GM Magnus Carlsen will not defend his world championship title against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi next year. Carlsen announced his decision on a podcast on Tuesday. According to current regulations, FIDE Candidates tournament winner Nepomniachtchi will now play the world championship against Candidates runner-up GM Ding Liren.
“I’ve spoken to people in my team, I’ve spoken to FIDE, I spoke to Ian as well. The conclusion is very simple: I’m not motivated to play another match,” said Carlsen. “I don’t have a lot to gain. I don’t particularly like it, and although I’m sure a match would be interesting for historical reasons, I don’t have any inclinations to play and I will simply not play the match.”
“It’s been an interesting ride since I decided to play the Candidates in 2013, which was to be honest on kind of a whim. I just decided it could be interesting, and ever since the World Championship title has given me a lot and opened a lot of doors, and I’m happy about that. The matches themselves have been at times interesting, at times a little bit of fun.”
The Norwegian star leaves the door open to return for a match one day, but it’s not likely: “I don’t rule out participation in the future, but I also wouldn’t count on it.”
Carlsen made his statements in the first episode of the new podcast “The Magnus Effect.”
During the FIDE Candidates tournament, Carlsen had a meeting with FIDE’s President Arkady Dvorkovich and Director-General Emil Sutovsky, which apparently didn’t have enough effect to convince Carlsen to defend his title a fifth time.
Talking about this meeting in Madrid, Carlsen said: “I did not have any demands or suggestions for that meeting. They did have a couple of suggestions, but the gist of it was that I was there to tell them that I would not defend my title in the next WCC match.”
Dvorkovich told Chess.com that he respects the world champion’s decision and confirmed that according to the rules, there will now be a Ding-Nepomniachtchi match.
As it turned out, Carlsen never really changed his mind on a feeling he has had for a while. “Ultimately, the conclusion stands, one that I’m pretty comfortable with, one that I thought a lot about for a long time now,” he said. “I would say more than a year, probably a year and a half. Long before the last match.”
It didn’t help that Nepomniachtchi qualified for a second match with Carlsen, who had stated earlier that he preferred an opponent of the new generation, in particular GM Alireza Firouzja. “Four championships to five—it didn’t mean anything to me. It was nothing,” said Carlsen in yesterday’s podcast. “I was satisfied with the job I had done. I was happy I had not lost the match. But that was it.”
Carlsen also repeated once again that he intends to continue playing, just not matches: “Just so there is no ambiguity here: I’m not retiring from chess. I’m going to be an active player. I’m leaving later today to go to Croatia to play the Grand Chess Tour. From there on I’m going to go to Chennai to play the Olympiad, which is going to be a lot of fun, and the Norwegian team is seeded as number four there. And to Miami which is going to be one of the real highlights of the year—the FTX Crypto Cup which is going to be awesome. And right after that the Sinquefield Cup.”
Ding Liren: “A new era”
“There are a lot of feelings around my mind right now that I have to deal with,” said Ding in a first reaction to Chess.com. “But I am very excited about playing a world championship match to fight for the crown next year.”
Calling from Barcelona, where Ding is staying at a friend’s apartment, he revealed that he got Covid right after the Candidates tournament and, therefore, hasn’t been able to fly back to China yet. Now fully recovered, he will travel back about two weeks from now. The Chinese player is surprised about Carlsen’s decision:
“I knew he had doubts, but I expected him to play. But I understand it also. Being world champion means a lot of responsibilities; there are a lot of things to handle.”
Ding pointed out the similarities with Yuzuru Hanyu, the Japanese figure skater who, also yesterday, announced retirement from competition but promised to pursue his goal in exhibitions instead.
The chess world has seen previous moments in history when the world champion did not defend his title. In 1946, GM Alexander Alekhine died as the reigning champion. A world championship tournament, organized two years later, was won by GM Mikhail Botvinnik. In 1975, GM Bobby Fischer could not agree with FIDE on the match format and lost his title to Candidates winner GM Anatoly Karpov.
In 1993, GM Garry Kasparov left FIDE and played a world championship under the Professional Chess Association instead. This led to a schism in the chess world that lasted until 2006, when GM Vladimir Kramnik won a reunification match with FIDE champion GM Veselin Topalov.
“It’s not an ideal situation that the best player is not defending his title, and creating your own organization is also not great,” said Ding, adding: “It’s better for the fans if the best players fight for the world championship, and Magnus has, of course, been the best player throughout the years. We came to a new era.”
Ding did say that he hopes Carlsen will “return one day” and felt that reaching the highest possible competition also gives himself a new responsibility: “I have to improve my English now!”
Ian Nepomniachtchi: “Quite disappointing”
Update: Later in the day, Chess.com also spoke to Nepomniachtchi, after he finished playing the first three rounds of the Super United Croatia Rapid & Blitz in Zagreb, Croatia.
“It didn’t come as a shock because surely it wasn’t first the first time I heard about his intentions,” he said. “We also chatted briefly online after Madrid, and it was quite clear that most likely he wouldn’t play. But, as they say, hope dies last. Frankly it’s quite disappointing. The re-match was something I was really looking forward to.”
In more general terms, the challenger thinks Carlsen’s decision isn’t great for the chess world. “It’s quite harmful, but at this point it’s hard to evaluate how harmful,” Nepomniachtchi said. “From a human perspective, it’s quite an understandable decision from Magnus and I respect it completely, despite my personal disappointment that it happened. However, we have this big tradition in chess of almost 150 years, and that is something really priceless.”
About facing Ding instead, Nepomniachtchi said: “I would say chess wise, overall, his chess skills could easily match those of Magnus. Ding has undisputedly been one of the best players of the last years. He also had this 100-game undefeated streak, which is quite something. He has a very different style though, it’s a very different person, a very different player—and a very serious opponent. It will be tough!”
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