To forcefully negotiate a change of format in the World Cup, Magnus Carlsen must confirm that he is far above everyone. That could be his stimulus, which the champion always needs to motivate himself, in the 84th edition of the tournament in Wijk aan Zee (a small Dutch municipality in the North Sea), sponsored by the multinational Tata to compensate for the pollution produced by its steel mill. It will be a league between fourteen from this Saturday with a balanced list of promising, strong players and stars.
A month ago, after renewing the title in Dubai, Carlsen announced that he will only defend the title in February 2023 if the winner of the Candidates Tournament (June 15 to July 7 in Madrid) is Alireza Firouzja, amazing 2nd in the world at 18 years old, the only one who motivates him. The Franco-Iranian will not play this year in Wijk aan Zee because the embers of an incident that occurred last year are still burning, when Firouzja was upset by the noise on stage (produced by the quick tiebreaker that crowned the Dutchman Jorden Van Foreest as the surprising winner of the tournament) while he spoiled a sung victory against the Polish Radoslaw Wojtaszek, which would have put him among the top ten in the world at 17 years old. The organizers assure that Firouzja was warned of this in advance, and predict that the new chess star will return from 2023.
Everything indicates that this drastic stance by the Scandinavian is a way of pressuring the International Federation (FIDE) to heed his request – seconded by many and rejected by many – to speed up the pace of the game so that the number of ties decreases and increases the emotion. The stronger the champion appears, the more sensitive FIDE will be to his pressures. And that mobile can have a specific objective as a great stimulus: to approach in 2022 the barrier of 2,900 points on the international list, a feat that no one has achieved, comparable to exceeding nine meters in the long jump. That lofty bar requires Carlsen to handily win every tournament he plays, or a little less. Achieving it next to the icy beaches of Wijk aan Zee full of seagulls will not be easy despite other important absences (the Chinese Liren Ding, the Russian Ian Niepómniashi and the Americans Levón Aronian and Wesley So. Because, in addition to the aforementioned Van Foreest, who will try to prove that his feat in 2021 was no accident, the Norwegian will have at least seven rivals who will demand a very high performance: the American Fabiano Caruana, the Dutch Anish Giri, the Azerbaijani Shajriyar Mamediárov, the Hungarian Richard Rapport, the Polish Jan Duda and the Russians Sergei Kariakin and Andrei Yesipenko, the 19-year-old who made him concede his only defeat in 2021 and will be his first rival this Saturday, in the opening round.
The payroll is completed with another American, Sam Shankland, a Swede, Nick Grandelius and two Indians, Santosh Vidit and Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, 16, who is emerging as one of the most promising young wonders in the world. There will also be a B tournament, as always, but not the traditional festival of other competitions, where more than a thousand chess players gather each year, because the Netherlands today comes out of a long confinement and the restrictive measures are maintained. This time there will be no crowds demanding Carlsen's autographs and photos. But that is not what usually motivates the champion.
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