Magnus Carlsen’s reign as an abdicated world champion will formally end late next month when a winner is declared in the €2m, 14-game match for the newly vacant title between the world No 2, Ian Nepomniachtchi, playing under a neutral Fide flag, and the world No 3, Ding Liren. The venue is Astana, Kazakhstan, which borders both Russia and China.
Some chess fans may not recognise the Astana winner as a genuine world champion, and for them there is now the prospect of two major events, one online and the other over-the-board. Carlsen, still No 1 in the classical rankings and still the world rapid and blitz champion, will take on the four top US grandmasters, all of whom have had their moments against the Norwegian in previous tournaments and matches.
Before that, there is the second American Cup at St Louis, starting on Friday, a $200,000 invitation knockout which Fabiano Caruana won last year. Caruana’s main rivals this time are likely to be his fellow world top‑11 GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, and Levon Aronian. Games will be live and free to watch with commentary by Yasser Seirawan, Jovanka Houska and others. There will also be a women’s American Cup with a $100,000 prize fund.
Next up, starting 3 April at 4pm and overlapping with the world title match which begins four days later, is the second leg of the online Champions Tour, where the seeded players Carlsen, Nakamura, Caruana and So are joined by four qualifiers from the Play-In, open to all grandmasters. One of those four, after fighting his way through a nine-round Swiss, is Aronian; and also in the mix is Le Quang Liem who, although he competes for Vietnam, is a US resident and the Head Coach for Webster University’s chess team.
Norway Chess at Stavanger (29 May-9 June) is one of the premier tournaments in the chess calendar. Again Carlsen is faced with a US trio of Nakamura, Caruana, and So (but not Aronian), while the by then ex-world champion will also have to contend with the cream of the new teenage generation: the world No 4, Alireza Firouzja, 19, Nodirbek Abdusattorov, 18, and Dommaraju Gukesh, who turns 17 on the opening day of the tournament.
It will be a serious test for Carlsen, who will be under some pressure to demonstrate a higher quality of play than whatever Nepomniachtchi and Ding produce in Astana, but he will not be the only one for whom there will be something to prove.
Firouzja needs to show that his absence from Wijk aan Zee in January and pursuing an alternative career in fashion designhave not weakened his creative tactical skills, while Nakamura, by competing in three classical events, is attempting to demonstrate that he can be an active and successful grandmaster as well as a streamer with a million-plus followers.
The chess world would be very different now if Nakamura had kept his nerve in the final round of the Candidates and halved the level position against Ding which was there for the asking.
As this column wrote at the time: “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 Nepomniachtchi v Nakamura 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.”
Meanwhile, the European Championship at Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia, ended in a win for Russia’s Alexey Sarana, playing under a neutral Fide flag. The 23-year-old will be the last such champion, since Russia, in response to sanctions, has successfully applied to join the Asian Chess Federation.
The young English contingent in Serbia found 2600+ rated opponents difficult, but more than held their own otherwise. England’s youngest IM Shreyas Royal, 14, scored a promising 6.5/11; the veteran of the group, the Warwickshire amateur Tristan Cox, 39, beat a four-time Ukraine champion in round one and followed up by defeating four other Fide-titled opponents; while Nottingham’s Jonah Willow, 20, defeated two GMs in impressive style in the final rounds.
3859: 1…Qxd2+! and White resigned. If 2 Bxd2 e3+! with a knight fork of king and queen after 3 Bxe3 Ne4+ or 3 Kxe3 Nd5+ or 3 Ke1 exd2+ 4 Kxd2 Ne4+.