GM Magnus Carlsen might be letting go of his world title in classical chess unless GM Alireza Firouzja will be his opponent for the next match. “If someone other than Firouzja wins the Candidates Tournament, it is unlikely that I will play the next world championship match,” the world champion said in a podcast on Tuesday.
The Candidates Tournament is scheduled for June 2022, and the next world championship is tentatively planned for early 2023. The reigning champion might not be part of it.
At the final press conference after game 11, Carlsen already seemed to be hinting at this possibility when he gave a slightly puzzling answer to the question of whether he expects to eventually let go of his title on his own terms or by losing to a new challenger. “First of all, that’s a very good question. I cannot answer it right now,” he said.
Four days later, Carlsen provided more details in a new podcast for sponsor Unibet with his good friend Magnus Barstad, recorded in Dubai (also covered by VG). The bomb has been dropped: Carlsen feels he only wants to defend his title in another match if Firouzja will win the 2022 Candidates.
The podcast (in Norwegian).
“If someone other than Firouzja wins the Candidates Tournament, it is unlikely that I will play the next world championship match,” Carlsen said. “Then I think I can say that I am happy.”
At the closing ceremony in Dubai, the Norwegian superstar mentioned that his motivation for the match hadn’t always been at its highest. In the podcast, he said that the joy of winning was “not close to” what he envisioned.
In general, Carlsen wasn’t as motivated as before: “It has been clear to me for most of the year that this world championship match should be the last. It does not mean as much anymore as it once did,” he said, adding: “I have not felt that the positive has outweighed the negative. I want to quit when I am at my best.”
In the podcast, Carlsen noted that Firouzja’s fast rise to the top somewhat changed his mind. He repeated what he had said at the final press conference: “I have to say I was really impressed with his performance in the Grand Swiss and in the European Team Championship, and I would say that motivated me more than anything else.”
The world champion emphasizes that he does not intend to quit chess in general. For example, he is very motivated to defend his rapid and blitz titles in Warsaw (Dec. 26-30).
“I will continue to play chess; it gives me a lot of joy. Already in the middle of the world championship here in Dubai, I started to look forward to playing the world rapid and blitz this Christmas.”
And it seems we don’t need to worry about losing Carlsen for classical chess either as he has set a new goal: that of breaking 2900 Elo.
“I have never had it as a goal before because I felt that it was too difficult. I have improved my rating again a bit now, to 2865, and it is at least a goal you can set. It does not feel completely impossible, but at the same time, I know that I have to be on top every time I play. There is no room for error. It is something to motivate oneself for.”
If Firouzja fails to win the Candidates, we might see a repeat of the scenario in 1975, when the chess world got a new world champion without the reigning champion losing a match. The 11th world champion Bobby Fischer forfeited his title after failing to agree with FIDE on the details for a match against Anatoly Karpov, who was then awarded the title.
As the Norwegian GM Jon Ludvig Hammer points out, this time around we might see a match between the winner and the runner-up of the Candidates:
If Magnus decides not to play the match in 2023, the winner of the Candidates tournament will not be declared World Champion. (If FIDE follows the same regulations as this year.) pic.twitter.com/Cr5uneeWsf
— Jon Ludvig Hammer (@gmjlh) December 14, 2021