All eyes on the World Chess Championship in NY

NOVEMBER 10  —  Magnus Carlsen and Sergei Karjakin will contest a 12-game match for the World Chess Championship in the iconic Fulton Market building in New York from November 11-30, 2016. 

The hype already matches that surrounding the USA’s Bobby Fischer taking on the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky, who was the defending world champion, at the height of the Cold War and ending that country’s long dominance of the game!

For many, the jury is still very much out on Agon — the company shrouded in secrecy that has been given the rights by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) to the World Chess Championship and who for months leading up to it was unable to substantiate its claims that the match would be held in New York.

It was no surprise that in the end an obscure Russian company — with absolutely no connection to chess — turned up at the last minute to be the sole sponsor of the World Chess Championship Match! 

All this while Agon took legal action against several popular global chess websites for “illegal” use of chess moves made by players which was broadcast “live” at the Candidate Tournament held in Moscow, Russia, from which the challenger qualified.

Dismissal by a Moscow court has only led to continued legal action through the filing of an appeal, and at the same time, attempts are now being made to serve injunctions in the USA to prevent similar attempts to use the chess moves.

Experts are in consensus that moves made cannot be copyrighted, and this has been upheld at numerous instances when brought to court but there is no disagreement over the rights for added elements such as videotaped commentary so it is hard to understand Agon taking this approach to try and further monetise the event.

World Champion Carlsen is Norway’s golden boy, his achievements which include that of being the highest rated player of all time in 2013 and the first triple crown holder in all formats of the game — Standard, Rapid and Blitz chess — in 2014 and the favourite with the No. 1 ranking.

Russia’s Karjakin is from Crimea, originally Ukraine, and has the distinction of being the youngest player at 12 to get the grandmaster title and is considered to be one of the special talents of his generation but it was only when he switched both Federations and changed citizenship in 2009 that he started to fulfill some of this early promise.

Carlsen, 25, and Karjakin, 26, are contemporaries who till recently were on good terms (not to say they are on bad terms today) but are very different people.

Karjakin has described Carlsen as driven and wanting to always win at everything!  At the same time, of course, he was making the case that while he is as competitive, he is the much more balanced individual.

For sure Carlsen has changed the game as we know it — even before he became the official world champion — as he has brought the brashness of youth to the mix. There have been modelling stints, product endorsements and appearances on major talk shows; all which has helped the public reimagine what a chessplayer is!

On the other hand, it can be argued that Karjakin is only about chess, a nice but somewhat simple-minded person with a special talent which has been recognised and nurtured by Russia in the way it was done in the bad old days of the Soviet Union, to be their world champion.

It most certainly seems so with many of Carlsen’s team having moved over to help Karjakin who, on top of seemingly endless financial support by the state, has all the resources of the Russian Chess Federation including the secrets and energy of all their top players at his disposal.

While there is no doubt that Russia is doing everything to win and the Carlsen team has been alarmed enough by dirty tricks to allegedly seek help from the likes of Microsoft to prevent possible hacking attempts, the general feeling is that the final result of the match would still be determined by over the board play.

Carlsen at his best can certainly win but Karjakin, although only officially the No. 9 player in the world, is one of the most stable players psychologically and has no fear. It is actually a very short match, and at their level, it would be hard for Carlsen to recover should he over press and lose a game but then again he simply could blow Karjakin away!

Their match not only signals a generational change but also perhaps a paradigm shift in chess with twentysomethings now very much at the top of chess rankings, the only anomaly being Russia No. 1, former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik who lost his title to India’s Viswanathan Anand in 2008, ranked No. 4. 

What we can be sure of is the loser will be joined by the likes of USA’s Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So, France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and perhaps Nederland’s Anish Giri, Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi, and China’s Ding Liren as favourites to challenge this year’s winner.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.