While it’s not the first time he’s expressed reservations about World Championship fixtures, many didn’t quite believe it would come down to that. Even Garry Kasparov recently expressed his doubts.
“[…]If Magnus plays, and I find it hard to believe he won’t, we’ll probably see a tougher game.”
Yet in a podcast which aired on Tuesday, Magnus Carlsen put the speculation to rest once and for all by explaining that he had already met with FIDE and made his decision known.
“[…]I spoke to people on my team, I spoke to FIDE, I also spoke to Ian. And the conclusion is, yes, it’s very simple, that I’m not motivated to play another game. I just feel like I don’t have much to gain, I don’t particularly like it, and while I’m sure a match would be interesting for historical reasons and all that, I have no desire to play and I just won’t play the game.”
He went further by explaining that the stress of games, more than even boredom, as many have said, including Magnus, weighed on him. The many books on past matches certainly lend credence to this. Readers will remember the stories of hypnotists and coded yogurts at Karpov-Korchnoi, the endless backstage battles of the 1972 match between Fischer and Spassky, and the Toiletgate scandal between Kramnik and Topalov during their reunification match in 2006 to name a few.
“But the games themselves were sometimes interesting, sometimes a bit fun. Probably the most fun game was the 2018 game. At least it was the most interesting, and probably also for me it had the funniest moments. less stressful. […]”
Magnus Carlsen was quick to assure that this was not a repeat of the Fischer incident nearly 50 years ago. While he’s not defending his title, he’s also not resigning it like Bobby Fischer did, and more importantly, he’s not retiring from chess, or even taking a step back from active play.
“So there’s no ambiguity here, I’m not retiring from chess, I’m still going to be an active player. I’m leaving later today to go to Croatia to play the Grand Chess Tour. from there i am going to go to chennai to play the olympiad which is going to be a lot of fun […] Obviously, I enjoy them much more than the World Championship, and frankly, I don’t see myself stopping as a chess player anytime soon.”
The next title match
Ultimately, this means that under FIDE rules, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren will face off for the next title fight and the winner will become the new world champion. What does it mean if the world No. 1 and the world champion are not the same person? This is not a unique situation, and even after the 2000 loss to now-title holder Vladimir Kramnik, Garry Kasparov was still Elo’s dominant player for years to come.
Statement by FIDE President Arkadij Dvorkovich
As published on the FIDE official website
While Magnus Carlsen has yet to officially step down, as he has not received the contract for the match and a deadline has not been officially set, we at FIDE understand that his decision is final. .
In view of this, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich issued the following statement:
Magnus Carlsen deserves nothing but respect from FIDE and the entire chess community, no matter what career decision he makes. Only a handful of people in history can understand and appreciate the enormous toll it takes to play five matches for the title.
Many other great champions, in other sports, have experienced something similar: over the years it is more difficult to find the motivation to train and compete at the highest level, while the reward of Victory never feels as intense as day one.
We had hoped that after a deserved rest, Magnus would see it differently. Sports legends like him always strive for goals and records. He is still young and could perhaps have added more classic titles to his already exceptional career, as he will surely try in the Rapid and Blitz modalities, which he favors.
Since he first expressed his doubts publicly, FIDE has been open to dialogue and consideration of specific proposals to change the format of the World Championship. Some of these ideas were discussed in May with Carlsen and other top players, and in Madrid we had a meeting where all concerns were discussed openly and in detail. Alas, that did not change his mind.
His decision not to defend his title is undoubtedly a disappointment for the fans, and bad news for the show. This leaves a big void. But chess is now stronger than ever – thanks in part to Magnus – and the World Championship game, one of the oldest and most respected traditions in sports, will continue.