The Cold War has long since ceased to wreak havoc on the chessboard, but when China and Russia move their bishops, knights, and rooks forward, one must pay attention. Because that battle may have lost some of its prestige, without the world’s strongest chess player, the world title is still prestigious. After all, it is the highest achievable in the sport.
Also, in Astana, Kazakhstan, the chess world crowns a new world champion after ten years of Norwegian rule. Ding Liren may become the first Chinese men’s title holder and (on paper) complete Chinese chess dominance. Ian Nepomnishchi, the losing challenger in 2021, may in turn breathe new life into the lost glory of Russian chess.
On Sunday, the first game, which Nepomniashchi played as white, ended in a draw. The second game of the best-of-14 fight continues today.
However, the great Russian chess player Garry Kasparov speaks of an “amputee” championship due to the absence of world number one Magnus Carlsen. “The duel between ‘Nepo’ and Ding is a show anyway, but it’s not a World Cup match.”
“I can hardly call it a world title match. As far as I’m concerned, the strongest chess player in the world should be involved, and that’s not the case now. It feels like an amputated event,” says the former world champion. .
Carlsen, a world champion since 2013 and by far the highest ranked chess player in the world since 2010, decided in July last year that he would not defend his world title for the sixth time. He was no longer hungry from the grueling preparation: “I don’t feel like I have much to gain.”
And so world number two Nepomniashchi, who won the Madrid Candidates Tournament in June last year, meets advanced world number three Ding on the board.
Before the crown, Ding was only the 14th grandmaster to reach a rating above 2800, a potentially dangerous challenger to Carlsen’s empire. But the often conservative and precise Chinese turned out to be less robust than expected. This World Cup will feel like a golden title shot.
I can hardly call it a world title match.
In recent years, Nepomniashchi has also moved towards the 2,800 mark with his creative and aggressive style of play and is on the prowl for the title in Carlsen’s absence (score: 2,853). ‘Nepo’ may become the first Russian to win since Vladimir Kramnik in 2006.
On Nepomnishchi’s shoulders – and he has already succumbed to Carlsen under pressure – Russia’s impressive chess past looks to the board. After World War II, chess for the Russians was more than a board game, almost a propaganda tool during the Cold War, especially when American rebel Bobby Fischer rocked the proud Soviet chess empire.
However, the group of world champions from Russia and the Soviet Union of the 20th century is no longer a select group. But this century is a bit disappointing.
It is up to ‘Nepo’ to restore the shine to Russian chess. But it does so under the banner of the world chess federation FIDE. And not from Russia. Because the Russian tricolor is also banned from the chessboard since the Ukrainian war, although the Russians are allowed to participate.
Two months after the Russians attacked neighboring Ukraine in an open letter to President Putin, Russia’s top 44 chess players, including Nepomnashchi, have already spoken out about the attack. “Stop the war,” they wrote.
Where the Russians, while they may not be playing ‘for’ their country, want to restore the former glory, China is building it. Because if Ding wins, the Chinese will have the world title in both men and women, with Ju Wenjun.
The diplomatic weight attached to chess pieces may not be as heavy as it was during the Cold War, and Chinese President Xi Jinping may not be at the helm of polonaise, if only because the national version of the board game xiangqi is still getting more and more popular. popular in China than the western variety. Xi will sleep soundly knowing that his country is globally dominant in a game that was still strictly prohibited in China in the early years of the Cultural Revolution because it was said to be too Western.
After the decisive surrender or checkmate in Astana, ‘Nepo’ or Ding, and therefore Russia or China, will wear the world title, but the winner will also realize that the shadow of that Norwegian crossword puzzle looms over the trophy.