Breaking News: Magnus Carlsen won’t defend his title!

Although this was not the first time he had voiced reservations about the World Championship matches, many did not fully believe it would come down to this. Even Garry Kasparov recently expressed his doubts it would happen. 

“[…]If Magnus plays, and I can hardly believe he will not, we’ll probably see a tougher match.”

Yet in a podcast that aired Tuesday, Magnus Carlsen ended the speculation once and for all as he explained he had already met with FIDE and made his decision known.

The decision

“[…]I’ve spoken to people in my team, I’ve spoken to FIDE, I spoke to Ian as well. And the conclusion is, yeah, it’s very simple, that I am not motivated to play another match. I simply feel that I don’t have a lot to gain, I don’t particularly like it, and although I’m sure a match would be interesting for historical reasons and all of that, I don’t have any inclination to play and I will simply not play the match.”

He did go further to explain that the stress of the matches, more than even boredom, as many have opined, Magnus included, has weighed down on it. The many books on past matches certainly lend credence to this. Readers will recall the tales of hypnotists and coded yogurts in Karpov-Korchnoi, the endless behind-the-scenes battles in the 1972 match between Fischer and Spassky, and the Toiletgate scandal between Kramnik and Topalov in their reunification match in 2006 to name but a few.

“But the matches themselves have been at times interesting, at times a little bit of fun. The most fun match probably was the one in 2018. At least that was the most interesting one, and probably also for me it had the least stressful moments […]”

Not retirement

Magnus Carlsen was quick to assure this was not a repeat of the Fischer incident nearly 50 years ago. While he won’t defend his title, nor is he resigning it as Bobby Fischer did, and more importantly he is neither retiring from chess, nor even taking a step back from active play.

“Just 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 on I’m going to go to Chennai to play the Olympiad, which is going to be a lot of fun […] Obviously, I enjoy them a lot more than I enjoy the World Championship, and frankly I don’t see myself stopping as a chess player any time soon.”

The forthcoming title match

Ultimately this means that per the FIDE rules, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren will face each other for the next title bout and the winner of it will become the new World Champion. What does this mean should the World no.1 and World Champion not be the same person? This is not a unique situation, and even after the 2000 match loss to Vladimir Kramnik, who now held the title, Garry Kasparov was still the Elo dominant player for the years to come.


Statement by FIDE President Arkadij Dvorkovich

As published on the official FIDE website

While Magnus Carlsen has not officially withdrawn yet, as he has not been sent the contract for the match and a deadline has not been formally set, at FIDE we understand his decision is final.

In view of that, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich has issued the following statement:

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.

Many other great champions, in other sports, have experienced something similar: with the passing of the years, it is more difficult to find the motivation to train and compete at the highest level, while the reward for the victory never feels as intense as the first day.

We had hoped that after some deserved rest, Magnus would look at this differently. Sports legends like him always strive for goals and records. He is still young and could possibly have added more classical titles to his already outstanding career, as he will surely try in the Rapid and Blitz modalities, which he favours.

Since he first expressed his doubts publicly, FIDE has been open to dialogue and to consider 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 the concerns were discussed openly and in detail. Alas, it did not change his mind.

His decision not to defend his title is undoubtedly a disappointment for the fans, and bad news for the spectacle. It leaves a big void. But chess is now stronger than ever —in part, thanks to Magnus— and the World Championship Match, one of the longest and most respected traditions in the world of sports, will go on.