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Colin McGourty

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Carlsen and Nepo react to not playing another match

Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi play in Zagreb

As fate would have it, Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi met in Round 1 on the day it became official they wouldn't play another match | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Ian Nepomniachtchi’s victory in the Madrid Candidates Tournament earned him a rematch against Magnus Carlsen, but when they sat down to play in Zagreb today we knew that match would no longer take place. Both players later talked about what it meant.

Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi in Round 1 in Zagreb ended in a relatively quick and quiet draw, but of much more interest was what the players had to say later when they talked to Alejandro Ramirez.

First up was the man of the moment, Magnus Carlsen, speaking just hours after it became public knowledge that he won’t defend his World Championship crown.

How does Magnus feel?

“It’s ok. I’ve been in this mindset now for over a year, so obviously when it’s official it feels a bit weird, but I’m fine with that. I’ll continue to play a bunch and try and just do as well as I can.”

Is he still aiming for new heights, or planning to slow down a bit?

“I think for a few years now I haven’t been as competitive as I used to be, but I still want to play chess and I still want to do well. It’s just perhaps I don’t have quite the same drive, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to play a lot worse!”

Does he have any personal plans?

“We’ll see. I have some ideas, I don’t know what they’ll come to, really. Otherwise, I still love playing chess, so I’m going do that a bunch!”

Does his not playing mean the value of the World Championship match goes down?

“I guess so, but that’s not really my problem!”

Magnus wasn't only crushing International Chess Day dreams...

One man whose problem it might be, is Ian Nepomniachtchi, who is now set to play Ding Liren for the title (check out Ding’s own reaction). Ian also talked to Alejandro:

Ian hadn’t had a year to process and sounded genuinely disappointed, both for himself and chess.

"Personally, for me, it was of course quite disappointing, and quite sad, and it’s not about a human decision. It’s completely understandable, and of course I respect it, because first of all me and Magnus have some quite good relationship, and we know each other for 20 years or something, so I can imagine that it was quite a painful decision for him as well.

But I also feel like maybe he felt himself more or less like a hostage of this whole situation.

Supposedly he’s obliged to defend the title every time, and perhaps it’s a huge pressure. Out of my quite small, compared to him, experience of the title matches… also like the Candidates, despite the result it’s very tough, so of course it’s quite disappointing for me, but also I guess it could be quite some harm which could be done to chess by this decision. But once again, I’m not in a position to judge, and I must say Magnus was, is and probably will be one of the greatest chess ambassadors, regardless of his decision."

Ian had a more upbeat message when asked if his World Championship match against Ding Liren will have the same value.

"I think so, because it’s more or less the same, it’s a title match, and once again I have said before many times, I evaluate Ding’s chess qualities quite high — I wouldn’t say he’s anything weaker overall chess-wise than Magnus. Ok, Magnus is a tremendous sportsman, and this however makes a difference, but chess-wise Ding is just a completely outstanding player."

Ian Nepomniachtchi is now set to play Ding Liren in a World Championship match in the first half of 2023.

Check out more reaction to the news of Magnus quitting the World Championship:

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