Carlsen and the World Championship Fight: The Arrogance of the World Champion – Sport

The man with the unpronounceable last name is back. Just a few months ago Jan Nepomnjaschtschi was the grandmaster who lost so immensely to world champion Magnus Carlsen in the fight for the crown of chess. Now the Russian has comfortably won the Madrid Candidates Tournament and is eligible to play for the World Cup a second time – and it’s quite remarkable how he did it.

He seemed to be quite relaxed about the matter, shaved off his distinctive bun and fed back the ten kilos that he had trained extra for the world championship fight. And the political dimension obviously did not influence him either. There have certainly been debates as to why chess, unlike many other disciplines, does not issue a general ban on Russian athletes; Nepomnyashchi has to be credited for criticizing Putin and the war of aggression more clearly than almost any other athlete, along with 43 other Russian grandmasters.

In any case, “Nepo” played almost flawlessly, and his participation in the next world championship fight is fixed. But it is still unclear what exactly he gets out of it. Because whether there will really be a duel with world champion Carlsen is now decided by: Magnus Carlsen.

Carlsen would only be interested in a duel with child prodigy Alireza Firouzja. But he has no chance in Madrid

After the recent World Championship victory, the Norwegian long-term dominator declared quite clearly that after nine years as World Champion he still had a lot of desire to play chess, but no longer really felt like a World Championship fight in the previous format. At most, a duel with the Iranian-French child prodigy Alireza Firouzja would appeal to him, he admitted – but he had no chance in Madrid. Instead, Carlsen specifically taunted Nepomnyashchi again during the Candidates Tournament. And so the scene awaits, spellbound, for Carlsen’s final statement on the subject.

Now, of course, every athlete is free to let a world title be a world title and devote himself to other sporting goals – for example, as Carlsen indicated, as the first player in the Elo rating, with which the playing strength of Chess professionals are measured to reach the 2900 mark. But it still seems unnecessarily arrogant and pretentious when the world champion wants to choose who he defends the title against.

Carlsen’s withdrawal would be fatal for chess. If the best player in the world does not compete, this would automatically lead to the title being devalued. And no matter who was the future chess world champion, he would always live with the label that somewhere out there in chess there would be the real world champion. You can’t compare the situations with each other at all: But what happens when the recognized best player in the world doesn’t also take part in the World Championship fight, that’s what the chess world experienced in the 1990s and 00s, when a group split from the world association and two world champions coexisted. Carlsen’s departure would be particularly momentous because he has been the defining figure not only in terms of sport but also in terms of public image for a decade.

Those in charge of chess know all this, and they should do a lot to convince Carlsen to take part. Then there should also be a question of format. Carlsen dislikes the traditional World Cup format, in which two players play 12 or 14 games against each other, many of which end in a draw. Alternatives such as a knockout mode with several participants would probably be more in his interest. But one thing is also true: Nepomnyashchi’s defeat against Carlsen was tough in the end – but he kept up well at the beginning. Only after losing an epic game did he lose track. So a second match between the two could definitely offer something.



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