Magnus Carlsen announced he was stepping down from the throne on World Chess Day (July 20), thus recognized by the United Nations. His decision can cause enormous damage to the sport which made him famous and a millionaire, while it is fashionable in much of the world due to the sum of four main factors: the confinements, the success of the series queen bet, its great potential as an educational tool and its usefulness in delaying brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease. One wonders if the Norwegian is missing a moral responsibility.
“Staying at the top is harder than getting there because you compete with the feeling that you have already achieved your life purpose. Staying motivated after climbing Chess Olympus is like climbing Everest twice (or better six). Humans need reasons”, explains Gari Kasparov in a tweet a few hours after the resignation of Carlsen, who will no longer be able to match one of Kasparov’s two greatest marks: to remain undefeated for seven consecutive duels. for the title (the Scandinavian has five). The other is still possible, but stratospheric: to be the number one for twenty consecutive years (1885-2005), until his retirement; Carlsen has had ten or eleven since January 2010, depending on how you rate him, rising to number two in November 2010, and March and May 2011.
These reasons indicated by Kasparov elevate him as the champion who contributed the most to the popularity of chess, for a quarter of a century in the top flight, and also later, after his retirement. He made serious mistakes; the largest, causing a schism in 1993 by splitting from the then highly corrupt and inefficient, but necessary, International Chess Federation (FIDE). Still, the achievements of the Azerbaijani-born Russian weigh more heavily: he had the greatest rivalry in the history of any individual sport with Anatoli Karpov; he took the banner of humans versus computers in his duels against Deep Blue (IBM), which made universal headlines; wrote My great predecessors, a monumental work on all the world champions; and he always fought – he still does – for the popularity of chess as a sport, as well as for its important educational, social and therapeutic applications.
It’s fair to acknowledge that Carlsen didn’t have a rival like Karpov was for Kasparov. And also that he made a difficult, risky and very useful decision for the public interest a few weeks after the outbreak of the pandemic, in April 2020: Chess24, one of his group companies, Play Magnus, promoted a fast-paced tournament circuit for the internet when much of the world was locked at home. It is therefore true, as FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich pointed out in his statement on Wednesday, that the Norwegian has helped make chess fashionable.
It’s also understandable that as a human being you find it very difficult to spend several months every two years preparing against a single opponent, with the added pressure that comes with a title match. Although it must be specified that this obligation has made him a millionaire, and a great privileged compared to the vast majority of human beings, who must go to work every day in something that does not interest them in order to earn a living. On the other hand, it is also true that since 2018 he has been calling for a change in the format of the World Cup. And he’s right: the huge influence of training with computers that calculate millions of moves per second means that games at the highest level tend to be boring for the average fan and don’t serve to attract new followers.
But the most recent information suggests that Carlsen’s decision is not in line with his own beliefs. He himself admits in his statement that FIDE has given him proposals that he likes, which can only mean a mixture of slow games with other fast ones. The one that Carlsen would salute is the one that has been successfully tested precisely in Stavanger (Norway), in the elite Norwegian chess tournament: each draw is immediately followed by a sudden death, call Armageddon: ten minutes for the white player, forced to win, and seven for the black player. To questions from EL PAÍS, neither FIDE nor Carlsen’s father and representative, Henrik, denied (although they also did not confirm) that Dvorkovich made this proposal at the Madrid meeting he two weeks ago.
That is to say, FIDE, a very conservative and very slow-moving body, most likely offered Carlsen the most innovative, and the champion rejected it. The consequences will be serious. The duel between Niepómniashi and Liren Ding cannot be played in Russia due to sanctions, and it is unlikely to be played in China under this government’s zero covid policy. In any case, it will have a much smaller circulation than the one with Carlsen, which will therefore appear much less in the press because the World Cup is the most striking showcase for talking about chess on all continents. It wouldn’t be strange if, in two years, Carlsen decides to regain the throne, because it will motivate him. But two years is a precious time where the chess world must enjoy the MOMENT, with capital letters, which is likely to be short-lived if not done well.
In his interview with EL PAÍS last November in Dubai, Carlsen pointed out that today’s world does not encourage reflection. And he explained it like this: “I mean the rush, the overuse of social media, the number of messages that come to you all over the place and you’re supposed to respond to…I totally agree with that. idea. And I think more and more people are concerned about the misuse of new technologies. In this context, it is obvious that chess can be very useful.
One of the instruments that chess has for the great goal of learning to think while playing is the repercussion of the world championship every two years. All rowers in this boat must row in the same direction. But suddenly it turns out that the boss is doing it backwards.
To subscribe to weekly newsletter ‘Wonderful move’, by Leontxo Garcia
Exclusive content for subscribers
read without limit