Desert showdown in Dubai: “Lazy genius” wants to steal the World Cup crown from Carlsen

Desert showdown in Dubai
“Lazy genius” wants to steal the World Cup crown from Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen versus Jan Nepomnjaschtschi: The great fight for the world championship crown in chess begins on Friday. The preparation also takes the opponents to Germany. One to BVB, the other to Bayern Munich. Experts await one of the most spectacular World Cup fights in history.

For this occasion Magnus Carlsen even interrupted his sacred preparation. The world chess champion posed proudly for the cameras with his Norwegian compatriot and soccer star Erling Haaland, and the trip to Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion served as a pleasant distraction before the championships in Dubai. From Friday, Carlsen will defend the World Cup crown against the challenger Jan Nepomnjaschtschi, who completed part of his preparation at Bayern Munich – the duel promises to be spectacular. The “lazy genius” wants to oust Carlsen from the throne.

When farmers, horses and towers are sent into battle at the tournament, which is endowed with two million euros, the rivalry between the two opponents flourishes again. Even in their childhood, Carlsen and Nepomnjaschtschi fought epic chess battles – with the better outcome for the 31-year-old Russian. One win, four defeats, six draws: The record against the fifth in the world rankings is Carlsen’s worst against a top player. It was only two years ago that the now 30-year-old achieved his first success in Zagreb over Nepomnyashchi, who had prevailed at the candidates’ tournament in Yekaterinburg in April. “He’s one of those people who can outplay me,” said Carlsen appreciatively at the time.

“The one who doesn’t remember”

Knowing that he personally gave his challenger deep insights into his game. Before Carlsen crowned himself world champion for the first time eight years ago against Viswanathan Anand from India, Nepomnyashchi was one of his seconds between 2011 and 2013. Together they worked on new positions and moves, and the relationship is still friendly today. In Dubai, however, the relationship is temporarily put on hold. Up to 14 games with a classic cooling-off period could be completed – two more than has been the case since 2006.

Nepomnyashchi, “who doesn’t remember,” challenges Carlsen.

(Photo: imago images / ITAR-TASS)

In the event of a tie, four rapid tiebreaks would follow, in which Carlsen had easily prevailed in the last two World Cup matches against the Russian Sergej Karjakin (2016) and the American Fabiano Caruana (2018). The fast variant is one of Carlsen’s great strengths. In the last regular game against Caruana, he even gave up a better position to force the tie-break after the twelfth draw in the twelfth game. But Nepomnyashchi, whose surname translates as “he who doesn’t remember”, also combines very quickly.

The Russian has prepared at FC Bayern Munich. In the basketball department. It was particularly about fitness and endurance, which are essential for such a long duel. In the end, Nepomnyashchi was given a jersey with his name, 16 letters, and the number 90 for the year he was born. “I am pleasantly shocked by the hospitality and sympathy of all those who welcomed me here,” he said as he was leaving.

Father falls from the roof

Despite Carlsen’s astonishing dominance, many experts are expecting one of the most spectacular World Cup duels of recent years. “Either the competition will be decided very tightly or it will end in a draw”, said Ullrich Krause, President of the German Chess Federation (DSB): “In rapid chess there should be a decision. I would say that the chances are 60/40 for Carlsen stand.” However, the month-long preparation of the title holder was severely disrupted on the home stretch. Father Henrik Carlsen fell from the roof at home a few days ago and injured his ankle in the process.

The most important team member of the permanent winner will still support his son on site. As usual, he did not reveal who was at Carlsen’s side next to his noble helper. Nepomnjaschtschi, who learned to play chess at the age of four and is affectionately called a “lazy genius” by Krause, kept a low profile. Krause assumes that “there aren’t many. Maybe two or three players. Because the topic of seconds is one of the best-kept secrets in the world of chess”.

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