Sergey Karjakin and Norway Chess

Sergey Karjakin and Norway Chess

Apr 8, 2016, 6:28 PM |
Photo courtesy of World Chess

Just days after winning the right to challenger Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship, Sergey Karjakin has found himself in the middle of a controversy due to his last minute withdrawal from Norway Chess, a tournament of which he is a two-time champion.

2015 Controversy

In 2015, despite being the defending champion of the tournament, Karjakin’s invitation to the tournament was rescinded when Norway Chess joined the Grand Chess Tour because Karjakin did not qualify for the tour. He was invited to the qualification tournament for Norway Chess, but he was offended by the offer of playing to qualify for a tournament he’d already won twice.

This year

Karjakin was confirmed to play in Norway Chess 2016. Then, just 12 days before the beginning of the tournament, Karjakin announced his withdrawal from the event.

Here is the statement from Karjakin’s manager, Kirill Zangalis:

"Karjakin won’t play in the prestigious tournament in Stavanger. It was with great pleasure that Sergey accepted the invitation from the organizers of the Norway Chess, after being the winner in 2013 and 2014. But the explanation for withdrawal put quite simply is: no-one in advance could have guaranteed Karjakin's victory at the Candidates Tournament. Now Sergei has a different status and has decided to concentrate fully on preparing for the match for the world crown. Also the Candidates Tournament cost him almost all his energy."

Karjakin at the Candidates Tournament. Photo courtesy of World Chess

Norway Chess called Karjakin's withdrawal “disrespectful,” but initially hoped that he would reconsider, stating:

“Sergey Karjakin is a great chess player and he is still welcome as a participant in Altibox Norway Chess 2016. He has, after all, won both times he has participated, says Aulin-Jansson. – Karjakin obviously has a lot of nerves before his first World Championship match, however, we truly wish Karjakin and his advisors understand that one can not just run away from agreements because it suddenly does not fit in preparation for a match that does not start until about half a year later."

However, today, the organizers announced that Grandmaster Li Chao will be the new participant.

Many are disappointed by Karjakin's decision:




On the other hand, it’s hard to fault Karjakin for prioritizing his upcoming World Championship match, which is "the cherished dream of every chessplayer" according to ex-World Champion Mikhail Tal. It’s also understandable that he’d feel tired from the nearly month-long tournament against many of the strongest players in the world.

The world was hoping for a Carlsen vs. Karjkain face off in Norway as a prequel to the World Championship match. But, from Karjakin’s point of view, if he’s not feeling motivated to play in Norway, he has a lot to lose and very little to gain.

  • He’d be losing valuable preparation time for the World Championship match. 
  • He most likely aim to keep his opening preparation hidden--so he'd be at a disadvantage against opponents who will be able to use their strongest preparation. 
  • In addition, a victory in Norway wouldn’t outshine his win at the Candidates, a mediocre result would take away some of the momentum he gained in Moscow, and a poor result could have long-term effects on his confidence. 

     Karjakin’s own words on the matter are: "It's not a whim, arrogance or revenge. My withdrawal is a vital necessity. I need a good rest..."


     What are your thoughts on Karjakin’s decision?