Ian Nepomniachtchi, who only last December was crushed 7.5-3.5 in his 2021 world title challenge to Magnus Carlsen, has earned another try by winning the just completed Candidates in Madrid by a two-point margin. The Russian, playing under a neutral Fide flag, was unbeaten with 9.5/14 and led from start to finish. Only Vasily Smyslov and Boris Spassky have previously won two Candidates in a row. 

Now, though, chess faces the prospect of a schism. Carlsen, 31, has stated that he is “unlikely” to defend his crown against a player from his own generation. Nepomniachtchi is 31, and China’s Ding Liren, the Madrid runner-up, is 29. Under the rules, this pair will meet for the title if Carlsen abdicates.

On Sunday Carlsen flew to Madrid for a 40-minute meeting with the Fide president, Arkady Dvorkovich, and the Fide director general, Emil Sutovsky. Sources said that Carlsen wants the world championship match format to switch to a mixture of classical, rapid and blitz games.

The three discussed possible changes, and Carlsen was “kindly asked” to give his decision by July 20, International Chess Day. More realistic seems August 7, the day of the Fide elections where Dvorkovich’s main rival is a ticket whose No2 is Carlsen’s chief aide Peter Heine Nielsen.

It is unlikely that a Dvorkovich-led Fide will make drastic changes during the current cycle. Faster games favour Carlsen, who crushed his 2015 and 2018 title opponents in rapid tie-breaks, whlle Nepomnachtchi has greater experience of winning at top level than Ding. When they met in the opening round in Madrid, the Chinese grandmaster was overwhelmed.

It could end up as a low-key Russia v China encounter, like the 2020 world women’s championship which took place under the radar in Shanghai and Vladivostok.

Such a negative outcome, along with the risk of a 2023 recession, would badly derail the global chess boom. The most serious pressure on Carlsen to continue with Fide and meet Nepomniachtchi again may yet come from the Oslo executives and shareholders of Play Magnus Group.

Puzzle 2476

White mates in three moves, with just a single line of play. It looks trivial, but many obvious tries lead to a stalemate draw.

Click here for solution

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