On November 24th the wait has finally an end: reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen will try to defend his title against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, who won the 2020/21 Candidates Tournament. The long-awaited World Championship Match will be played in Dubai (UAE), alongside the World Expo.

In this article, you will get all the information about the Match, my take on the Winner, and the history of the World Chess Championship.

  • How did the players Qualify for this most prestigious match
  • The Prize Fund
  • Exact dates and playing times
  • Where to watch
  • History of the World Championship
  • The World Championship Cycle explained

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    World Championship Match 2021

    The path of the reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen was pretty smooth: he just had to sit and wait!

    Similar to Boxing, the reigning Chess World Champion automatically qualifies for the next World Championship Match. After beating GM Fabiano Caruana in 2018, Carlsen could sit back and see how all the other Elite Players fought for the remaining seat.

    His contender GM Ian Nepomniachtchi won the last step of the qualification process, the Candidates tournament. This Candidates tournament was special as it was interrupted for more than 1 year(!) due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

    Nepomniachtchi was the (Co-)leader after 7 rounds in 2020 and convincingly won after 7 more rounds played in April 2021.

    While Nepomniachtchi is a novice to the World Championship Match, Carlsen will play his fifth Match for the highest title in Chess.

    World Champion Magnus Carlsen

    After defeating the last World Champion GM Viswanathan Anand (India) in 2013, Magnus Carlsen retained his title against GM Anand in 2014, against GM Sergey Karjakin (Russia) in 2016, and against GM Fabiano Caruana (USA) in 2018.

    In his last 2 Matches, he won the crown only in the Rapid Tie-Break. After a 6-6 in the classical portion, Carlsen convincingly won in the Tie-Break, underlining his strength in shorter time controls.

    The final combination of the World Championship Match in 2016 was especially beautiful:

    Carlsen-Karjakin Qh6!!!

    Next to being the World Champion for 8 consecutive years, Carlsen leads the FIDE rating list since July 2011 without interruption!

    His rating lead on Nepomniachtchi is a HUGE 73 rating points.

    Let me try to show you why this is a HUGE lead:

    I’m ranking 299th in the World. With 73 rating points more I would rank 95th in the World.

    These are over 200 ranks!

    Or in other words: the difference between Numbers 300 and 100 in the World is the same as the difference between Numbers 1 and 4!

    The experience of 4 previous World Championship Matches and him being the better overall Chess Player make Carlsen the favorite in this Match.

    But his contender, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, also has some things speaking for him. Especially their previous encounters.

    Contender GM Ian Nepomniachtchi

    After winning the 2019 FIDE Grand Prix Series and subsequently the Candidates Tournament 2021/21, Nepomniachtchi has more than deserved his shot at the highest title in Chess.

    Especially his positive score in their direct encounters will give Nepomniachtchi some hope to upset the big dominator (some claim he already is the GOAT) of the last decade.

    In 11 classical games, Nepomniachtchi has managed to defeat Carlsen 4 times. He only lost 1 game and drew 6. As both players are born in 1990, two of Nepomniachtchi’s wins date way back to youth events in 2002-03.

    Still, the other two wins dated in 2011 and 2017 were in a time where Carlsen was already close to his peak.

    His latest tournament result in Stavanger (where he also faced Carlsen, draw in Classical, loss in Armageddon) was not really convincing, as he lost 10 rating points.

    But as he will be already deep into his prep, this result does not have to mean anything.

    A prep that will be necessary to be much better than in the Candidates tournament.

    As a life-long French player, I did have Vachiers 18.Ne2 in my analysis already before their Candidates encounter.

    Critical Candidates encounter in Round 7. Nepo’s only loss. I remember looking at this exact position as my preparation for the World Rapid & Blitz 2019. I thought it was not even suitable to play for faster time control. Needless to say, I was very very surprised to see it on the board in such a critical game.

    Nepomniachtchi lost that game without a chance, which blew the race wide open again.

    Playing the French was already a risky choice. If you do that, you need to know much more than he apparently knew in such a key game…

    I’m giving him a fair outsider chance of 35%, but do expect Carlsen to defend the title once more.

    Prize Fund Of The World Championship Match

    Prize Fund In World Championship Matches

    The prize fund of this year’s World Championship Match will be $2 Million. A clear increase from the 2018 Match (1 Million Euros), but still behind the $3 Million for the famous Karpov-Kasparov Match in 1990.

