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Tarjei J. Svensen

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'Zero' chance Carlsen plays match without drastic format changes

Will the chess world see another match between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi? Here from game 10 in Dubai. photo: Eric Rosen, FIDE

Game 10 in Dubai. Will the chess world see another match between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi? | photo: Eric Rosen, FIDE

Unless there are drastic changes to the format of the World Championship match there is no chance that Magnus Carlsen will play his sixth title match, against Ian Nepomniachtchi, chess24's sources say. FIDE's General Director Emil Sutovsky has also walked back previous statements about a July 20 deadline, calling it all a misunderstanding.

Chess fans are eagerly awaiting whether Magnus Carlsen will play his sixth World Championship match or whether his challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi will instead face Ding Liren, who finished second in the Candidates Tournament in Madrid.

The five-time World Champion has previously indicated his gripe is he's tired of playing world title matches and unhappy with the gruelling 14-game classical format.

Two sources close to Carlsen now tell chess24, independently of each other, that there is "zero chance" the 31-year-old will agree to another match unless there are "drastic changes" in the format. Which changes, remains unknown.

Note: Henrik Carlsen, father and manager of Magnus, declined to comment on this story to chess24.

Carlsen has previously said he favours a mixed format taking in elements of the rapid match-play system used in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour. After his 2018 match against Fabiano Caruana, he said:

My current favourite, which it has been for a while, is to keep the same format as now, except that each day you play 4 rapid games instead – relatively short rapid games, let’s say 15+10, as you play in the World Rapid – and you get one point for each day.

If you want to see who the best player is make them play as many games as possible, and if you keep the rapid format then there’s still room for opening ideas, preparation and everything, but the time allowed to conceal your weaknesses and everything is not there. You just up the stakes, you increase the chances for errors and everything, and I think it makes it more exciting and it gives a more real picture of the best players.

Last week Carlsen called claims in Russian media that he was willing to play with a new match system that could potentially see the title decided in just six classical games, "fake news"

FIDE General Director Emil Sutovsky also confirmed to chess.com that the reigning world champion never demanded a concrete format. While a different format could make it more likely to tempt Carlsen into a sixth title match, it's unlikely they would agree to any drastic changes that do not include classical play.

It's still unclear when the chess world will get closer to an answer as to who will play the next World Championship match. Sutovsky said during the Candidates that Carlsen was given an "informal deadline" of around July 20, hinting a decision could come around that time.

Speaking to Aftenposten today, FIDE's General Director walked back his statements, calling it a misunderstanding and saying that a deadline or ultimatum was never given. "It's definitely not like Magnus has to make a decision before July 20", he added.

"FIDE is not pushing for Magnus to make a decision. We would rather continue to discuss and wait if necessary, as long as it leads to him playing. There is no date set for Magnus to make a decision."

"When the contract has been made and sent, the normal procedure is that a deadline is indicated there. There is no contract at the moment, that has to come first," Sutovsky says.

Magnus Carlsen during game 7 in his match against Ian Nepomniachtchi in Dubai. | photo: Eric Rosen/FIDE

Magnus Carlsen during Game 7 of his match against Ian Nepomniachtchi in Dubai | photo: Eric Rosen/FIDE


chess24 also understands that there are no ongoing negotiations between Carlsen and FIDE taking place at the moment, but Aftenposten reports today that they will be in contact this week.

In April, Carlsen told Aftenposten that he would wait until after the Candidates to see if the opponent would motivate him, then make a decision. If he was forced to make a decision earlier, it would be a "very, very clear no," he said.

It wouldn't be the first time Carlsen drags it out. Before his 2014 match in Sochi, Russia against Viswanathan Anand, the Norwegian waited until the very last day before signing the contract, only 2.5 months before the match was scheduled to start. Later he said he was around 50-50 whether to sign or not.

Is Carlsen bluffing this time? There are plenty who think he may be. Vladimir Kramnik predicted the Norwegian "will play against any opponent."

Meanwhile, another legend of the game, Garry Kasparov, was also sceptical, saying: "Let's check if Magnus is serious. That's exactly what he meant, 'Now I am tired, I want something new.' Let's see what happens."

Kasparov added: "Winning the second Candidates, especially in the style that we saw in Madrid, definitely makes Nepo a very formidable opponent for Magnus, no matter what Magnus thinks about it. If Magnus plays, and I can hardly believe he will not, we’ll probably see a tougher match."

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, who told chess24 in May that several cities expressed interest in hosting the match, will be hoping to have this issue tied up before the FIDE General Assembly meets in Chennai and the FIDE Presidential election is held on August 7.

Until then, the chess world is on tenterhooks.

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