Time.news – In Dubai, after a one-year postponement due to Covid, the curtain rises on the world chess championship. On both sides of the table is the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, holder of the scepter for eight years, and the Russian newcomer Ian Nepomniachtchi, for all ‘Nepo’ given the complexity of the surname, who dreams of bringing back to Russia a title that has been missing since 2007.
The background is the sumptuous one of Dubai, of petrol dollars (winner and loser will share a prize pool of 2 million dollars) and of Expo 2020.
Both born in 1990, Carlsen and Nepo have been used to facing each other since they were teenagers. “While I can’t say we’re close friends, we have a good relationship,” the Russian said in a recent interview, explaining how the two have also studied and worked together in the past.
And if the Norwegian is today counted among the best players of all time, initially it was the Russian who often prevailed. In Spain, for example, in 2002, during the European under 12 championship, or a few months later, in Crete, at the World Championships. In an interview of the time with a Norwegian newspaper Carlsen had told how the two also challenged each other in billiards and that neither was particularly impressed by the other’s game. But perhaps because in those and other occasions it was almost always Nepo who won.
But then everything changed. Carlsen’s race to the chess Olympus has never stopped: from the top of the international ranking (by Elo score, Fide rating) reached at 19, and never abandoned, to the conquest of the world scepter, just over two years later, against a mythical figure like Viswanathan Anand, defeated at home , in Chennai. It was on that occasion that the Norwegian amazed the world.
He was just 22 years old, the same age as Kasparov when he won his first title confirming the role of predestined that had been stuck on him since he was 13, when he obtained the title of Grand Master. In recent years, then, Carlsen has defended the crown from the assaults of Anand himself, of another Russian, Sergej Karjakin, and of the Italian-American Fabiano Caruana, opposing security and, as noted by many, a certain swagger.
In addition, the Scandinavian chess player has built a real empire on his name, between collaborations and sponsorships, online tournaments and appearances. The last one a few months ago, in Dortmund, to meet another rising star of Norwegian sport, the Borussia striker Erling Haaland.
Nepo, a champion of grimaces and strange expressions, happened to be much less at the center of the scene. That of the Russian was a steeper path, between peaks and descents, sharp and defeats. He became Grand Master at 17, four years after his rival, and while he achieved many remarkable results he never fully emerged.
His talent is boundless, of course, but so is his inconstancy. Few, perhaps, would have bet on him in the candidates’ tournament (the ‘group’ that qualifies the challenger to the title) but the truth is that his victory has made everything more open. Nepo, number five in the world, as remembered by Carlsen himself at the press conference, is an aggressive and dangerous player because he is not afraid to take risks. The opposite of the harmony, technique and precision with which Carlsen plays.
The Russian, a great video game enthusiast, then arrives in Dubai as an underdog and with really nothing to lose. And if you look closely at the curriculum it turns out that he is one of the few to have a positive balance in the challenges, with a classic cadence, against the current world champion (the question is different if we also consider the ‘quick’ challenges). To be precise, he leads with four wins, one defeat and six draws.
In conclusion, if there is a chess player who can put Carlsen in trouble, it could be Nepo who, in recent months, has declared that he has deepened many aspects of his game, focusing as much as possible on the opportunity, perhaps more unique than rare, that he has in his hands in Dubai. To do so, he lost 10 kilos.
An aspect, that of physical form, that not even Carlsen neglects: “There are three main aspects in the preparation of this game: the pure chess part, the physical training and the mental preparation. Also, you need a good team around you during the actual match, ”he revealed to the Spanish news agency Efe.
It was Anand, on the other hand, when asked by the chess.com site, to explain why the Russian has more than one chance: “I think the most important thing to know is that Nepo’s style is somehow incompatible with Magnus’s, in the sense that it will not be easy for the latter to adapt to what he will face “. The Russian, for the Indian champion,” is the only one who has the ability to adopt certain tactics against Magnus, who remains the favorite , but Ian will have his chances. ”
The world championship takes place from November 26th to December 14th. It is structured in 14 games, one a day starting at 1.30pm Italian time. In the event of a tie, there will be “rapid” challenges scheduled for December 15 (four quick games of 25 minutes each, plus an increase of 10 seconds per move, the winner is whoever gets a score of 2.5 first; in the event of a tie we proceed to even faster blitz games).
The time available in each match is 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, followed by 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game with an increase of 30 seconds per move starting from number 61. The draw established that, in the first match, it will be “Nepo” who will play with white and therefore will open the dance. To know the name of the winner, however, we still have to wait.