his decision, on a recent podcast, the pieces didn’t just jump off the chessboards. Carlsen hinted at his retirement last December; He has no motivation to compete in another title match. However, he said he would play if his opponent was Iranian-born prodigy Alireza Firouzza, who became a French citizen last year.

Firouzza failed to do that

For Firouzza to have the privilege of challenging Carlsen, he had to win the recent Candidates Tournament in Madrid. But he played badly, finishing sixth in a field of eight.

The event was won by Ian Nepomniachi from Russia. He had also won the previous Candidates edition, but lost to Carlsen in the world title match in Dubai last year. The Norwegian won 7.5-3.5 with three games remaining.

After the match, Carslen talked about the possibility of not defending his crown. “It’s been clear to me for years that this World Championship is the last,” he said. “It doesn’t mean as much as it once did. I don’t think the positives outweigh the negatives. “

But not everyone believed that he would keep his word. After all, a world title is a world title. And at that time he was only 31 years old.

He was 22 when he won his first world title. He scored a stunning victory over Viswanathan Anand in 2013 in Chennai, the five-time world champion’s hometown.

A strong fight, but…

A year later, Carlsen faced Anand again in the world title match in Sochi. The Indian, after winning the nominations with a brilliant performance when many rejected him, put up a strong fight but it was not enough to stop Carlsen.

The world No. 1 retained the title against Russia’s Sergey Karjakin in 2016 and then against American Fabiano Caruana in 2018. When he beat Nepomniac, it was his fifth consecutive world title in classical chess (the game is also played in rapid and blitz variations). We don’t know for sure if he will return to the world championship, but even if he doesn’t, he will remain a great world champion for a long time.

“I believe Carlsen is the greatest of all, even Garry Kasparov,” grandmaster Praveen Thipse told The Hindu over phone. “If he continues to play in the World Championship, I don’t see anyone threatening him for the next few years. His decision not to defend his title is understandable. His personality is different from someone like Anatoly Karpov who has been playing for the World Championship for a long time.

Karpov became world champion for the first time in 1975 because Bobby Fischer, the maverick American genius who made chess a truly world sport, refused to defend his title. Carlsen is now only the second world champion to withdraw from a title match (he is due to face Nepomniachi next year).

After retaining his world title in 1990, Kasparov broke away from world chess governing body FIDE and organized rival world championships. While the chess world was thus torn apart, the Russian great won two titles against England’s Nigel Short (1993) and Anand (1995), before being dethroned by compatriot Vladimir Kramnik (2000).

Not many expected Carlsen to do such a thing. He discussed with FIDE top brass the world title match scheduled at the Candidates Final in Madrid. He was also given a July 20 deadline by FIDE to decide on defending his title.

“I didn’t have any demands or suggestions for that meeting,” Carlsen said on the podcast. “They had some suggestions, but the gist of it was that I was there to tell them that I won’t be able to defend my title in the next world championship match, and we had a little discussion. They had some suggestions, some of which I liked, some of which I didn’t.

It’s not as if Karlsson is thinking about the format of the World Championship right now. He was opposed to the privilege of defending the title of world champion several years ago.

Anand’s opinion

Anand, who played against Karpov in the 1998 title match, said he could understand Carlsen’s decision to come just days after qualifying from the demanding knockout matches (fortunately nothing like that happened).

“I am also tired of playing multiple matches in a row every year or two,” Anand said “In a sense, because I lost, this problem solved itself. Magnus’s problem is that he’s not losing.

Now that Carlsen has withdrawn, FIDE is set to stage a world title match between Nepomniachi and China’s Ding Liren, who finished behind him among the candidates. No one can claim to be the best chess player in the world after winning a match. When players such as Alexander Khalifman and Rustam Kasimzhanov won world titles, during the demarcation of the sport (1993-2006), they were called FIDE World Champion rather than World Champion.

“The world title will definitely lose its prestige after Carlsen’s retirement,” said Thipse. “I can understand Carlsen’s concerns about the format, but I believe there is also some merit in the system of identifying the challenger. It is a format that has given players from different countries and regions of the world the opportunity to compete for the world title.

can come back

He thinks Carlsen could return to the world championships at some point. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he wants to play in the Candidates tournament and challenge the world champion,” he said.

Grandmaster RB Ramesh feels that there is a possibility of FIDE changes in the World Championship format. “FIDE elections are coming up and Anand is likely to be part of the administration in FIDE,” he said. “Some new ideas may emerge about the organization of the World Championship.”

With Carlsen withdrawing, FIDE could consider a few options. Like making the champion play before the title match? Candidates can be expanded and join the top three world champions for four rounds before the title match. “I think FIDE can consider such options,” said Thipse. “But chess needs a world title match to continue. You’ll find some of the greatest games in history played in world title matches. And the massive media attention those matches attract also helps the game tremendously.

Carlsen has previously argued for a knockout format (which has been tried by FIDE in the past). But there is no denying the fact that there will be drama, excitement and intensity in the World Title match, just like in a Test series between two strong cricket teams. Just as there is room for both the T20 World Cup and the bilateral Test series, chess also has many avenues to test players at the highest level.

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