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Carlsen’s Abdication: Reactions From The Chess World

It wasn’t a bolt from the blue, but GM Magnus Carlsen’s decision not to defend his world title still came as shock to many. A day after the news came out, Chess.com gives an overview of reactions from the chess world.

GM Vishy Anand, FIDE World Champion between 2000 and 2002 and the undisputed 15th world chess champion between 2007 and 2013, said to Chess.com in a voice message:

“Magnus certainly hasn’t surprised anyone in the sense that he has been talking about let’s say his hesitation or turmoil about this subject for quite some time. I think the decision still comes as a mild surprise in the sense that you almost don’t think he will cross this bridge.

“But I understand his decision fully. In a way, I was also getting tired of playing matches every year or two years several times in a row. In a sense, because I lost, this problem solved itself. Magnus’s problem is a little bit that he isn’t losing.

“Look, I understand his decision. I think we can only have respect for his accomplishments and I wish him all the best with 2900!”

Anand: “I wish him all the best with 2900!” Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

GM Vladimir Kramnik, the 14th world chess champion between 2000 and 2007, is currently recovering from Covid—the reason why he sadly had to cancel his participation in Dortmund at the last moment. He replied in an email: “It’s a very rational decision, which was expected. Whether it’s good or bad for chess itself, who knows at this moment? We will see.”

GM Garry Kasparov, the 13th world chess champion between 1985 and 2000, posted a series of tweets in a thread on Twitter:

My first thought was that I wished my mother were still alive to see someone else do what I did, or similar! Walking away from what everyone expects, or demands, you do take courage. My sympathies are with Magnus.

Of course, Magnus will still be playing–he’s playing right now in Zagreb. But he’s doing what he decided is best for his goals, not just personally to live his creative life, but to promote chess without fighting with FIDE guys about how he spends his time.

I’m not a shrink or mind-reader, just sympathetic to even a world champion needing change, and wanting to see change in the chess world. And it needs it. FIDE has been a direct & indirect vehicle for Russian intelligence for decades and looks to continue as long as it’s useful.

I’m still working to develop & promote chess globally via sponsorship, education, and technology, and I’m sure Magnus will too. Does anyone believe that’s what FIDE does? As I finally accepted in 2014 after I ran for FIDE president, its structure puts it beyond redemption.

Magnus has been a great champion and will continue to be one. Perhaps there was no way to reconcile his need for creative expression and the classical match format I favor myself. So be it. On to new challenges and more great chess instead of politics!

Staying on top is harder than getting to the top because you are competing against the feeling you have achieved your life’s goal already. Staying motivated after climbing the chess Olympus is like climbing Mount Everest a second time, or a sixth. Humans need purpose.

In a comment to local TV, Kasparov gave a more political comment: “History repeats itself. Nearly 30 years ago I decided to walk away from FIDE. I understand there are probably many reasons for Magnus to make such a drastic decision. I guess he is not happy with FIDE as an organization, and I have been saying for many decades, that it’s not an entity that could guarantee the professional development of the game of chess. It’s still being controlled by Russia and I think under the current international conditions it’s probably not a good sign for the future of the organization.”

GM Nigel Short co-founded the Professional Chess Association with Kasparov back in 1993 and played in the PCA’s first of three title matches. He emailed: “It is sad because Magnus is such a brilliant player and we all enjoy watching him. I can understand his decision though: I have only played one world championship match, and that was physically and emotionally draining enough. The toll of playing one after another must be stupendous. Nevertheless, the game is much bigger than one individual and we will move on. There will be new champions, with wonderful games, and we will admire them in turn.”

GM Hikaru Nakamura feels that the result of his final-round game in the Candidates (where a draw was enough to finish second, but he lost instead) made a difference. He commented while discussing the news in a stream:

“The Catch-22 here is if that I had actually finished second, I’m pretty sure Magnus would have played. (…) At the end of the day, the two players who are the most recognizable in the world of chess at the moment are Magnus and myself. Furthermore, the idea of ​​a world where I could be a world chess champion and Magnus is not the world chess champion, there is no way that Magnus would really be OK with that, at least, based on my understanding of the situation.”

On Twitter, Nakamura jokingly suggested he would stop streaming:

Carlsen’s response (re)tweet:

“At first I thought he would play, but in the last few days it was clear Magnus wouldn’t play,” said GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who mentioned “internal sources” for this inside information. Interviewed in Zagreb, where he is playing the Super United Croatia Rapid & Blitz, the Frenchman continued: “Anyway, it’s Magnus’s decision. For me, it doesn’t change anything for now. The question is, of course, it will not provoke a change of [the world championship] cycle this time but maybe for the next cycle, actually. Then, the best thing is to get everyone at the table, Magnus and other players, to think about what we want. It could be that we don’t change anything but it’s a pity of course when the world number one and world champion for 10 years is not part of the cycle anymore. So we’ll see in the next few years.”

