Chess World Championship: Reigning champion Magnus Carlsen back in action

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Dubai: The last in-person World Chess Championship took place 1,090 days ago. Meanwhile, the ancient game has had a modern resurrection, fueled by technological advancements with a significant shift in how virtual platforms have enlarged the chess community to new heights, as well as the influence of a popular Netflix series about chess and increased involvement in the game.

Magnus Carlsen of Norway will defend his game’s greatest championship against challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia starting this week, after a long wait from November 26. The championship match, which was initially slated for December, will now take place in Dubai during Expo 2020, a modern-day world’s fair. The first game is set for Friday, and the best-of-14 series may last up to three weeks.

Since 2013, the 30-year old Carlsen, has held the title of world champion. Nepomniachtchi, 31, gained the chance to challenge him for the championship by winning the Candidates Tournament in April – a tournament that lasted 13 months due to COVID-19 setbacks. Carlsen has been the world’s No. 1 chess player for a decade, while Nepomniachtchi (“Nepo”) is ranked No. 5.

Carlsen has been world champion since 2013

Magnus Carlsen’s world chess titles, with his record by opponent

RECORD
YEAR OPPONENT WINS LOSSES DRAWS
2013 🇮🇳 Viswanathan Anand 3 0 7
2014 🇮🇳 Viswanathan Anand 3 1 7
2016* 🇷🇺 Sergey Karjakin 1 1 10
2018* 🇺🇸 Fabiano Caruana 0 0 12
2021 🇷🇺 Ian Nepomniatchchi ? ? ?

*Carlsen won in tiebreakers. SOURCE: CHESSGAMES.COM

These two grandmasters have had parallel careers in elite chess, competing against each other in top youth tournaments and later as top professionals. Carlsen has been ahead of Nepomniachtchi for the most of that period, with a higher rating, more tournament victories, and a wider international reputation. But, with to his bold play, Nepomniachtchi has risen from world No. 43 to championship challenger in a few of years, as observed by his peers and reflected in the data.

Besides, this year’s edition will feature two more games than previous editions — 14 rather than 12 — in part, perhaps, so that these games are more likely to decisively deliver a champion in regulation. In 2016, the regulation games saw just one win apiece and 10 draws, while 2018 featured 12 draws in a row.

This year’s tournament would also feature a generational clash: both contestants were born in 1990, which The Guardian described as “the prime vintage year for grandmaster births in the whole history of chess.” Sergey Karjakin, who fought for the championship in 2016, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the Frenchman who came second in the Candidates, and a few more exceptional grandmasters were all born in that year.

The novel coronavirus and the internet, however, provide the most dynamic settings for this year’s event. The tournament comes on the heels of the most recent chess boom, this one fuelled by the pandemic’s idle gaming time, which has shifted away from boring teaching and toward amusing, inclusive tales that can be streamed and memeed.

 

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