The long awaited world championship match between Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and his Russian challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, often referred to as Nepo, starts in Dubai next week. The financial stakes-$2m-are high, and so are the career aspirations for both grandmasters.

The opening ceremony is on Wednesday November 24, and the first of the 14 games next Friday. If it ends 7-7, the result will be settled by tiebreak speed games. Nepo is 31, while Carlsen will reach that age on November 30, the day of their fourth game. The pair have been rivals for two decades since they first met in world under-12 competitions.

Carlsen is a prohibitive 1-4 on in the betting, although the prevailing grandmaster opinion is that the true odds are more like 60-40. Nepo has been a difficult opponent for the champion, whose match performances have been underwhelming compared to his many tournament victories.
There are wider issues at stake for both. 

Russia’s chess hegemony, which started as long ago as 1945, continued for the entire Soviet period with the brief exception of Bobby Fischer in 1970-72, and ended only when Vlad Kramnik lost the crown in 2007, is much missed in Moscow. Vladimir Putin follows chess, while Russian cities and enterprises are prominent among the world body Fide’s supporters.

Carlsen has often stated that classical chess games, lasting four hours or more, are outmoded because of their too frequent draws and their low entertainment value for the tens of thousands of online fans worldwide who watch major matches. He would prefer the default time limit to be rapidplay, two hours or less, fast enough for continuous action yet slow enough to be explained by commentators.

In his pre-match interview with New in Chess, Carlsen said that he regularly contemplates not defending the title, and will talk about that again’ after the match’. It sounds like a warning. There is potential here for another schism like the one which hit chess in 1993-2007, and a standoff between Fide and Carlsen’s Play Magnus Group.

Puzzle 2445

Nigel Short v Nils Grandelius., Malmo 2017. What is White’s winning move? Short chose 1 Bb4? and only drew.

Click here for solution

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