by an unrated amateur
In some ways it was the first new year in chess in more than twelve years; in others it repeated a time from 30 years ago. When Magnus Carlsen chose not to play this year’s title match, he caused a schism. It was not as drastic as Garry Kasparov’s, but it still had its effects. Kasparov, having suffered the corruptions of FIDE, formed his own organizations and defended his world championship outside the long-time chess association. FIDE continued crowning their own champions, but history has decided that the overall, undisputed world champion of those years remained Kasparov. He was the number one rated player of the time. He was the linear world champion, the 13th in history, and remained so until Vladimir Kramnik beat him in a match to become the 14th. Viswanathan Anand beat Kramnik to become the 15th, and in turn Carlsen beat Anand to become the 16th. Of course all world titles are valuable and have meaning, it’s just that THE world title is the linear title passed down from Steinitz to today.
In 2022 Carlsen said he would not play this year’s title match, and has since said that he won’t play any more title matches, unless the ruling body (an oligarch and former Putin puppet) changes the format by adjusting the time controls and so on. Thus we reach the schism. Carlsen remains the number one player in the world by a good margin. No one has beaten him in a title match. The linear title can only be passed on by retirement or a loss, and Carlsen is still active. Thus he remains the reigning 16th world champion, and this is the thing, even if he doesn’t want to be it.
There are consequences for the chess world, made up of, by rating, the strongest players to ever move the pieces. One is Carlsen has diminished the FIDE title. For now it is for second best. One good consequence is the added excitement that everyone in the top ten or twenty has a chance to win it. Whereas when the 16th world champion played, he was virtually guaranteed.
There has been some hot air, with a few respected commentators and all the monied interests claiming the 2023 winner is now the 17th. If any FIDE title winners, under Carlsen’s ongoing reign, want to be considered the 17th, then let them prove it over the board. Y’know, like Kramnik did.
But if Carlsen won’t play, how can we prove it? they might say. And I admit this puts them in an unfair spot. As unfair as a generational, perhaps century-level talent being on top for the last twelve years.
A few more biased comments on genius players.
Ding Liren won this year’s FIDE world title over Ian Nepomniachtchi. It was difficult to watch for a Nepo fan, as Nepo was leading the match. All he had to was force draws in the last three games, but alas it was not to be. Liren won on demand and won the tie-breaks to take the title. Liren then did poorly in his next tournament, ducked Carlsen in another, and took a page out of Bobby Fischer’s book (not the most ignominious of Fischer’s pages) by disappearing for the rest of the year.
If Kasparov was blessed to have a great rival to push him, Carlsen has been perhaps cursed not to have one, such has been his strength. If anyone came close, it is Fabiano Caruana, and it is he who is the clear player of the year in 2023, winning three major tournaments and taking second and third in two others. He looks like the favorite going into next year’s Candidates, the winner of which will play for the FIDE title.
Hikaru Nakamura is enjoying a mid-career resurgence. He won two strong tournaments in 2023 and took second in another. The wealthiest man in chess has made it back to the Candidates and is pursuing a title match that he does not care about.
Carlsen showed his prime ain’t over yet by winning the World Cup. It was his first career win in a knock-out tournament. By accomplishing this he has, in his words, completed chess. The win also put him in the Candidates, which he is unlikely to play. His spot will then go to the unknown, to me, Nijat Abasov.
Carlsen beat Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa in that World Cup final. Pragg and Vidit Gujrathi are the first of post-Anand generation to think their way into the Candidates. Gujrathi took first place in the Grand Swiss in a heartening performance.
The well admired Levon Aronian showed he still has some magic by taking first in one tournament and by leading his team to a come-from-behind victory in another. Shout out to Aronian and Giri for that dad life.
Anish Giri started the year with a win in Wijk aan Zee, his home event. He is one of the players treading in the unclaimed Candidate spot-waters.