    60% will be awarded to the Winner, while 40% go to the loser. If the match ends in a tie after the 14 classical games (2 more than in 2018), the winner gets 55% and the loser 45%.

    Both players receive 200’000$ as upfront payment (then deduced from their prize money). With this money, they can pay for training camps & their ‘army’ of seconds.

    One needs to keep in mind that the Winner is already guaranteed the losing part of the next World Championship match! This added to the new commercial possibilities, the payday difference of Winner and Loser is much bigger than the 60%-40% on the paper.

    I do believe that Carlsen earns several times more than his challenger at the moment of writing. He gets higher starting fees from private tournaments & has several lucrative sponsorship deals.

    Playing Schedule

    The first game starts on November 26th, 16:30 local time (Dubai).

    It is a perfect starting time for Europeans (14:30 CEST) and rather early for Americans (4:30 in LA, 7:30 in NYC). My Indian readers will have a lot of excitement before going to bed, as the games start at 18:00 (New Delhi) and might go on until midnight Indian time.

    The players will always play a batch of 3 or 2 days (1 game/day) in a row with rest days in between. This seems to be done so no rest-day falls into the Weekend, in order not to upset Chess fans at home.

    If the match is tied after the 14 games (the 14th game being played on the 14th of December, nice timing!), it will go into a Tiebreak on the 15th of December. You can find a beautiful timetable of the event here.

    Where To Watch?

    All major Chess Websites will most likely provide a thorough commentary of this long-awaited Match. I might write an article or two about the match and appear on my girlfriend’s Twitch Channel (go give her a follow, she’s amazing) from time to time.

    For full-length commentary, you’ll need to check out other sources.

    Chess.com

    Chess.com announced that former World Championship Challenger GM Fabiano Caruana will be part of their commentary team for the 2021 World Championship Match.

    This is pretty amazing, as he can give deep insights into what it feels like to play such a match. Other commentators will include the famous duo IM Danny Rensch & GM Robert Hess, who I personally find pretty entertaining to watch.

    The Commentary will most likely be free and you can watch it primarily on their Twitch channel.

    Chess24

    Chess24 has had star-studded commentary teams themselves in the past. The Tiebreaks in 2018 were commented on by three top players: GM Giri, GM Grischuk & GM Svidler.

    In 2021 they will continue their approach of two different commentary teams, as seen in their online chess tour. They just launched a site for the World Championship Match with their official commentary team revealed:

    GM Anish Giri and GM Judit Polgar will do the “advanced” commentary.

    While GM David Howell, IM Jovanka Houska, and famous Norwegian Sports Reporter Kaja Snare will provide commentary aimed at a Beginner level.

    Chess24 never charged for commentary and thus I believe it will also be free to watch this time. The Norway-Studio Broadcast will certainly have a slight Pro-Magnus touch and lots of information about him.

    It is suited for people who like the behind-the-scenes information more than in-depth chess analysis.

    FIDE/Worldchess

    FIDE will certainly also provide a live commentary of the events. They might also have exclusive rights for live cameras. Also from their side, there is nothing official yet.

    In 2018, famous Twitch Streamer IM Anna Rudolf and GM Judith Polgar were doing a good job commenting on the games and inviting guests.

    But in general, the quality of FIDE/Worldchess commentary has always been sub-par compared to the two companies above. I would recommend you to stick to the other options.

    UPDATE: Former World Champion Viswanathan Anand is confirmed as the first commentator for FIDE. Massive News, especially for Indian fans.

    FIDE/Worldchess usually charge money to see the commentary. With all the great free options available, I would not feel like paying for their commentary. Having said that, if Anand is your hero, paying some fee might be worth it :-).

    History Of The Chess World Championship Match

    You might ask yourself: how come that the World Championship in Chess is battled out in a 1v1 Match? And has it always been like that?

    The answer to your second question is: yes!

    The World Chess Championship Match has a long history. The first official Chess World Champion was Wilhelm Steinitz from 1886-1894. Steinitz won what is considered the first Chess World Championship Match against Zukertort in 1886.

    Already before that time Chess was played competitively. Starting with Ruy Lopez around 1560, we can acknowledge players as the best of their time.

