On the shoulders of dwarves
Sir Isaac Newton famously remarked that his achievements were down to Amicus Platonis, Amicus Aristotelis and Amicus Veritas. The great scientist added that he had advanced so far, because he had been standing on the shoulders of giants. In chess, this situation has now, lamentably, been reversed. A giant of the game is about to be replaced by dwarves.
The world chess champion, Magnus Carlsen, has resolved not to defend his title against the winner of the 2022 qualifying competition, Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi. The latter will instead play the second-place finisher in the Candidates, China’s Ding Liren, in the forthcoming World Chess Championship match. This will take place in Astana, Kazakhstan, and is due to commence early next month. It will conclude early in May.
First, some background. Carlsen had first won the championship ten years ago. To retain the title, Carlsen was periodically required to defend it in matches against a challenger, determined by a Candidates’ Tournament. This he successfully did in the subsequent four world championship matches of 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2021. Then, soon after the 2021 championship (against Ian Nepomniachtchi), Carlsen stated that he was lacking motivation and might not defend his title again, unless the challenger were Alireza Firouzja. Firouzja had risen to number two in the world rankings in 2021 at the astonishingly young age of 18. In April 2022, Carlsen again publicly stated that he was unlikely to play in the next world championship, but this time, without mentioning any specific challenger.
The 2022 Candidates Tournament concluded in early July, with Nepomniachtchi as its winner, and Firouzja coming well down in the lower half of the table.
FIDÉ and Carlsen were already in negotiations regarding the coming world championship match and its format. On 20 July, Carlsen truculently and tragically announced that he would not defend his title. Therefore, the 2023 world championship match will be contested between two also rans: Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren, respectively the winner and runner up from the 2022 Candidates’ Tournament. Carlsen is destined to lose the title of world champion at the moment when the Ersatz match concludes. It was only after Carlsen had formally confirmed his withdrawal in writing that FIDÉ officially invited Ding and Nepomniachtchi to lock antlers.
Non-participation by the reigning champion is an unusual occurrence. The last champion who declined to take up the cudgels in defence of his exalted status,l was Bobby Fischer in 1975. In that case, FIDÉ awarded the title to Fischer’s challenger, Anatoly Karpov, without a move being played. (Karpov had qualified through a knock-out match tournament, defeating Viktor Korchnoi in the final 24-game match.) The previous time a world championship tournament was held without the defending champion was in 1948, because the incumbent champion, that great tactician Alexander Alekhine, had died in 1946.
The coming match will be held in Astana from 7 April to 1 May 2023. It will consist of 14 games, with players alternating the white and black pieces. If the match is still level after 14 games, a series of rapid games will be used as a tie-breaker. The time control for the classical games will be 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, 60 minutes for the next 20 moves, and 15 minutes for the remainder, plus an increment of 30 seconds per move, beginning at move 61. The same format had been used for the previous world championship in 2021.
The prize fund will be €2 million, split 60% for the winning player and 40% for the losing player. It is astonishing to me that a host has been found for this sham contest, let alone that such a substantial prize purse is on offer. In the past, Morphy and Fischer completely withdrew from chess, in Morphy’s case absolutely, and in Fischer’s, for twenty years, until he was well past his play-by date. Carlsen’s stance is completely different. Although he has withdrawn from the championship itself, he will continue to compete in tournaments, thus acting as a clear and present reproach to the relative pygmies, soon to be striving for utterly devalued championship laurels. As Shakespeare’s Cassius says: “we petty men walk under his huge legs….”
This week’s links, games where Nepomniachtchi and Ding try surviving under Carlsen’s huge legs, only to peep about and find themselves dishonourable graves:
Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Magnus Carlsen Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Loren
Raymond Keene’s latest book “Fifty Shades of Ray: Chess in the year of the Coronavirus”, containing some of his best pieces from TheArticle, is now available from Blackwell’s . His 206th book, Chess in the Year of the King, with a foreword by The Article contributor Patrick Heren, and written in collaboration with former Reuters chess correspondent, Adam Black, is in preparation. It will be published later this year.
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