The first new world chess champion in a decade will be crowned next year, as reigning champ Magnus Carlsen has no interest in defending his title for a sixth time. "Four championships to five—it didn't mean anything to me." Now, "I don't have any inclination to play, and I will simply not play the match," the Norwegian grandmaster, the top-ranked player in the world for more than 10 years, announced on the first episode of his Magnus Effect podcast, which aired Wednesday on International Chess Day. "I simply feel that I don't have a lot to gain," the 31-year-old said, adding he was "pretty comfortable" with the decision he'd thought about for "probably a year and a half almost—since long before the last match," per Chess.com.
Carlsen would've defended his title against Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi, winner of the 2022 Candidates Tournament, in a series of one-on-one matches in 2023. But with his withdrawal, Nepomniachtchi will now play China's Ding Liren, who finished second in the Candidates Tournament. It's not that Nepomniachtchi is an intimidating opponent for Carlsen, who Chess.com ranks as the second best player of all time. Indeed, Carlsen defeated the Russian in December to claim his fifth world title. But he'd previously spoken of preferring "an opponent of the new generation, in particular GM Alireza Firouzja," who's currently ranked No. 3 in the world behind Ding, per Chess.com.
There's more to the decision: "I enjoy playing tournaments a lot ... a lot more than I enjoy the world championship," said Carlsen, who's recently become interested in poker and played in the main event at the World Series of Poker last week, per the New York Times. "Only a handful of people in history can understand and assess the tremendous toll it takes playing five matches for the title," International Chess Federation President Arkady Dvorkovich said, per the Guardian. And though Carlsen will leave a void, "chess is now stronger than ever—in part thanks to Magnus." Carlsen, who'll continue playing competitively, said on his podcast he wouldn't rule out a return to the championship, "but I wouldn't particularly count on it, either." (Read more Magnus Carlsen stories.)