August 13, 2022

Magnus Carlsen relinquishes his world title.  Replacing it will not be easy.

Magnus Carlsen relinquishes his world title. Replacing it will not be easy.

The decision was announced on Wednesday by Magnus Carlsen, the world chess champion Skip the chance to defend the crown Next year’s match means there will soon be a new title holder.

And for chess, that might be the tricky part. There is a real possibility that he will win next year’s World Championship match, which will now be played between Ian Nepomnyashchi of Russia, who won the Candidates Championship earlier this month to become the described contender, and Deng Liren of China, who finished the race-even, would be seen as champion Illegal, or at least severely diminished.

Arkady Dvorkovic, president of the Fédération Internationale de Chess Federation, the game’s governing body, acknowledged the matter on Wednesday after Carlsen announced his decision to abandon the five-time tournament.

“His decision not to defend the title is undoubtedly a disappointment for the fans and bad news for the spectator,” Dvorkovic said in a statement issued by the association that organized the world championship match. “It leaves a huge void.”

While Carlsen’s decision is not unprecedented, history suggests that the new champ will have great difficulty filling his shoes.

In 1975, Bobby Fischer, the mercurial American who snatched the championship from Russian Boris Spassky in a 1972 match that attracted world attention because it was played against a backdrop of the Cold War, refused to defend the title. At the time, Fischer was in protracted negotiations with the union, but when they could not come to an agreement, he chose to resign rather than play – despite pleas from many people, including politicians, and offered millions of dollars for the prize. finance.

Fischer’s abdication left Anatoly Karpov, who qualified to be the contender, as the new de facto champion. And at first, it was felt that Karpov did not receive this title. But, over the next decade, he showed himself to be a worthy successor to dominate the competition. He has been number one for nearly ten years, and has proven himself time and time again by winning nine consecutive championships against the best players in the world.

The best comparison with the reality that Carlsen’s successor could face is what happened between 1993 and 2006, when the world championships were split between rival claimants.

The problem arose when Garry Kasparov, who beat Karpov in 1985 to become champion and then successfully defended his title against Karpov three times, was set to play a match against Nigel Short of England, who had won the candidates’ matches. Kasparov and Short were unhappy with the way the World Chess Federation was organizing the match, and that it would receive a 20 percent share of the prize fund, so they formed their own organization and negotiated their own agreement. The federation responded by declaring its match illegal, stripping Kasparov of the title, and organizing its own championship match between Karpov and Jan Teman of the Netherlands, whom Short defeated in the finalists’ final.

After Kasparov and Karpov won their matches, both claimed to be world champions. Although Karpov had the support of the Federation, most people considered Kasparov the rightful king, calling him a classic or straightforward hero.

The federation title holder faded into public esteem more after he staged a series of tournaments to crown a champion and the winners were, for the most part, less outstanding players than Karpov or Kasparov.

Kasparov also went on to play, continuing to hold the number one spot until his retirement in 2005, despite losing a title match to Russian Vladimir Kramnik in 2000, who then became widely known as the world champion.

The split in the chess world was fixed only in 2006, when the then-Union champion Veselin Topalov played the Bulgarian great captain, losing a reunification match against Kramnik.

Aside from competitive and legacy questions, other similarities between Kasparov and Carlsen may mask Carlsen’s successor – and have an effect on chess itself.

Kasparov was and remains a dynamic character who did a lot to popularize the game. Although Carlsen looks nothing like Kasparov, he owns a large stake in a publicly traded global chess company named after him (Play Magnus), has been a model for a paper clothing brand (G-Star Raw) and has held exhibitions at technology and financial conferences. He was even Norwegian reality tv show.

In short, Carlsen has made great chess, and while he didn’t quit, it wouldn’t be the same when he was no longer world champion, which Dvorkovich noted in his statement.

Carlsen is also far and away the best player in the world, a rating he wouldn’t lose if he didn’t defend his title. As long as he continues to play, which he has said in his declaration that he intends to do, he will cast a shadow over everyone, just as Kasparov once did.

The title of world champion is undoubtedly valuable. The winner of next year’s title match will likely earn enough prestige to be considered a legitimate and worthy contender and successor to Carlsen. But history indicates otherwise.