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The World Chess Championship

JarlCarlander
| 5

Magnus Carlsen has announced that he's not going to defend his title of world champion. 

If I were Ian Nepomniachtchi, or Ding Liren, I wouldn't play in a match which doesn't include Carlsen, the strongest human player. I wouldn't see the point in being the world champion when you're not also the strongest human player. Carlsen is continuously demonstrating his unique strength. Probably he prefers tournaments to one-on-one matches. Next to world championship title matches, tournaments are low stakes, and they reward risk-taking. A single loss in a world championship match has to be remedied urgently. Why should Carlsen want to stress out, just to prove what everyone knows? Once you've defended your title once, twice, three times, four times, what's to be gained? Especially when none of the competitors are really as strong as Carlsen, and if they were to win, it would be largely a fluke. If Karjakin or Caruana had beaten Carlsen, the world championship title would have been a burden to them. They'd play in tournaments and their results would not be those of a world number one. They'd do well, but they probably wouldn't be dominating. So I think it's pretty reasonable for Carlsen to let the world championship title fall by the wayside. The world number one spot clearly matters more--it is the best indicator of strength. 

Carlsen has said that he was willing to play against Alireza Firouzja. Probably, he wanted to get into a match with someone who would sooner or later, succeed him as the world champion. This would be more interesting than playing a match with someone who would be left trailing in a tournament setting, as well as in the world rankings. Perhaps this match wouldn't have been as horrible to lose. In all likelihood, Carlsen would crush Firouzja the first time, but it would become the start of something interesting. 

All of this indicates a deeper problem. Chess is too drawish, because it's too well understood. It's too well understood because it has resisted change for too long. Historically, that's quite unusual. For most of its history, chess has changed quite freely and easily. Matches are tedious because most of the games end in draws. But this is not how a fruitful game should be. A really well put together game would be designed such that draws are the exception, rather than the rule. A game like chess should give the players scope to show their difference in skill. But chess doesn't really have that. You can be significantly stronger than someone, and yet they hold you to a draw, because so many rook endings are drawn, or whatever. And it's no good blaming particular grandmasters for being too drawish or risk averse. It's not an individual problem, it's a structural problem. You shouldn't have to be amazing just to win a game. You shouldn't need to grind out a win in a 100+ move endgame. It should be necessary just to have an advantage. In chess, you can be +6 in material and it's still a draw. (King and two knights vs lone king is a draw.) 

Maybe Carlsen could design a chess variant which is genuinely interesting. And it wouldn't be sour grapes--as he's clearly the strongest. If Carlsen designed a variant, which demands a lot of research, he could get the chess community to ask important questions. What do we want out of chess? What do we want out of games? Is there any reason to keep researching standard chess? What are we learning? As a variants enthusiast, I've been extremely bored with standard for a long time, and very perplexed by the chess community's single-minded devotion to standard chess