Current World Chess Champion Magus Carlsen of Norway will defend his title against a new challenger, Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, in New York City starting on November 11, with games running through November 30, if needed.
It’s the first time a championship has been contested in New York since 1995, when then World Champion took Garry Kasparov took on Viswanathan Anand. Kasparov won that match, which was held under the auspices of the Profesional Chess Association, a short-lived breakaway entity formed by Kasparov and other players frustrated with the organisation of major-league chess.
But Anand would go on to capture the title five times — and face Carlsen in the last two WCCs.
The big disappointment for the United States this time around is that in the 2016 Candidates Tournament, held to determine Carlsen’s opponent for the WCC, not one but two Americans were in the running: Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana.
Caruana brought it right down to the wire, losing a must-win match against Karjakin and in the process putting the Russian opposite Carlsen to fight for the 2016 title. A big missed opportunity, given that Caruana has posted good results against Carlsen and has often been discussed as a potential World Champion. But Caruna didn’t dwell on the critical loss; he came back to the US from Moscow to win the US Championship in convincing fashion.
I talked to him briefly this summer prior to the Sinquefield Cup, a top professional even held annually at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, which has become the Yankee Stadium of American chess.
“It didn’t work out,” he said of his effort at the Candidates, deploying the easygoing humility for which he has become known in the edgy and at times cutthroat world of big-time pro chess.
Although Caruana did go almost all the way, he admitted that he “wasn’t prepared well enough before the Candidates Tournament.”
“I needed more more stamina,” he said.
The show must go on, and Karjakin, the world’s number 9 nine ranked player with a rating of 2772, it at 26 the youngest opponent Carlsen, 25, has faced for a title challenge (Anand was in his forties). Carlsen is the number one player in the world, with a rating of 2853. By that tale of the tape, Kajakin should lose, but he does have a decent record against Carlsen, and the two men grew up playing against each other.
“Magnus is a little bit slow in the beginnings,” said Ilya Merenzon, CEO of Agon, the company that’s organising the 2016 WCC for the game’s governing body, FIDE.
“Sergey will try to beat him in the opening, the hold on for dear life. Expect some fireworks. Both players will try to come up with really cool openings.” (Openings are the deeply studied first moves in a chess match.)
Merenzon added that Karjakin has the entire Russian chess machine behind him — and it is a formidable apparatus.
“The top players in the world are going to working with him. It’s an arms race now, and I know how big the teams are — they’re massive.”
The match will consist of a planned 12 games (with tie-breaks thereafter) and be held at the Fulton Market in the South Street Seaport. According to Merenzon, there will be VIP access for the live event, alongside regular ticketing, but there will also be some innovative online broadcast options, including multiple cameras and virtual reality.
The idea is to take a sport that’s difficult to watch and understand — WCC-level games can consume many hours, during which time spectators are watching the players silently think — and transform it into something more thrilling.
Merenzon stressed that the organisers want to increase the “drama and intensity” so that the WCC feels like a major sporting event — like the “most important thing in the world,” he said.
“We’re taking from boxing and from entertainment,” he said. “It’s going to be a show — it’s going to emotions.”
Agon’s broadcast deal is exclusive and restricts access to the actual moves of the game for a defined period of time, a controversial policy, but one that the chess world was introduced to before the Candidates.
The cost for the WCC package will be $15 for whole match, “less than a movie,” Merenzon said.
The preparation of the venue will come down to the wire. A WCC requires a very specific arrangement for players and spectators, and according to Merenzon, that means the work, costing $2 million, will be completed “very last minute — a couple of days before the event.”
That said, Carlsen and his entourage have already checked out the space and, Merenzon said, approved of it. As far as notable fans go, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are reportedly planning to be in New York for the match.
New York is a great chess city, going back over a century and running right through the difficult career of the last American World Champion, Bobby Fischer, who grew up in Brooklyn. The 1995 Kasparov-Anand showdown was held at the World Trade Center, so it’s appropriate that the 2016 match will be held nearby, in lower Manhattan.
There is a whiff of the old Cold War tension, as well. Carlsen is the first World Champion from the West since Fischer, and Karjakin was in favour of Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, the Guardian reported. The prize money is significant, as well, if a bit fuzzy: it should be something like $1 million.
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