Three years after his last title match in London, the world chess champion, Magnus Carlsen, is defending his crown for the fourth time in Dubai. He will turn 31 at the end of the month, on the day of the fourth of fourteen scheduled match games. He has been world number one continuously since his late teens. His challenger is Ian Nepomniachtchi, currently ranked fifth in the world. They are the same age and have been playing each other for nearly twenty years. Nepomniachtchi won twice in youth tournaments before both became grandmasters and in their thirteen classical encounters Carlsen has won only once. But the last of Nepomniachtchi’s four victories was in 2017, when Carlsen was said to have been suffering with a cold.
The Magnus Carlsen Invitational, the first high-stakes online rapid chess tournament, was won on Sunday evening by Magnus Carlsen. The host edged home against Hikaru Nakamura with two wins to one, after clinging on for a draw in a difficult endgame in the fourth and final game. The chess was high level and technical despite the shortened time limits. Carlsen, the clear favourite, was taken to the limit by Nakamura in a tense contest. Both players relied on a hazardous defensive strategy with the black pieces, enabling white to press without much risk. Including their opening encounter in the qualifying rounds, the two traded white wins for seven consecutive games before Carlsen held on at the last.
Last month, eight of the world’s top chess players were isolated in Ekaterinburg, competing for the right to play a title match against the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, in Dubai in November. On 26 March, the Russian government announced that international flights would cease the next day. The organisers, who had already faced complaints over the decision to hold the tournament (one competitor had withdrawn), halted proceedings so the players could get home safely. A week later, Carlsen arranged an online tournament for eight players with $250,000 up for grabs (first prize $70,000, second place $45,000). It started on Saturday, 18 April. Nothing of this order has been tried before. Chess has been slow to capitalise on the vogue for e-sports and streaming culture, as sponsors have been put off by the possibilities for computer assistance and disconnection controversies.
At 6.20 p.m. yesterday, Magnus Carlsen queened a pawn and delivered the perfect answer to those who had criticised his decision on Monday to force the World Chess Championship to tiebreaks. His 3-0 trouncing of Fabiano Caruana in a four-game Rapid match confirmed his status as the best human chess player, despite the three-year dip in his tournament results. Afterwards he suggested that the faster forms of the game should have a higher status.
Bafflement reigned in the press room last night at the end of the final scheduled game in the World Chess Championship. Magnus Carlsen, the reigning champion, appeared to let his challenger off the hook by offering a draw from a position of strength. Well behind on the clock, Fabiano Caruana swiftly accepted. Carlsen’s comments after the game indicated that he had less confidence in his chances than the watching grandmasters with access to supercomputers.
The World Chess Championship begins today at the former Cochrane Theatre in Holborn. The reigning champion, Magnus Carlsen, faces the world number two, Fabiano Caruana, for the title and €1 million in prize money.