Where is chess going?

by Sagar Shah
1/2/2023 – Today, ChessBase India CEO Sagar Shah wants to touch on a subject that has been playing around on his mind, and to which he has no concrete answers. Is chess levitating towards shorter time formats. Are sponsors driving this trend? And will classical chess be abandoned? "I just want to put the question out there, maybe our readers can see why I feel a bit confused as a chess fan," Sagar says.

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It's true that chess derives a lot of its value from the fact that it has a rich history attached to it. Especially the World Champion's title - it started with Wilhelm Steinitz in 1886, went to Lasker, then Capablanca, Alekhine - we know the list and the title is currently in the hands of Magnus Carlsen. It's quite amazing to think that in the last 136 years there have been only 16 World Champions! This entire history combined with the fact that every single year the qualification for the match, and the match itself is carefully curated by FIDE, gives a lot of power to this title.

However, a few months ago, Magnus Carlsen announced that he will not defend his world title. This is not the first time that someone has done that. The last champion who refused to defend his world title was Bobby Fischer. The legendary American GM had reasons which were different from that of Magnus. What happened back then was that the world soon forgot about Fischer, and Anatoly Karpov took over from 1975. Ten years later we had the beast from Baku come up: Garry Kasparov, and everything seemed to be in order. The strongest players in the world were fighting for the highest title.

What differentiates this period of Fischer from the period of Carlsen is that while Fischer boycotted his title, he also didn't play any chess. But Carlsen is not going to retire. He is keen on continuing to play! He just doesn't want to play the World Championship Match in its current format. And why does he not want to do that? The main reason is the format. The classical format of chess is getting too tedious at the highest level. Months and months are spent preparing for these matches, looking for smallest of nuances in the opening. All of this is becoming a bit too much for Magnus at the age of 32, having done it for the last five World Championship matches.

With not defending his world title, speaking about Classical chess being phased out and playing in shorter format events, even Chess960, the strongest player on the planet is making a serious case for the shorter time format. And he is not just talking about it, he is actually leading by example. Carlsen is a brand that the world follows. People love him, and he has a lot of influence on not just the fans, but also on the younger generation and the trends in the sport. That being said, he is still participating in the Wijk Aan Zee Tata Steel Chess Championships 2023, which is classical in format.

Now my confusion here as a chess lover is: what is going to be the trend in the world of chess in the days to come? The world still talks about Magnus as the strongest player on the planet based on his classical rating. If we take his blitz rating, Carlsen is already ranked no. 4 in the world. If you are, say, Arjun Erigaisi, who has just received a 1.5 million dollars sponsorship deal from Quantbox, where do you want to put in your resources? Do you want to prepare for the Candidates, the World Championship Match and this entire cycle, which quite possibly might lose some of its significance in the years to come? Or do you want to focus a lot more on shorter formats?

It's general understanding that a sport levitates in the direction where fans enjoy watching it, and where there are fans there is money, as sponsors start to pour in. Where the money flows, is generally where the players tend to go. So with all of this understanding, it feels like things will naturally levitate towards shorter time formats. But then what about the tradition, the history, the real beauty of chess which lies in classical format. What will happen to that? How will FIDE go about handling this? On one hand they have a century old tradition and history to take care of, and on the other there are chess fans, sponsors and even the strongest player on the planet wanting them to change!

What is your take on this entire thing? What do you think will triumph at the end of the day? Will classical chess be phased out? Or will World Champion's title (classical format) keeps it value? Do let me know your thoughts!

Sagar Shah


Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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