Sports, Chess

Candidates winner Karjakin to challenge world champion Carlsen

World champion Magnus Carlsen will defend his title against Sergey Karjakin in New York in November.
World champion Magnus Carlsen will defend his title against Sergey Karjakin in New York in November. REUTERS/Babu

Sergey Karjakin defeated Fabiano Caruana in the final round of the 2016 Candidates' Tournament and thus became the man to challenge ruling world champion Magnus Carlsen in November in New York City. Eight of the world's top players took part in the tournament that was played in fourteen rounds over eighteen days from March 10-28.


More than a hundred spectators were present at the Central Telegraph, the historic building on Tverskaya Street in the centre of Moscow where the tournament took place. Online, hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide logged in to follow the latest matches live. 

Apart from winner Sergey Karjakin (Russia) and runner-up Fabiano Curuana (US/Italy), top seed players Anish Giri (world no. 4, Netherlands), Hikaru Nakamura (no. 6, Japan), Levon Aronian (no. 7, Armenia), Veselin Topalov (no. 8, Bulgaria), Viswanathan Anand (no. 12, India) and Peter Svidler (no. 16, Russia) took part.

Carauna resignes after 42. Rd8+
Carauna resignes after 42. Rd8+

For Karjakin, who was the youngest player ever to get the Grand Master title at age 12, the victory meant a new high point in his career.

The final score after 14 rounds was Karjakin on 8.5, Caruana and Anand on 7.5; Giri, Nakamura, Aronian and Svidler on 7 and Topalov a distant last on 4.5 points.

After the tournament, former world champion Vishy Anand, who drew against Peter Svidler indicated that he was now ready to pass the baton to the next generation, and his fellow former world champion Gary Kasparov agreed, tweeting that "Anand was valiant, but it's a changing of the guard. Champion Carlsen & challenger Karjakin both born in 1990, year of my fifth Karpov match!"

"It was a very close tournament" says Hans Böhm, a renowned Dutch chess commentator who correctly predicted the winner before the tournament was over.

“In the last round, seven of the eight competitors had only 1 point difference between them. Only [ex world champion] Veselin Topalov was trailing the whole field by a big margin. The other seven all had a chance to win, so it was a very, very close competition,” he says.

Dutch chess commentator Hans Böhm talking while the last round was being played

Karjakin will now play against the world’s top number one Magnus Carslen, who with 2851 has the highest ELO rating ever achieved by a chess player.

But the match, to be held in New York, is not likely to attract as much attention as the most notorious chess battle of the last century, when chess had become a platform where the cold war was fought and the Soviet Russian champion Boris Spassky was humiliatingly beaten by the American chess legend Robert Fisher in Reykjavik in 1972.

In the decades after that it remained popular, but popularity started to slip from the attention of the general public, and things didn't get better after a rift between top chess players and the FIDE which led to the creation of a rival chess body, Gary Kasparov's Professional C Association. This split is now healed, but the popularity of the game has withered away.

"We had the attack of the computer,” says Böhm. “And when [former world champion Gary] Kasparov lost to the computer Deep Blue in 1997, it an enormous blow for chess as a sport in the sports programs.

"People thought: chess is killed by the computer. That is not true, but this is came to be part of public opinion. And so the sport of chess vanished in regular sport programming,” he says.

"The chess world itself has no problem with that. We have our tournaments, and they are covered on the internet. We can see the moves live, we can communicate with each other all over the world live during tournaments, we have contact with each other. We can see the players, we can see what the computer predicts during the game. But in general, the sport of chess has vanished.”

A miracle may be needed to regain the attention of the big public, says Böhm, who points out that “extreme changes” may be the miracle cure. “If we had a female world champion, or a very young child,” things may change.

He says that top-grandmasters become younger and younger, massive talent is coming out of China with currently the youngest grandmaster, Wei Yi, who occupies at only 13 years old the 33d position in the FIDE Top 100 with an ELO rating of 2714, the youngest ever grandmaster with a rating over 2600.

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