Yesterday was International Chess Day, a day I missed out on because I was escorting my father on a medical trip to Anchorage, Alaska. I played moves for my daily games and played against Stockfish in a game or two. I saw the news that Magnus Carlsen announced that he was not defending The Chess World Championship. I’ll admit I was very disappointed, the title dates to 1886, and since it’s creation 136 year ago 18 player or so (depending on what lineage you follow) have been World Champion of Chess. For people wanting to see who the best Chess player in any point in recent history was had an easy go to list. That’s why it is disappointing to see the best Chess player ever to pass on the next match.
This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened. After winning The World Championship Bobby Fischer couldn’t come to an agreement with FIDE (the International Chess Federation) on the format of a match with Anatoly Karpov, so he forfeited the title.
Although Carlsen’s reasons for not defending the title is much different than Fischer’s. In his new podcast Carlsen said it was great winning the championship but did not feel motivated in his title defenses. These matches require a lot of study of opening theory, and while Magnus has stated that while he appreciates what being World Champion has done for him, he isn’t interested in defending the title.
But this doesn’t mean that Magnus Carlsen is retiring from chess. While Bobby Fischer didn’t play in any tournament setting after defeating Boris Spassky for the title, Carlsen is keeping a busy schedule with tournament matches. Carlsen has stated one of his goals is obtaining an Elo rating of 2,900, which would be a first time a human has achieved that in history. We’ll get to continue to enjoy Carlsen play chess, which should be a relief for fans of his.
This leaves The World Championship to be decided in a match next year between Ian Nepomniachtchi, who dominated and won this year’s Candidates Tournament, and runner up Ding Liren. Unfortunately for Nepo this does mean that he doesn’t get a chance (yet) to avenge his lost to Carlsen in the pervious World Chess Championship match that took place last year. Whoever the winner is will not only face the same problem Karpov had after being crowned World Champion when Fischer forfeited the title, but the question will be brought up if the new World Chess Champion is even the best chess player in the world. Carlsen will continue to be active in chess and will continue to play and win tournaments. This makes their situation worse than Karpov’s, who felt he needed to prove himself as champion by competing in as many tournaments that he could. The next champion(s) will be in Carlsen’s shadow, and he’s not going away.
There is hope however! Carlsen has stated in his podcast that he’s not ruling out a potential future chase for The World Chess Championship. While it’s not certain, it does leave hope that people will once again whoever holds the title as the best chess player in the world. Whoever the champion is better be ready for the challenge.