Earlier this month, the eyes of the chess world have been fixated on St. Louis, Missouri. The highest rated tournament in the world—ever—was taking place. The World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, the world number two, three, five, eight, and nine were all in attendance. There was something else going on too—a ticking time bomb. Magnus Carlsen had a deadline to sign a contract to play in the World Chess Championships this year. He was set to play former World Champion and winner of the 2014 Candidates Tournament, Viswanathan Anand. However, Carlsen was somewhat reluctant to sign the contract. There were several issues. Part of the problem was that FIDE (the International Chess Federation) had not found a sponsor for the match. As a result, the budget for the match would be half of last year’s match. He was also dissatisfied with the playing venue in the somewhat-deserted Olympic town of Sochi.
This standoff between the World Chess Champion and FIDE is not new. In fact, there are two previous incidents which are somewhat similar. In 1975, the American Grandmaster Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest (and most finicky) minds in the history of the sport, resigned his title because FIDE did not meet his demands regarding the upcoming World Championship Match. Russian Garry Kasparov actually split off from FIDE in 1993, forming a separate international organization of Chess players. The chess world remained split of 13 years.
Luckily, Carlsen finally signed the contract to play in this year’s World Chess Championships, avoiding a move that would’ve had negative consequences on the sport of chess. He will be playing Indian GM Viswanathan Anand in a rematch of their encounter last year.
However, this is not the only interesting recent development in chess. As mentioned above, the Sinquefield Cup took place earlier this month in St. Louis, featuring the most competitive field—ever. Most people expected World Champion Carlsen to continue to outperform his peers, but a surprise awaited chess fans. Italian prodigy Fabiano Caruana (only 22 years old!) started the tournament on fire. He won each of his first seven games, finishing the tournament with an unprecedented score of 8.5/10. He drew his last three games—he even had winning positions in the first two of those games—and was never seriously threatened throughout the tournament. Those not well-versed in chess must understand how remarkable this result is; netting three more wins than losses in a 10 game tournament would be enough to win in most tournaments, but netting seven more wins than losses is domination, and Caruana was a couple of slight errors away from winning two more games. I suspect that if he had won the first nine games, he would’ve had more energy to really fight in the last game, and would’ve pulled off an inhuman and incomprehensible 10/10 score.
The last few weeks have been extremely exciting for the world of chess. The world championship match, luckily, will take place, and a new star has emerged from Carlsen’s long shadow. These next few years, as the players of Carlsen’s generation strengthen and push each other more, we can continue to expect scintillating matchups among the elite.
Barden, Leonard. “World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen Could Be Stripped of Title.” The Guardian. N.p., 29 Aug. 2014. Web. <http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/aug/29/world-chess-champion-magnus-carlsen-title-threat>.
McGourty, Colin. “Carlsen Signs to Play Anand in Sochi.” Chess24.com. N.p., n.d. Web. <https://chess24.com/en/read/news/carlsen-signs-to-play-anand-in-sochi>.
Image Credit: Frans Peeters via Wikimedia Commons