Wesley So has had a good year, taking second in two tourneys and third in another. He is still praying for a Candidates berth.
Cuba’s best since Capablanca, now playing for the US, Leinier Dominguez took second in one major tourney. He will be searching up one road and down the other for a December tournament that will get him in the Candidates.
So the 2024 Candidates will be very strong. It would be huge if the youthful Pragg got through. Nepo must be considered another favorite as he’s won it twice before. Who will win? Who can say, but one thing’s for sure, if it’s Caruana, go ahead and crown him FIDE champ for the simple reason that there’s no way on Earth he will lose three games in the match.
UPDATE: The final two players to make the Candidates are Alireza Firouzja and Gukesh Dommaraju. They should bring fire to the board in the tourney as both made our selection of Best Games of the Year. Also, Carlsen finished the year by winning his fifth world rapid title and his seventh world blitz.
1-Giri, 2-Abdusattorov, 3-Carlsen
Aronian, Gukesh, Nepomniachtchi
Grand Chess Tour 1
Caruana, Firouzja, So
Nakamura, Caruana, Gukesh
Carlsen, Praggnanandhaa, Caruana
Yakubboev, Abdusattorov, Narayanan
Gujrathi, Nakamura, Esipenko
Grand Chess Tour 5
Caruana, Dominguez, So
Player of the Year
And finally, the Brasilia Review’s Best Games of 2023. In chronological order:
Giri 1-0 Rapport in Wijk, round 13.
This game was even until move 35, when Rapport made a kingly mistake. Giri spotted it and hung his rook, but if you take it, it’s mate in 1. Black did not and struggled on for a few more moves before futility set in. This victory won the tournament for Giri.
Abdusattorov 1-0 Esipenko. WR, round 2.
This game tallied me bananas (RIP Belafonte). Esipenko launched his knight at Abdusattorov’s rook. White was like whatevs, you can have it, and took the Greek gift, sac’ing his bishop on h7. Then his queen was free to check on h5 and grab a second pawn in front of the black king. Next two moves got white’s knights surrounding the king, white’s rook still hanging. He could have taken black’s rook with the queen, but attacked it with a pawn because sha-lacka-lack. Black finally snatched that long-hanging rook. Black’s queen tried to get between white’s knights, but that allowed a check that dropped said queen. Now black had 3 minor pieces and a rook against white’s queen and rook. It was not enough. Black resigned.
Firouzja 0-1 Gukesh. Norway, round 1.
Firouzja aimed at a free pawn. Should he take it? Mais non! And then x-ray another pawn through Gukesh’s queen? Tant pis! White earned two pawns and a counter-attack that lost him Alsace-Lorraine. Black won an exchange and in two moves had his major pieces staring down white’s king. Black sac’d his rooks to leave the king defenseless. It was a rook and two minor pieces against black’s queen but it was done-zo. White resigned.
Abdusattorov 0-1 Firouzja. Norway, round 3.
Firouzja was down a pawn but had the initiative. With a rook and khanate horseman he attacked Abdusattorov’s king. White had to sac his queen to the leninist cooperative to hold onto the dream. This left him with rook and knight against black’s queen. White was unable to make these two form a democracy and black’s bully piece took charge for life. White resigned.
If you’re looking for excellent writing with your current events, click over to these.
When I Grow Older – A Gaza Poem by Ramzy Baroud
An Anniversary the West Would Rather Forget by M.K. Bhadrakumar
Here’s your uptempo playlist for this issue. Jazz and post punk, for energy and motivation.
Re: Noam Chomsky, I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to be the founder of modern linguistics, discover universal grammar, and then have people use its fallacies like ad hominem against you your whole life. Man, we’re lucky to have someone on the level of Bertrand Russell doing peace work for so long. Thank you Professor Chomsky.
— Professor Chomsky has “words of caution” about the uprising in Iran. (source)
— NASA releases photos from the new space telescope. (source)
— Further reading: