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Carlsen Defends Title in New Era

With chess booming, champion says he's more worried about another rising star
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 27, 2021 2:15 PM CST
With Chess Booming, Carlsen Faces Challenger
Magnus Carlsen, left, and Ian Nepomniachtchi play Saturday at the Dubai Expo in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.   (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

(Newser) – Magnus Carlsen is accustomed to defending his world chess title—he's been the champion since 2013—but the atmosphere is a little different this time. Chess is at the top of its game, after booming during the pandemic shutdown, and more people are paying attention to it, Axios reports. Stay-at-home orders helped get more people playing, as did the Netflix series The Queen's Gambit. When the virus hit, for example, Chess.com counted about 30 million members. That shot up to 57 million by February 2021 and almost 76 million now. Under that even brighter spotlight than usual, the World Chess Championship opened Friday.

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Carlsen, of Norway, is taking on Ian Nepomniachtchi, of Russia, in Dubai, with a prize pot of $2.24 million. The champ always plays quickly but opened especially fast in the first of their 14 games, possibly anticipating the celebrated speed of the challenger, per FiveThirtyEight. The opener ended in a draw, as did Saturday's game. The aggressive approach of Nepomniachtchi could throw Carlsen off his game, some analysts said. "He's not afraid of Magnus," one grandmaster said. "I don't think he's afraid of anybody." Game 3 starts at 7:30am EST Sunday.

But Carlsen's place in chess seems unshakeable. Only Garry Kasparov has spent more weeks as the world's highest-rated player, per CNN. "I would say that Garry dominated for 20 years. And even if I were to win this championship, I would still have a way to go to reach his heights," Carlsen said. "And if I don't, that will not lose me any sleep." Besides, there's another up-and-coming player who could be more of a threat to Carlsen's dominance. Alireza Firouzja is now the world No. 2 and has given the champion trouble before. "He's the one to watch both for me and for others. And hopefully, that will motivate all of us," Carlsen said. (Read more chess stories.)

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