On July 20, on International Chess Day, which is very symbolic, the fate of the match for the world crown, which will be held in 2023, was decided. Magnus Carlsen, even after the fight in December 2021, said that he was tired and strongly doubted whether he should defend his title. And in the end I made a decision.
For the second time in chess history, a reigning world champion has refused to play for the crown. The first was American Bobby Fischer in 1975. True, then the whole situation turned into a grandiose scandal and the disruption of the match with Anatoly Karpov. Magnus Carlsen acted much more politely.
Probably, there are many people who will say that the Norwegian showed disrespect to Jan Nepomniachtchi and chess fans. Some will even accuse Magnus of cowardice. But Carlsen’s motives are quite simple and understandable.
Magnus is without a doubt the greatest chess player of our time. You can hypothetically compare him with Karpov, Kasparov or the same Fischer, but in recent years the Norwegian has dominated. He threw off the throne the stars of the recent past (Anand and Kramnik) and left no chance for his peers (like Nepomniachtchi, Karjakin or Caruana). Having won the title for the first time in 2013, the Norwegian did not give it to anyone. As well as he did not allow any of his rivals to catch up with himself in the world rankings.
Carlsen is the real star of modern chess, their amazing embodiment. No one can say that Magnus held his title by accident, that he was just lucky. No, he beat all his rivals, he was stronger, smarter, more enduring, more persistent than them. He’s just great.
And on the day of the refusal of the second match with Nepomniachtchi, he became the greatest.
Why? Yes, because in all world sports it is difficult to find examples when an outstanding athlete himself left undefeated. Not because it’s time, not because strong competitors have grown up, but because it has become boring to constantly win, because the champion has become higher than the fight for the title.
Karpov and Kasparov did not give up the title and sooner or later weakened, lost. Fischer refused, but rudely, with a scandal, having quarreled with the entire chess world. Bobby was remembered for a long time, but not in the best light.
Yes, Magnus could have played if the young Firoucja had become his opponent. Yes, he could play if they met him halfway and changed the format of the match. But this did not happen. Carlsen had to play another classic match with Ian Nepomniachtchi, and the Norwegian seemed to be pretty tired of it.
Why should he prepare and suffer mercilessly for six months? For the feeling of victory? So Carlsen tested him five times in a row! For money? Chess is already allowing him to earn millions of dollars without playing for the crown. For your own pride? Apparently, Magnus does not feel such a need.
“I have no motivation to play,” the champion himself briefly confirmed all this.
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It is worth emphasizing that the Norwegian does not leave chess at all, like Fischer. He will continue to play, including the classics. And it will be interesting to understand whether he will be ready to join the fight for the world champion title in 5-10 years, when a new generation of strong chess players will grow up.
But for now, Magnus finds himself in the role of a rock star leaving at his peak.
In the world of sports, this is a rarity.