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What Happens If Carlsen Quits the Championship Cycle

Magnus Carlsen, the World Chess Champion who just successfully defended his title for the 4th time, said that he might quit the world chess championship cycle altogether and not participate in the next Match. Apparently, it has become too boring.

Magnus Carlsen during the 2018 World Chess Championship in London. Photo: World Chess

Carlsen cited severe lack of motivation as a reason for considering leaving the cycle. According to the interview in the Unibet podcast, Carlsen sees Alireza Firouzja as the only opponent who would stimulate him to take part in the Championship Match.

Firouzja, the 18-year old prodigy and current number two in the world had risen meteorically over the last year and has some chances to face Carlsen in the next Championship Match. He is taking part in the Candidates Tournament, the World Chess Championship qualifier, but he will have fierce competition from experienced opponents and is not most likely to win.

In the meantime, the FIDE Chess Championship cycle, the sport’s most prized property, appears to be in jeopardy of becoming irrelevant: with the world’s strongest chess player out of the picture, the event will not determine the World Champion but turn into a formal affair and a series of ‘what ifs’ from the chess community and the media.

However, it will create a huge opening for the top chess players who now have very little chance to become the World Champion: after all, they might no longer need to beat Carlsen. Absence of Carlsen also might give rise to national efforts of such countries as Russia, the US, and China to obtain the Championship title — a proxy for national pride despite its somewhat dubious nature. FIDE, the sport’s governing body, might lose out on commercial sponsorship for the Match in the absence of the sport’s most recognized star, but will likely win from national patronage from countries that wish to give a home advantage to their leading chess players.

Magnus Carlsen, who managed to turn his career into a lucrative business empire that depends in part on him being the biggest chess star, will probably continue having an omnipresent influence on the sport of chess and at some point will create a strong competition to FIDE. Unlike Gary Kasparov, who tried to compete with FIDE by setting up a parallel organization, Carlsen is in the position to simply buy the most attractive FIDE assets, like the broadcasting rights for top events, while ensuring that his own events attract top players, elite sponsors, and media coverage — something he has learned to do well while being the World Chess Champion. Magnus Carlsen Inc has the money, business acumen, and opportunity to make decisions fast because it’s not constrained by political considerations and elections.

For a decade, chess has been a mass sport with only one star — it helped chess enormously but now becomes a liability, and having an empty pedestal, even for a short period of time, is an opportunity for the top players and sports organizations to step up. Now, when chess has grown into a multimillion business industry, it’s worth the effort.

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