Under the roof of the Palacio de Santoña in Madrid, with its heritage art and paintings on the walls and the roofs, Russian Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi took another important step towards securing the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen yet against in next year’s World Championships of chess by taking a one point lead in the Candidates tournament after a draw against GM Fabiano Caruana.
After round nine Nepomniachtchi leads with 6.5 points and is followed by Caruana at 5.5.
However, the question is whether Carlsen will defend his title. The reigning world champion had said he may consider defending the title only if France’s Alireza Firouzja (Iranian born) tops the Candidates tournament. But Firouzja, a 19-year-old tipped for great things, is currently only in sixth place with four points. The current standings make the possibility of Carlsen opting out of the World Championship defence even greater. If that happens the winner and the runner-up of the Candidates will play each other for the title next year. But will the winner ever be able to emerge from the giant shadow of Carlsen?
Following a Nepomniachtchi game can make for great viewing because the Russian is one of the most expressive players on the tour. He had contoured his face in all sorts of ways during the World Championship game against Carlsen last year. What makes him unpredictable but also prone to a quick implosion is his unorthodox game and his instincts on the board. On Monday against Nepomniachtchi didn’t remember the lines he had prepared. Yet he managed to pull off a draw.
“I couldn’t recall any of my prep because surely I have some but I just decided to play on my own, which I think was not the optimal way,” Nepomniachtchi said.
However, Nepomniachtchi who blundered against Carlsen in the world championship, may not have to face such a formidable opponent next year if he wins the Candidates.
After retaining the title last year in Dubai, Carlsen had said: “It’s been clear to me for most of the year that this world championship should be the last. It doesn’t mean as much any more as it once did. I haven’t felt that the positive outweighs the negative. For those who expect me to play the world championship next time, the chance that they will be disappointed is very great.”
Carlsen had already said the reason for him looking to opt out was because he was unhappy with the format for the classical world chess championships as he believed it needed shorter time controls.
“It is important for me to say that I do intend to play chess. I will continue to play chess, it gives me a lot of joy. But the world championship has not been so pleasurable.”
Recently when asked during an Indian Express’ Idea Exchange about Carlsen’s decision to opt out, five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand had this to say. “We have not had a situation like this since Bobby Fischer. Fischer quit the game and ran away. Carlsen, as I understand it, still wants to play other events but he won’t play this one. My tendency is to believe him that he is serious but also when the moment comes to actually do it, he will hesitate because it is a big step. It will hurt the game for a while because after all you are losing a champion and it is a very strange transition. But eventually people will move on and the game will go on.”
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