It has been 1,090 days since the last World Chess Championship. In the meantime, the ancient game has seen a modern resurgence, a swell in popularity driven by technology and a global pandemic, a dramatic prologue to the game’s marquee event.
Beginning this week, at long last, Magnus Carlsen of Norway will once again defend his game’s highest title, this time against challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia. The championship match, originally scheduled for last December, will take place in Dubai amid that city’s so-called Expo 2020, a sort of modern-day world’s fair. Game 1 is scheduled for Friday, and the best-of-14-game contest could stretch over the next three weeks.
Carlsen, 30, has reigned as world champion since 2013. Nepomniachtchi, 31, earned the right to challenge him for the title by winning the Candidates Tournament in April — an event which, thanks to COVID-19 disruptions, spanned 13 months. Carlsen has been ranked No. 1 in the world for a decade; Nepomniachtchi (“Nepo” for short) is ranked No. 5.
|2013||🇮🇳 Viswanathan Anand||3||0||7|
|2014||🇮🇳 Viswanathan Anand||3||1||7|
|2016*||🇷🇺 Sergey Karjakin||1||1||10|
|2018*||🇺🇸 Fabiano Caruana||0||0||12|
|2021||🇷🇺 Ian Nepomniatchchi||?||?||?|
These two grandmasters have had intertwining careers in elite chess, facing each other both in top youth events and later as top pros. For most of that time, Carlsen has outstripped Nepomniachtchi, boasting a higher ranking, more tournament victories and broader worldwide renown. But Nepomniachtchi has made tremendous strides recently on the back of his daring play, a fact noted by his colleagues and reflected in the data; Nepomniachtchi has vaulted from world No. 43 to championship contender in a few short years.