Sport

Chess: Magnus Carlsen’s recent failures should be just a blip on his record

Magnus Carlsen has now gone six tournaments in a row without a first prize, his longest such sequence since he won the world crown in 2013. However, his current setback (maybe “humiliation” was a bit strong) looks just a blip in comparison with his several impressive winning sequences in the past decade.

Carlsen is virtually assured of a place in the Meltwater Champions Tour finals, which will be staged across the board in San Francisco in September, two months before the 30-year-old Norwegian starts the defence of his world crown at a 14-game match in Dubai.

In 2018-19 the Norwegian won eight events in a row at the World Blitz, Tata Wijk, Grenke, Shamkir, Abidjan, Lindores Abbey. Stavanger and Zagreb. Excluding speed tournaments, he had winning runs of five, six and seven. Negatively, his previous longest run of first place misses, which still included three seconds, was in 2017 at Tata Wijk, Grenke, Stavanger, the Sinquefield Cup and a World Cup

Carlsen may have temporarily lost some motivation after winning the previous Tour in a dramatic shoot-out Armageddon game with his then great rival Hikaru Nakamura. At Stavanger, his world record run of 125 unbeaten games ended tamely with his loss to Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland.

Only Tata Wijk of his current losing sequence has been over-the-board. He has won four 16-player all-play-alls before being eliminated during the ensuing knockout stage. The most recent was last weekend’s Magnus Carlsen invitational, where Anish Giri defeated Ian Nepomnichtchi in the final.

For Giri, 26, world No 7 and Dutch No 1, his surge in form at Tata Wijk followed by the Invitational, came at a timely moment, just a month before the pandemic delayed Candidates resumes in Ekaterinburg. Giri’s overall position is not great, a point behind the leaders, with four Blacks in the final seven games, and two of those to major rivals. His advantage as the player in form is that there is as yet no clear favourite. Although the round eight pairing of Fabiano Caruana against Nepomniachtchi may establish one.

Meanwhile, Carlsen’s company, Play Magnus Group, now with a market listing in Oslo, continues to expand. One of its recent documents explains its policy: relative to traditional sports, chess is drastically under-commercialised, with a partner market for chess of approximately $10m compared with $500m or more elsewhere.This represents an opportunity for chess, as it is now widely considered as an esport and attractive to the new generation, but it also drives interest to match some of the largest traditional sports. The most watched chess event of 2020, the Carlsen Tour final, had an audience of 194,000 at its peak. That is still nothing compared with the bizarre match played in Indonesia on Monday, which had over a million concurrent viewers.

Play Magnus Group has recently acquired the leading chess magazine New In Chess and the chess publisher Everyman, and has signed a long-term deal with the popular streamer and author GM Simon Williams.

Next up is the Julius Baer Challengers Tour, named after a Swiss private bank, starting on 8 April, fronted by former world champions Vlad Kramnik and Judith Polgar, and giving the best young talents a chance to qualify for the main Tour. No names are released yet, but it seems unlikely that any British junior will be included.

This weekend’s online action includes the European Club Cup, in which 4NCL Guildford, the long-running British champions, are seeded No 4 and fielding virtually the England national team of Michael Adams, David Howell, Luke McShane,and Gawain Jones. Games start at 1.30pm on Saturday and Sunday, when Guildford will be expected to progress to the later stages scheduled for next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.