    Prominent names are Philidor (1755-1795), La Bourdonnais (1821-1840), and of course the infamous Paul Morphy, who retired early after crushing everyone from 1858-1859.

    First Official World Champion Up To Now

    But it was not until 1886 and the Steinitz-Zukertort Match that someone was crowned official Chess World Champion. In less than 150 years, only 16(!) players were crowned undisputed World Champions.

    As there was a split in the Chess World between 1993 and 2006, there are several more FIDE or PCA World Champions. These World Championships were running at the same time, thus these World Champions are not undisputed World Champions.

    In that time FIDE also experimented with a different format. Instead of a Match, the World Championship was a Knockout tournament from 1999-2005.

    This tournament is today known as the FIDE World Cup, which is merely a qualification event for the Candidates Tournament. More to the system nowadays later on.

    In 2005 Topalov won an 8-Player tournament to be crowned the last FIDE World Champion. This tournament had the same system as the Candidates nowadays (8-player double Round-Robin) and featured a Women in Judit Polgar (8th).

    After this Match, the reigning PCA (Kramnik) and FIDE (Topalov) World Champions played a match for the undisputed World Championship in 2006. Since then the World Championship is back to its Match system.

    The Legendary Match in 1972: Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky in Reykjavik. / Image from nsarchive

    In case you also want to see the critical games with analysis, then the “My Great Predecessors” series by none other than World Champion Kasparov is a great fit.

    It is a 5 volume (+4 on his own Matches against Karpov…) series going through the most important games in Chess history. My favorite part was usually the stories about how the matches did or did not take place & how players were discussing the rules.

    One World Champion did not only have draw odds (retaining the title in case of a tie) but could lose the match by one point to retain his title!

    Now talk about negotiation skills!

    Undisputed World Champions

    1. Wilhelm Steinitz, AUT (1886-1894)
    2. Emanuel Lasker, GER (1894-1921)
    3. José Raul Capablanca, CUB (1921-1927)
    4. Alexander Alekhine, UDSSR (1927-1935, 1937-1946)
    5. Max Euwe, NED (1935-1937)
    6. Mikhail Botvinnik, UDSSR (1948-1957, 1958-1960, 1961-1963)
    7. Vasily Smyslov, UDSSR (1957-1958)
    8. Mikhail Tal, UDSSR (1960-1961)
    9. Tigran Petrosian, UDSSR (1963-1969)
    10. Boris Spassky, UDSSR (1969-1972)
    11. Bobby Fischer, USA (1972-1975)
    12. Anatoly Karpov, UDSSR (1975-1985)
    13. Garry Kasparov, UDSSR/RUS (1985-1993)
    14. Vladimir Kramnik, RUS (2006-2007)
    15. Viswanathan Anand, IND (2007-2013)
    16. Magnus Carlsen, NOR (2013-present)

    PCA/FIDE World Champions

    The World Championship Cycle Explained

    Luckily we are past the times where the reigning World Champion could decide whom he wanted to have as a Challenger. FIDE has put a World Championship cycle in place that determines the Challenger.

    While they are still tweaking and trying out different formats, the cornerstones remain the same for some years now: You need to qualify for the Candidates tournament and then win it in order to Challenge the Chess World Champion.

    But how exactly do you qualify for the Candidate’s tournament? And why do we still have a Wild Card for such an event?

    Candidates Tournament

    The Candidates Tournament consists of 8 players who qualify via different paths. Let us look at the line-up in 2020/21 and how each player qualified:

    • Fabiano Caruana, USA –> 2018 World Championship Runner-up
    • Wang Hao, CHN –> FIDE Grand Swiss Winner
    • Teimour Radjabov, AZE –> Chess World Cup Winner (later withdrew, replaced by Vachier-Lagrave)
    • Ding Liren, CHN –> Chess World Cup runner-up
    • Alexander Grischuk, RUS –> FIDE Grand Prix Winner
    • Ian Nepomniachtchi, RUS –> FIDE Grand Prix runner-up
    • Anish Giri, NED –> Highest average rating
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave –> first replacement, second highest average rating
    • Kirill Alekseenko, RUS –> Wild Card chosen by organizer

    The Candidates tournament now takes place every 2 years in the first quarter of a year. The winner then has enough time to prepare for the World Championship Match that usually takes place in the last quarter of a year.

