Carlsen takes on the young guard on Saturday at the ‘chess Wimbledon’
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Magnus Carlsen, the world champion, faces his strongest test yet from the new teenage generation when the “chess Wimbledon”, Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee, starts at the small North Sea town on Saturday January 14, with the 13th and final round on Sunday 29.
At age 32, Carlsen is the second oldest of the 14 competing grandmasters. Five of his 13 opponents are teens: three Indians, an Uzbek, and a German. All of them achieved significant successes in 2022, and at present there is no clear leader among the quintet.
Two more teens are absent from Wijk, for very different reasons. The USA’s Hans Niemann, 19, famously defeated Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis, sparking an ongoing saga of withdrawals, accusations and lawsuits that remain unresolved.
Alireza Firouzja, 19, seemed the heir apparent to Carlsen’s throne, but in 2021 the Iranian-born Frenchman had a spat with the Wijk organisers over a final-round incident and has not accepted invitations for the two following years. Firouzja has been absent from many of the major 2022 chess occasions, leading to some outlandish rumours including one that he seeks a career away from chess and a contradictory one where he is preparing to meet Carlsen in a breakaway world-title match.
Carlsen also has at least two serious rivals this weekend from his own generation. Following the Norwegian’s statement renouncing his crown, Ding Liren, China’s world No2, will meet Ian Nepomniachtchi for the official championship, probably in Mexico City in April. The 2018 world title challenger and current US champion, Fabiano Caruana, has recently got back to near his best following some uneven results.
For Carlsen, the carrot is an all-time best rating of 2900 points, an objective which eluded him in 2022 but would still be a realistic target if he could unleash one of the long winning or unbeaten sequences which he has achieved in the past.
Tata Steel Wijk should be well worth watching online. Games start at 1pm GMT, with rest days on January 18, 23 and 26. Chess24.com is a recommended viewing site, with free and live grandmaster and computer running commentaries on all the games.
Aside from Carlsen, the chess player of the moment is Mittens. The trash-talking AI bot kitten was only launched on chess.com a week ago, but it has already played several million games, with around 99 per cent of its opponents quitting or resigning.
Mittens gives a running commentary on every turn, telling opponents when they have erred and also forecasting the next few moves. It seems to be based on Komodo, and most of its few defeats have been by the stronger Stockfish programme. Hikaru Nakamura, the popular streamer and five-time US champion, drew against Mittens with some difficulty.
Mittens can be easily accessed. Log on to chess.com, click Play Computer, and choose Mittens.
Kirill Alekseenko v Karen Grigoryan, Sunway Sitges 2022. White to move and win. The Russian, playing under the neutral Fide flag, went on to take first prize.
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