Where will the World Championship match take place?

by André Schulz
1/14/2023 – According to the calendar put forth by the International Chess Federation (FIDE), the World Championship match between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren is set to begin on April 7. However, FIDE has yet to announce a host or a location for the event. The pandemic, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and the withdrawal of reigning champion Magnus Carlsen have caused many complications for the organization.| Photo: FIDE

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Time trouble

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the FIDE calendar into disarray, particularly regarding the World Championships. The match that was set to take place in the fall of 2020, following the 2018 match between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, was disrupted by the pandemic. The 2020 Candidates Tournament, which determined the challenger, was halted and only resumed in 2021. The World Championship match between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Carlsen took place only in late 2021, so FIDE is now trying to catch up and get back on track with the original schedule.

Furthermore, additional difficulties arose. With Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the country has been shunned from the international community and is now under sanctions, which means international sporting events cannot take place in Russia for the time being. Chess has always had a special, and even political, significance in Russia. Over the decades, many high-level chess events have been held in the country. And when no one else was willing to host an expensive tournament, the Russian Chess Federation would step in with the support of state-owned companies or government-connected oligarchs, as was the case in 2014 when FIDE could not find a host for Carlsen’s second World Championship match against Anand. The match was eventually held in Sochi, and Vladimir Putin himself was present at the awards ceremony. The last two FIDE presidents, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and now Arkady Dvorkovich, are Russian and had close ties to the inner circle of the Russian government and were able to secure funding for chess tournaments.

With Russia’s attack on Ukraine, all of that is now history and unlikely to return. According to the decision of the International Olympic Committee, Russian sports federations are no longer allowed to host international sporting events. Russian teams are excluded, and in most individual competitions, Russian athletes are also excluded. In chess, however, they are allowed to participate under the FIDE flag.

The winner of the upcoming match will be the 17th world chess champion, but it will be difficult for either of them to justify his having the title while there is another player rated around 50 Elo points higher in the world ranking. This situation is reminiscent of the time when FIDE, in the 1990s and 2000s, determined their world champions through knockout tournaments, while simultaneously a “classical world champion” was also crowned.

Ding Liren

Ding Liren | Photo: Stev Bonhage / FIDE

Admittedly, Carlsen has other features that make him a “better” world champion as well. As a Norwegian, he can be well marketed in Western countries. Carlsen has charisma, is well-known worldwide, and for the most part knows how to deal with the media. Ian Nepomnichtchi and Ding Liren are nice people, but they cannot compete in this regard.

Now who would like to host this somewhat underwhelming World Championship match and raise the required prize fund of two million dollars in addition to the organizational costs? Russia would have been a natural location, but it is now out of the question.

Does Nepomniachtchi want to play the whole match in China? And is there enough money in the Asian country for such a chess match in times of ongoing pandemics and economic recession? In India, perhaps money and an organizer could be found given the great enthusiasm for chess, but the relationship between India and China is not great.

Nepomniachtchi is an honest person and spoke out critically soon after his home country attacked Ukraine. But despite that, it is unlikely that a World Championship match with a Russian player would be accepted in a Western country at the moment.

The International Chess Federation (FIDE) had set April 7-30 as the dates for the match. FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich had revealed on various occasions that there was a promising bid from Mexico. The organizers in Mexico wanted to incorporate the match into a large festival with many additional events. However, it seems that the plans could not be realized.

According to David Llada, FIDE’s Communications Officer, there are other options on the American continent. A FIDE delegation is currently on-site and is conducting talks, although the exact place was not revealed.

The desired match date is quickly approaching. FIDE and the potential local organizer are in deep time trouble.

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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