    The loser of this Match has a place in the next Candidates guaranteed. The other 7 players come through factors that could not be more different.

    FIDE Grand Swiss

    The FIDE Grand Swiss tournament is a very recent introduction by FIDE. Played for the first time in 2019, the winner of the tournament not only gets a nice payday (70’000$ in 2019) but also a spot in the Candidates tournament.

    I really like the general idea of this tournament. All the best players are gathering in one tournament and the winner takes it all. Unlike the FIDE Grand Prix, which has only very limited spots, many Top GMs get the chance to qualify for the Candidates tournament.

    100 players qualified via average ratings for the FIDE Grand Swiss 2019. Sadly the tournament saw an insane amount (40+) of very weird wildcards (a common theme in chess).

    With all due respect, someone rated 2067 (World Rank 17’500…) has absolutely nothing to search at the strongest ever Swiss-System Chess Tournament.

    Another strange point is that already qualified players (or even the World Champion himself) are allowed to play in the tournament.

    And so, Carlsen & Caruana both participated in the tournament. If they were to come first, the second would qualify for the Candidates Tournament.

    Now, why is this not good?

    Because getting beaten by the World Champion himself might take you the opportunity of qualifying for the Candidates tournament. Being paired against either Carlsen or Caruana can be a huge disadvantage.

    In a way, those 2 players indirectly have a say in who will be in the Candidates Tournament and who not. That just feels very weird to me.

    Changes in 2021

    The FIDE Grand Swiss will take place again in 2021 and the rules remain very similar. Only this time around, the Top 2 players will qualify for the Candidates’ tournament!

    I do like this change, as it takes away the rating spot. I will explain later on why this spot was controversial and led to understandable but unsportive decisions.

    The only downside would be a pairing in the last round where both players qualify with a draw.

    This would destroy fans’ hopes of a nerve-wracking last round as the game would most likely end after a few minutes in a draw.

    As it is pretty unlikely such a pairing will exist, I do think the pros are bigger than the cons.

    Another positive change is the reduced Wild-Cards. The regulations only foresee 13 wildcards. Still 13 too much, but at least a step in the right direction. Yippy!

    Chess World Cup

    The Chess World Cup is one of the, if not the, most exciting Chess Tournament.

    In 2019, 128 Players qualified for this K.O. event.

    Each round consists of 2 classical games and a rapid/blitz tiebreaker if players are tied 1-1 after the classical portion. This event usually takes about a month to complete and can be extremely cruel.

    2 games leave very little space for errors and so there are many upsets early on. I love the idea of a K.O. event to make chess more exciting.

    And as towards the end usually one of the favorites wins (hardly ever do we see a non Top 30 player reach the final), it is perfectly valuable as a qualification tournament to the Candidates.

    As both finalists qualify for the Candidates tournament, the finals usually aren’t too exciting anymore.

    The match for 3rd and 4th seems a bit useless and the difference between first and second is not really big.

    Yes, a bigger payday and some recognition. But the main goal is the qualification for the Candidates Tournament, which both first and second already have secured.

    I would love to see only 1 qualifier from the World Cup. Like this, it stays exciting until the end.

    Or at least FIDE could think about massively increasing the prize difference of first and second.

    As with the Grand Swiss, I find it curious that already qualified players (to the Candidates Tournament) are allowed to participate. Being paired against Carlsen is just super unlucky.

    It was great to see Jan-Krysztof Duda beating Magnus Carlsen in the Semifinals of the 2021 World Cup and thus clinching his ticket for the 2022 Candidates in style.

    Still, I believe the tournament should either be a Knockout-World Championship, or a qualification event for the Candidates. This mix is the only bad point in an overall great tournament.

    Changes in 2021

    FIDE increased the number of Players from 128 to 208 players. This shall give a chance to more players to qualify. As 100 places are now given by Federations to one of their players (who must participate in the Olympiad), this seems like a well-calculated move.

    Yes, players have more chances to qualify.

    But Federations get even more power over players. This basically forces players to play the Olympiad under any circumstance (some federations pay their players very badly or not at all!) if they want to play the World Cup.

    Giving the Federations more power will most likely help FIDE to get the votes of these federations. While there is nothing inherently wrong with it, I believe this change was done for political reasons and not for the players.

