The prospect of another competition against the likes of Caruana or Nepomniashchi does not motivate Carlsen. Playing chess should be fun, and he has lost that in the energy-sapping matches. However, if the Candidates Tournament was won by Firouzja – the forerunner of the next generation – he would be motivated and would once again undergo the rigours of preparation. That was in December. More recently in April Carlsen told the Norwegian daily VG that he was still not sure, but that the likelihood of him competing had not increased either. He said literally: “I will make this decision later.” And that is exactly what is not possible!
Carlsen is the champion of all classes, the undisputed No. 1 in the chess world. Also, and this is significant in this context, as far as his financial situation is concerned. It seems to me that his statements have not really been taken seriously so far for the simple reason that hardly anyone, maybe noone but him, can imagine giving up the world championship title and foregoing the prospect of winning a seven-figure purse.
Yet he has proven in the past that he hardly ever changes his mind and cannot be influenced when it comes to important decisions. The “responsibility” argument will probably not prevail. As depressing it would be if the best player in the world were to retire from the world championship cycle, one would have to respect it.
For some of the participants of the Candidates Tournament that starts on 17 June in Madrid, qualifying is the realisation of a dream they have been working towards their entire careers. They are – after the champion – the best players in the world! His continued dithering would put them in a difficult position through no fault of their own: If he defends his title, only victory counts in the Spanish capital. But in the event of his non-appearance, the first- and second-placed would play against each other for the title afterwards – which makes for a completely different tournament!
That no massive public criticism blew up in his face testifies to the sad state in which the chess community in general and chess journalism in particular find themselves.
Magnus’ last statements leave little doubt that he is aware of the consequences. If this is true, he doesn’t care. His statement that he did not want to play Caruana & Co. again was arrogant and inappropriate. The fact that no massive public criticism blew up in his face, even from his potential challengers, testifies to the sad state in which the chess community in general and chess journalism in particular find themselves. Twittering and streaming, even with huge numbers of followers, cannot replace proper journalism.
If Carlsen decides after the Candidates, as he has said, based on how his moods and sensitivities develop, his uncollegiality grows even further and will give our king a shameful report card. It is high time that he makes up his mind!
Magnus Carlsen is neither comfortable with the format of the world championship nor with all the attention going to an event that happens only every two years and may not even feature the most exciting match-up. An event, that gives the general public a distorted image of chess being about months of preparation, clashes of styles, a tiny group of players at the top, while chess has become multi-disciplinary (classical, rapid, blitz, Fischer random) and many more top players than in the days of Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov.
Carlsen would love to see the public interest in chess spread more evenly. From a sporting point of view, he would feel more challenged and motivated to compete in that tournament of eight that is coming up in Madrid than in another long match against one opponent from the generation he has been dominating for so many years.
Carlsen made it clear that even if he wouldn’t play another title match, he isn’t about to retire from competing. But just imagine a title match between two other players while he keeps dominating the tournament scene and coming closer to his 2900 rating goal. The symbolic and commercial value of the event and title would be much diminished.
World champion blues isn’t unheard of in chess. Capablanca considered retiring at 35, Fischer escaped into a paranoid existence.
He has tried before to open a debate on the world championship, but the chess community clings to the match tradition. Instead of being grateful to have a world champion who doesn’t insist on his privileges, FIDE is doctoring virtually everything in the word championship except for that a classical match decides in the end.
World champion blues isn’t unheard of in chess. Former champions have played with the idea to let the title go at their prime. We all know that Bobby Fischer rather escaped into a paranoid existence than play another match under rules that he didn’t consider best. It is less known that José Raúl Capablanca announced at the age of 35, three years after becoming world champion, that he would most likely not compete any more. Unlike Fischer the Cuban recovered from his blues, reconsidered and went on playing.
While we should be grateful for a world champion who speaks his mind and is not keen on privilege, there is one thing we should reprimand Carlsen for: He shouldn’t have said is that he would probably come out against Firouzja but probably not against Caruana or Nepomniachtchi. Let’s hope that the youngster doesn’t consider this seriously, but just imagine: Alireza Firouzja could try to reach a second place behind the American or the Russian with the prospect of a title match against an easier opponent than Carlsen and a better shot at becoming world champion himself.
Enough speculation. Let us all relax and enjoy the Candidates Tournament, the most exciting competition in chess!