Chess: Magnus Carlsen ‘unlikely’ to defend crown, but questions remain | Magnus Carlsen
Magnus Carlsen again said it was ‘unlikely’ he would defend his world title against the winner of the eight slated contenders in Madrid in June and explained he felt more comfortable in the years leading up to 2013 when he was ranked No. 1 but had yet to defeat India’s Vishy Anand in the world title match in Chennai. Since then, Carlsen has won five league matches – two against Anand and one against Russian Sergey Karjakin, American Fabiano Caruana and Russian Ian Nepolmiachtchi.
Carlsen’s statement, made in an interview with Norwegian newspaper VG, goes further than when he last spoke about the title after his crushing victory over Nepomniachtchi in December. Then his position was that he would only play a challenger from a younger generation, which indicated Alireza Firouzja, 18, formerly from Iran and now from France, who in 2021 became the youngest in history failures to reach a score of 2800, a level recognized for world champions and challengers.
This time, no reference to Firouzja, who has played little since his successes last fall, but is believed to have prepared opening bombs and is still firmly established among the Candidates’ favourites.
Against Firouzja, it is the poor record of the teenage candidates, since Bobby Fischer (twice), Boris Spassky and Carlsen himself failed to win, while the youngest world champions of all time remain Garry Kasparov and Carlsen at 22, followed by Mikhail Tal and Anatoly Karpov at 23.
That still leaves a practical question that won’t be answered until June. Will Carlsen relinquish his title yet again if the challenger’s backers can significantly increase the prize pool from its current level of €2m? The amounts are now much larger, but the problem is much the same as in 1972 when Bobby Fischer hesitated in New York when the opening ceremony of his series against Boris Spassky was to begin in Reykjavik.
This historic match, and the global chess boom that followed it, was saved when Fide President Max Euwe postponed the match for two days, during which English financier and chess enthusiast Jim Slater doubled the price from $125,000 to $250,000 and Fischer boarded the next plane for Iceland.
If either of the two Americans, Caruana or Hikaru Nakamura, becomes the official challenger, there must be a serious chance of an offer from Rex Sinquefied, the billionaire who made his hometown St Louis a world chess center. and is an admirer of Bobby. Fischer, whom he once met on a plane trip and urged him to “beat those Russians.” Sinquefield, if he wanted to, could afford to double the price as an echo of 1972.
There are also plausible scenarios where Carlsen refuses to play and, under Fide rules, the winner and runner-up meet for the world championship. It would effectively produce two world champions, as happened between 1993 and 2006, a 13-year hiatus that would likely be much shorter this time due to the widespread desire for a reunification game again.
While Firouzja is the main teenage contender, others are improving fast. Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, 16, won the Reykjavik Open this month and is already being hailed by some Indian media as the next world champion.
Both Carlsen and Praggnandhaa are among eight competitors in the Oslo Esports Cup, which kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday. This is an online event but with the difference that all players will be based in the same broadcast studio. This is the third event on the 2022 Meltwater Champions Tour and Carlsen, who won the 2021 Tour and the first two tournaments in 2022, will be aiming to continue his monopoly. However, Praggnanandhaa beat the world champion in February at the Airthings Masters to become the youngest player to beat Carlsen in serious competition.
Abhimanyu Mishra, 13, and Dommaraju Gukesh, 15, fully matched Praggnanadhaa’s achievements based on age and rating. Mishra became the youngest grandmaster ever at 12, breaking the long-standing age record set by Karjakin in 2002. He secured his title via all-play-all tournaments in Budapest which were criticized as too contrived, but in Reykjavik Mishra answered his detractors by sharing the second prize. His rating is well into the 2500s, and serious California funds are backing him to climb to the top.
Gukesh is a year younger than Praggnandhaa, but has already broken into the world’s top 100 players. The 15-year-old has come a long way in four years when his behavior when winning in time from a lost position Nigel runs angry.
Gukesh’s style in Reykjavik and in his maiden La Roda win last weekend showed extremely precise and economical style with a variety of standard openings. Almost all of his La Roda wins were under 30 shots and it was like watching Fischer and Spassky teenagers in the 1950s.
Two matches stood out. One as Blackwhere he castled before storming the white king with his K-faced pawns, and the other than white against an international master, where his h4-h5-h6 push thwarted Black’s defensive options.
3812 1 Qe8+ Kh7 2 Ng5+! hxg5 3 Rh3+ Kg6 4 Rh6+! and if Kxh6 5 Qh8+ Kg6 5 Qh5 mate or if gxh6 6 Qg8 mate.