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“How Magnus Carlsen torpedoed the Chess World Championship”


Jan Nepomnjaschtschi and Ding Liren deliver a highly interesting and varied showdown for the title at the World Chess Championship in Astana. However, interest outside the scene is limited. This puts the world association FIDE in trouble.

How much is a World Chess Championship worth if by far the best and most famous player in the world doesn’t take part? At least off the scene, the answer is: not much. As much as the duel between Nepomnyashchi and Ding fascinates the chess world, the role it plays apart from it is small. The absence of Magnus Carlsen plays the leading role.

“Garry Kasparov said that a World Cup without Carlsen is not a World Cup. That’s a pity for the audience, but it’s a product that has less value,” Espen Olsen, sports director of the Norwegian TV channel “NRK”, told the newspaper “Verdens Gang” the dilemma in which the World Cup and the world association FIDE are stuck.

Although chess has become one of the most popular TV sports in Norway in recent years thanks to Carlsen, “NRK” decided against broadcasting the World Cup this year. It was simply “less attractive” for the spectators without the best player in the world, Olsen justified this decision.

The lower level of interest can also be clearly felt in the German media. For example, the “Spiegel” newspaper, known for its chess reporting, dispenses with a detailed accompaniment of the game. And the match between the Chinese and the Russian is also under the radar in other European media.

“The World Cup loses a lot of prestige if the best player in the world isn’t there. It doesn’t matter who wins, another player is the best,” Norwegian chess expert Torstein Bae told VG. Carlsen’s abstinence put the World Cup “in a completely different light,” he said.

With a view to the future of the World Cup, Bae even sees a “great uncertainty. What happens to a World Cup when you know that there are better players than those who are currently taking part?” He asked a question in the room the world association has to find an answer to everything.

Only: You can hardly blame FIDE in this uncomfortable situation. It’s not the association’s fault that Magnus Carlsen withdrew. And the association can’t help the fact that Nepomnjaschtschi and Ding, two players who lack great radiance, qualified.

The interest would undoubtedly be much greater if a player like US grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura had qualified. The 35-year-old is next to Carlsen the most popular player in the world. Several million people follow him on the YouTube and Twitch platforms, and his analyzes and clips regularly go viral.

Bae supports the thesis: If Carlsen and Nakamura were to compete these days, more people would follow it even within the chess scene than the World Championship between Nepomnyashchi and Ding. It is difficult to argue against that.

A comment made by the Norwegian on the first days of the World Cup was not particularly helpful in this regard. There, Carlsen said he “doesn’t care” who becomes world champion. One can imagine how this statement was received by FIDE.

Magnus Carlsen ‘would beat them both pretty easily’

According to the world rankings, Nepomnjaschtschi and Ding are currently among the top three players in the world. But Magnus Carlsen has outgrown this world with his successes in recent years. The Norwegian is so much better than his rivals that it’s impossible to even compare him to a player of his generation. The 2023 World Cup suffers as a result.

Both challengers undoubtedly show brilliant chess, but both also regularly make blunders. This leads to a highly varied and entertaining duel. However, both Nepomnyashchi and Ding lack the fascinating infallibility of a Magnus Carlsen. It was precisely this infallibility that made the Norwegian’s World Cup games interesting for people beyond the chess borders.

How much better the Norwegian is than his possible heir to the throne is difficult to quantify. However, grandmaster Daniil Dubov sees a class difference. “If you let Magnus sleep for a day, he would beat them both pretty easily,” he said before the start of the World Cup. A flippant saying that, to the chagrin of sport and the World Cup, contains a lot of truth.

Christian Schenzel

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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