The 2021 FIDE World Chess Championship match kicked off on Thursday, November 26 in Dubai, UAE. The reigning World Chess Champion GM Magnus Carlsen of Norway will be taking on his challenger, the Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in a sixteen game match over the span of 3 weeks.
There are several tournament formats in chess. In a match, the two players faceoff in a set number of games, with each side playing the same number of games with the white and black pieces. The player who scores more points at the end, wins the match. In case of a tie, there is usually a tiebreak where the time controls get faster. In a situation where the losing side can no longer mathematically catch up even by winning all the remaining games, the match will end early.
The history of World Championship matches dates back to 1886. The match took place in the United States (first in New York, then moved to Saint Louis and finished in New Orleans), between Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort. Steinitz was crowned the first official World Champion after scoring his 10th win in the 20th game of the match. Since then, we have seen some format changes and controversies in the chess world, but after the 2006 unification match, we are back to the match format.
Magnus Carlsen vs Ian Nepomniachtchi
Photo by Eric Rosen, courtesy of FIDE
Magnus Carlsen became a World Champion in 2013 after defeating Viswanathan Anand with a score of 6.5-3.5. He has since defended his title successfully three times in 2014 against Anand again, 2016 against Sergey Karjakin of Russian and in 2018 against American Fabiano Caruana. Due to the pandemic, the Candidates Tournament, which determines his challenger, was postponed to 2021, which is why we see a match on an odd year.
The World Championship match is a uniquely stressful event for the players; the preparation starts months ahead with each player picking a team of seconds and conducting training camps with up to fourteen hour training days. The names of all the seconds remain a secret until after the end of the match. The life of a second of a top player is difficult as their work doesn’t stop - and usually even begins! - after the player goes to sleep. In the 2018 match, both Carlsen and Caruana had members of their team in different parts of the world so that they could work around the clock.
The ongoing match has been a tight affair with five fighting draws. While the games have been interesting and tense, game 6 was the real nailbiter. The players set a record by playing the longest game in World Championship history: 136 moves which lasted almost 8 hours. The previous game was a 124-move game between Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov in game 5 of their 1978 match.
The game was truly a titanic struggle between two giants of chess. The stamina that such a game requires from both players is remarkable. There will be no rest for the weary as there are two more games on schedule between the next rest day on Monday, December 6.
Enjoy the last portion of the game as Carlsen’s connected passed pawns roll down the board.