Norwegian Magnus Carlsen drowned out the festivities: on World Chess Day he announced the end of his reign

Magnus Carlsen, the king of chess, commented that he is not motivated to defend his title again

On “World Chess Day”” (ordered by the General Assembly of the United Nations, in 2019), and coinciding with the 98th anniversary of its foundation, the International Chess Federation (FIDE, according to its French acronym, created on July 20, 1924 in Paris) received an unexpected check from the world champion and world No. 1, the Norwegian Magnus Carlson, who acted like a true spoilsport on a day full of celebrations; in a statement via The Magnus Effect podcast from one of his sponsors, the The chess king commented that he is not motivated to defend his title again, and gave his explanations.

“I am not motivated to play another game. I just feel that I don’t have much to gain I don’t particularly like it, and although I’m sure a matchup would be interesting for historical reasons and all, I have no inclination to play; and I just won’t play”, said the 20th official champion of an activity that has held world matches since 1886. The Norwegian clarified that the decision taken does not mean a retirement from competitive chess.

“So that there is no ambiguity here, I am not retiring from chess, I will continue to be an active player. Soon I will travel to Croatia to play the Grand Chess Tour, later I will go to Chennai to play the Olympiad, which is going to be a lot of fun, and the Norwegian team is in the initial ranking as number four. Then I’m going to play Miami (the FTX Crypto Cup), and finally the Grand Chess Tour, the Sinquefield Cup. So yes, I have a lot of chess ahead of me. I really enjoy playing tournaments. Obviously, I enjoy them much more than I enjoy the World Championship and, frankly, I don’t see myself ceasing to be a chess player anytime soon.”

The 31-year-old Norwegian stated "not have much to gain"
The 31-year-old Norwegian declared “not having much to gain”

Undoubtedly, the news took millions of its fans and experts by surprise; even in the power structures of chess. Although it is not yet an official announcement (the venue and conditions for the next World Cup are still in the bidding process, and the respective contracts have not been drawn up), FIDE, through its president, the Russian Arkady Dvorkovich, came to the intersection with a statement from the official website of the governing body accompanying the sentiment of its highest figure:

“Magnus Carlsen deserves nothing but the respect of FIDE, and of the entire chess community, in whatever decision he makes regarding his career. Only a handful of people in history can understand and assess the tremendous cost that it takes to play five games for the title. Many other great champions, in other sports, have experienced something similar: As the years go by, it becomes more difficult to find the motivation to train and compete at the highest level, while the reward for victory never feels as intense as it does. first day”.

Finally, Dvorkovich, who will seek his re-election as FIDE President next August, said: “Your decision not to defend your title is, without a doubt, a disappointment for the fans, and bad news for the show. Leave a big void. But chess is now stronger than ever – thanks in part to Magnus – and the world championship, one of the longest and most respected traditions in the world of sport, will continue.”

Carlsen’s decision – who won the title in 2013 against the Indian Anand, and successfully defended it against Anand himself, in 2014, the Russian Sergey Karjakin, in 2016, the American Fabiano Caruana, in 2018, and the Russian Nepomniachtchi in 2021 – was an open secret after his last defense, in Dubai, last December. On that occasion, together with the closing ceremony of the event, the Norwegian questioned the continuity of his reign: “I have no idea if I will play in the next World Cup; if someone other than Firouzja (Alireza, 19 years old and No. 3 in the world) wins the Candidates Tournament, it is unlikely that he will play the next world championship.”

Between June and July last at the Palacio de Santoña in Madrid the selective tournament was held to choose the contender for the world title; the young French star, of Iranian origin, Firouzja, performed far below expectations and finished 6th out of eight players. In that competition, the Russian Nepomniachtchi He did a superlative job and took first place and the place to challenge the world champion, the Norwegian Carlsen, in April 2023. Perhaps for the Russian it would be the possibility of a rematch after his painful defeat in Dubai (he fell by 7, 5 to 3.5 without the need to complete the last three games of the series).

Magnus Carlsen playing a game with Esipenko, the young Russian promise
Magnus Carlsen playing a game with Esipenko, the young Russian promise

For this reason, before the end of the test in the Spanish capital, but with the certainty that the Russian Nepomniachtchi would be the winner, the Norwegian held a meeting in the halls of the palace together with the head of FIDE and the general director. They chatted 40 minutes.

“As many know, I was in Madrid for the Candidates Tournament. After the conclusion, I agreed to meet with Dvorkovich and Sutovsky to talk a bit. I had no demands for that meeting. I had a couple of suggestions, but the gist was that I was there to tell them that I would not be defending my title in the next world championship match. We had a little discussion; They made me some suggestions, some of them I liked, and others I didn’t”, Carlsen said today on the portal of one of his Chess24 companies.

Faced with this panorama, and in case of official confirmation by the Norwegian of not defending the world title, the duel for the championship must be played by the Russian Nepomniachtchi (No. 7 in the world and winner of the Candidates) and the Chinese Ding Liren (N°2 and second in Madrid).

The 31-year-old Magnus Carlsen’s refusal to defend the world title is unprecedented in 136 years of such celebrations. The first official chess champion was the Austrian Wilhelm Steinitz (between 1886 and 1894). Rummaging through the extensive history, only some reminiscences appear with in the cases of Emmanuel Lasker (In 1921 he refused to play with Capablanca, he finally accepted the offer of $2,000 and traveled to the Cuban island. There he played only 14 of the 30 agreed games and abandoned the match). bobby fischer he lost the title due to disagreements with FIDE in 1975 (he demanded 60 conditions for his defense against Karpov, and only two were not accepted). Garry Kasparov he was also stripped of the title in 1993 (he did not accept the economic conditions of FIDE for the defense against the English Short, and created a parallel body). Lastly the Russian Anatoly Karpov and Chinese Hou Yifan They did not participate in the title defense cycles because they considered that the champions should not play the knockout stages.

The case Carlsen becomes particular because he decided not to play due to lack of motivation. He also considers the preparation and the fight for the defense of the world title stressful. He does not agree with the pace of the games (the sixth of his match with Nepomniachtchi was the longest in history, with 136 moves and almost eight hours of play), nor with the extension from 12 to 14 games to define a winner. Opposed to his thoughts are the defenders of classical or thought chess; they believe that reducing the number of games (until the end of the 20th century, 24 games were played) and the time for reflection (the games used to last up to almost 7 hours a day and if there was no definition they were suspended until the following day) are undermining the essence and excellence of the game. And they consider a serious setback to return to the old days in which the champion chose the rival and the conditions to defend the crown.

Thus, the Norwegian Carlsen, whose influence in his country not only changed the nightlife of a nation (since his consecration, the demand for themed bars with chess practice has grown) and the current head of government and leader of the Labor Party, Jonas Garhr Store, 61, is one of the great fans of the ancient game, he does not think about stopping his pace and goals with chess.

“I hope it will bring me closer to one of my big goals, a ranking of 2900 points (currently it has the record of 2864); It will be somewhat difficult but it is not that far away. I’ll try to do the right things, I’ll trust the process and I’ll enjoy it, and frankly I’m excited to get back to where I was in 2011 or 2012, where I just wanted to get better and be better: play tournaments, be the best in the world and not to worry about the world championship”, assured the No. 1 in the world.

Magnus Carlsen, a monarch without a crown; a long-lived king.