    FIDE Grand Prix

    The FIDE Grand Prix is a series with 2 Spots in the Candidate’s tournament up for grabs. Players mostly qualify via average ratings, but there are also some Wild-Cards in place.

    In recent years, FIDE experimented with several different formats. From Knockout to Round-Robin to small Swiss System tournaments, everything was tested.

    In 2019 there were 4 knockout tournaments with 16 players each.

    So one could say the Grand Prix Series was consisting of 4 Mini-World-Cups, as the regulations were extremely similar.

    Points were awarded according to placement:

    • Winner: 8 Points
    • Runner-up: 5 Points
    • Semi-final: 3 Points
    • Quarter Final: 1 Point

    On top of it, each Match victory without a tie-break gave one extra point. GM Alexander Grischuk deservedly won the series with a 3/4th place, a second & a first place.

    Closely followed by GM Ian Nepomniachtchi who won two events but lost the first match in the third event.

    As there will be some more changes in the next Grand Prix Series, FIDE does not seem to have found a good solution yet. Balancing sportive fairness and exciting play for fans seems to be a hard task.

    Even though the events have a high standing for the players, fans (including me) usually do not follow them as closely as other Top-Tournaments.

    Changes In 2022

    As touched upon, there are some more changes for the upcoming FIDE Grand Prix Series in 2022. The regulations indicate 24 Players will each play 2 out of 3 events.

    The format will be double rounded pool plays (4 players each) followed by a knockout Semi-final & final. I really don’t think this will make the games any more exciting, but let’s see what happens.

    What is curious is that in this event, players already qualified for the Candidates are not allowed to participate. I do welcome this rule. but can’t understand why it applies only in this event.

    Anyway, one step forward, let’s focus on the positive!

    Rating Spot & Wildcard

    To make it more balanced, the average rating of a 1-year-period counts in order to determine the rating spot. This has the advantage that single games don’t matter as much as if you would just take one specific rating list.

    But sometimes this leads to strange decisions: the leading player basically stops playing chess in order to get the spot in the Candidates! This happened in 2019 when Giri declined to play the FIDE Grand Swiss because of the risk of losing some rating points!

    Now while this decision is understandable (don’t blame the player, blame the rules) it is not really in the spirit of Sport.

    Just imagine a Tennis player refusing to play some events in order to qualify for the ATP finals. That makes absolutely no sense!

    Either the rating system gets dramatically changed, or the rating spot should not be a thing anymore. Luckily, for the 2022 Candidates tournament, there will be no rating Spot anymore. Another positive change!

    The Wildcard is obviously here for Sponsorship reasons. The tournament organizer can select a player (there are some minimal requirements) to play the Candidates tournament. This should make it more enticing to sponsor & hold the event.

    I think I don’t have to talk about that this is very weird and totally against all rules of Sport. You can give wild cards in tournaments with 100+ players.

    But when it comes to the second most important Chess tournament with only 8 players, you should not give one place in the hand of commercial sponsors or organizers.

    2022 Candidates Tournament: Who Is Already Qualified?

    As the World Championship Match is delayed, the qualification for the next cycle is already in full swing! Four players are already qualified for the Candidates tournament in 2022.

    • Magnus Carlsen / Ian Nepomniachtchi (Loser World Championship Match 2021)
    • Teimour Radjabov (FIDE Nominee as he withdrew from the 2020/21 Candidates Tournament)
    • Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Winner of the Chess World Cup 2021)
    • Sergey Karjakin (Runner-up of the Chess World Cup 2021)

    The other 4 places will go to the top two finishers of the FIDE Grand Swiss Tournament 2021 (October 2021) and the FIDE Grand Prix 2022 (February-April).

    In their Grand Prix Series Announcement FIDE stated that the next World Championship Match should be played preferably “at the end of 2022 or beginning of 2023, restoring the FIDE Calendar that shifted due to the pandemic“.

    This means that we will be able to watch another World Championship Match very soon! Exciting times are ahead of us dear Chess fans.

    I hope this article gave you an insight into the World Championship cycle and the upcoming World Championship Match between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi.

    Let me know your pick of the Winner in the comments!

    Sincerely,
    Noël

    PS: Enjoyed the article? Read on! How to become a Grandmaster in Chess.

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