Access Fury

Broadcast The Lastest News

Magnus Carlsen has been “kindly asked” by Fide to decide by a deadline of 20 July, International Chess Day, whether he will defend his world championship title against the winner of the just concluded Candidates, Ian Nepomniachtchi. This followed a four-hour meeting in Madrid on Sunday between the Norwegian and the global body’s two top officials, before Carlsen headed off to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker.

Nepomniachtchi, who was crushed 7.5-3.5 in his 2021 title challenge to Carlsen, won the Candidates again by a two-point margin. The Russian, playing under a neutral Fide flag, was unbeaten with 9.5/14 and led from start to finish, while China’s world No 2 Ding Liren overtook Hikaru Nakamura of the US in the final round for a significant second place. Nepomniachtchi was honoured at the relaxed closing ceremony, captured on video.

World chess now faces a potential schism. Carlsen, 31, has previously stated that he is “unlikely” to defend his crown for a fifth time, due to the months of drudgery involved in preparation. If he declines, Nepomniachtchi will face Ding, the Madrid runner-up. Such an outcome would echo the events of 1993 when Garry Kasparov broke from Fide, and for more than a decade there were rival world champions.

Carlsen wants the classical match format to be speeded up, even more than under existing rules that allow for rapid and blitz tie-breaks. In 2016 and 2018, Carlsen finished level at 6-6 at classical against Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana, then trounced them both in the faster games.

One idea being floated is a tennis-style best-of-three-sets-of-four classical games each, where rapid and blitz would follow at 2-2. Such a format could enable a player to win the world title after just eight drawn classical games, followed by successful tie-breaks.

The governing body’s deadline seems early for a match which has as yet no financial sponsor for the €2m (£1.7m) prize fund, no venue, no match regulations, no player contracts and a starting date likely to be well into 2023. A more relevant date may be 7 August, the day of the Fide presidential election in Chennai, when Arkady Dvorkovich’s main rival for a second term will be a ticket whose No 2 is Carlsen’s chief aide Peter-Heine Nielsen.

Fide needs Carlsen much more than Carlsen needs Fide. New York 2016, London 2018 and Dubai 2021 all attracted large online viewing audiences, as did Madrid 2022 last week. If negotiations fail, a Nepomniachtchi v Ding match at Beijing-Moscow, or even Shanghai-Vladivostok like the 2020 women’s world championship, will be perceived as a poor substitute for a match featuring the charismatic Norwegian.

If Nakamura, the streamer with 1.4 million followers, had made the obvious drawing rook exchanges on the d file in Monday’s final round at Madrid instead of tilting into defeat against Ding, Fide’s negotiating position would have been hugely improved. A Nepo v Naka match would have been available, with even a small eventual chance of the dream publicity pairing Carlsen v Nakamura, Sauron v Frodo. But it didn’t happen.

So will Magnus play Nepo again, or will he give up the world title and aim to secure his legacy by reaching his personal Everest of 2900 rating points? The debate continues …

Judit Polgar was widely praised for her Candidates commentaries on chess24.com, and the all-time No 1 woman had another vintage moment, captured in an enjoyable video, when she met Carlsen in an informal blitz game in a park during the Norwegian’s flying visit to Madrid.