Asked whether he feels the world champion now has less value, Vachier-Lagrave replied: “To be honest, I thought it was already worth less because I think it’s not adapted to our time. So I think there are probably better ways of designing the world championship. Of course, it’s been a tradition and a lot of people don’t agree with me on that. But I still think it was maybe time for a change and maybe this move by Magnus will be a catalyst.”

GM Wesley So also commented from Zagreb: “Definitely shocking. Magnus is still the big favorite. He is clearly the strongest player so it’s very shocking. I can understand that he’s played a lot of world championship matches already and he doesn’t want to play, I guess, 14 classical games, and there’s also a lot of training involved.

At the same time, I feel this will give other players more chances, and more initiative. I think Magnus has been number one for 11 years so it’s quite depressing for other players! [Laughs.] Now that he’s not part of the world championship cycle it’s a big sigh of relief. But it’s definitely interesting because he’s very young and he’s got a lot of gas left in his tank. We’ll see what happens.”

Wesley So chess
Wesley So: “I think Magnus has been number one for 11 years so it’s quite depressing for other players!” Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

GM Ruslan Ponomariov, FIDE World Champion from 2002 to 2004, said: “Magnus’ decision should come not as surprise as it was circulated in mass media before and Magnus already explained his reasons. Do we really want more speculations about this topic?”

Asked how bad the new situation is for the chess world, he replied: “Is it really bad for the chess world? I think the world is in such deep crisis right now, that some things like who plays whom in chess now doesn’t look important for me at all. This too shall pass.”

Chess.com commentator GM Daniel Naroditsky: “There is no question that Magnus’ decision comes as a disappointment to every single chess fan. However, it is important to put things into perspective: Magnus has affirmed and reaffirmed his dominance over the chess world, and his reluctance to undergo the punishing process of yet another match is understandable. It is a treat to watch him play, and I look forward to watching him pursue his remaining chess goals and hope to see him in the 2024 Candidates Tournament!”

GM Jesse Kraai made his thoughts pretty clear in a short but powerful tweet:

GM Jacob Aagaard, author and co-owner of the chess publisher Quality Chess, commented on the suggested devaluation of the world championship:

GM Nigel Davies, author and trainer, put things into perspective:

Agadmator, one of the biggest streamers in the business, added some historic perspective:

WFM Alexandra Botez, commentator and streaming superstar, said: “Obviously it’s a very personal decision for Magnus. I’m sure it was a long time coming and I can’t imagine he took it lightly. While I respect it, I feel sad that the chess world will no longer experience seeing one of the GOATs compete at this peak.”

Leontxo Garcia, the renowned Spanish chess journalist who has covered world championship matches since 1984: “Carlsen is rowing backward when the whole chess world should be rowing forward to sixteen the big moment. He has a moral responsibility, which he is failing to fulfill despite the fact that FIDE, a conservative body, is offering him very innovative changes. Chess is going to lose at least two years at a key moment.”

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich issued a statement, in which he said: “Magnus Carlsen deserves nothing but respect from FIDE, and from the whole chess community, in whatever decision he makes regarding his career. Only a handful of people in history can understand and assess the tremendous toll that it takes playing five matches for the title.”

Arkady Dvorkovich
Dvorkovich: “Magnus Carlsen deserves nothing but respect from FIDE.” Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In yesterday’s breaking news report, we already included the first reactions of GM Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi. Ding spoke of “a new era” and said he was “very excited about playing a world championship match to fight for the crown next year.” Nepomniachtchi said he respected Carlsen’s decision but also called it “quite disappointing” for him personally.

And Carlsen himself? Also interviewed in Zagreb, where he is playing the Super United Croatia Rapid & Blitz in Zagreb, the world champion commented:

“I’ve been in this mindset now for over a year. Obviously, when it’s official it feels a bit weird but I’m fine with that. I’ll continue to play a bunch and I’m just trying to do as well as I can. For a few years now I haven’t been as competitive as I used to be but I still want to play chess and I still want to do well. I don’t have quite the same drive, but that doesn’ don’t mean I’m going to play a lot worse!”

When asked if he thinks that the world championship is devalued when the best player is not involved, he replied: “Yeah, I guess so, but that’s not really my problem.”

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