Dubai: The attention of the chess world will be rivetted to Hall 2 of the South Wing of Dubai Exhibition Centre, at the entrance of Expo 2020 Dubai, from Friday. Magnus Carlsen, arguably the greatest chess player of this generation, will be defending his Fide world crown for the fifth time against Russian Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi in the Fide World Championship match here for a period of three weeks till December 16.
A visit to the venue on Monday did not quite reveal the sense of the buzz - with the security personnel at the gate refusing a peek at the hall - saying ‘lot of work’ was in progress inside. All that could change from Wednesday (when the opening ceremony takes place while Round 1 is on Friday) as the sizeable chess playing fraternity of the UAE, along with writers of the game from all around the globe, would be converging there while the rest of the world will be watching the moves online.
The Carlsen–Nepomniachtchi showdown had been billed as one the marquee sporting events lined up as part of Expo 2020. Commenting on the relevance of the match being a part of Expo, Mohammed Al Ansaari, Vice President – Communications at Expo 2020 Dubai, had said: “Expo Dubai will be a global celebration of the very best of humankind, held in one of the world’s most welcoming and ambitious nations – what better place to host a thrilling showdown between the brightest minds in chess?”
Welcoming the idea of hosting the contest on the sidelines of Expo 2020, Carlsen told Gulf News in an interview earlier this month: ‘‘I think organizing the World Championship match in chess at the Expo 2020 is a very good idea. With hundreds of thousands of daily visitors to Expo 2020 and the relatively broad global coverage of the World Championship match digitally, I hope the execution of the match will bring out synergies for both Expo 2020 and for the chess world.’’
The sense of pride in Mohammed Abdul Ghani Alhallak, a Fide arbiter and Executive Director of Fujairah Chess & Culture Club, in the UAE hosting an event of this magnitude was palpable. ‘‘The UAE’s affinity for chess goes very deep as we have hosted several world class events in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Fujairah. Talking about the match, I will rate Carlsen as the sharpest mind in the game and think that he will be able to defend his title against Nepomniachtchi,’’ AlHallak said.
The organizers have announced a hefty two million euros prize fund, which will be split 60 percent for the winner and 40 percent for the runner-up. This is a substantial increase from the one million euros in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 World Chess Championships, but still a lower amount than the 2013 World Chess Championship where the players shared 2,65 million euros.
The 2013 Worlds, which saw Carlsen beating India’s iconic chess player Viswanathan Anand to claim the world title for the first time, holds the record for highest viewership in the history of chess. The Norwegian had subsequently defended his title in 2014, 2016 and 2018 editions.
The Carlsen – Nepomniachtchi 2021 match will have an extended format. Instead of the 12 games that were traditionally played in the past decade, this match will feature 14 games. In case the result is equal after Game 14, tie-breaks will follow.