Last year, Anish Giri wrote a book titled, “After Magnus: Who can detrone the World Chess Champion?” In this slender book, he gave profiles of 10 players whom he thought could possibly unseat Magnus Carlsen. There was one omission… not himself of course, but Sergey Karjakin! Perhaps many overlooked the Ukrainian transplant and had Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura as top choices for the match in November.
While Karjakin’s play in the Candidates Tournament was not the most solid, he played well when it counted. His last round win over Caruana was one for the ages. An exciting Richter Rauzer Sicilian ending in a mating attack for white. Karjakin’s triumph gives him a shot at the world championships and perhaps the first opportunity for a player of the Russian flag to win the title since Vladimir Kramnik in 2000. Kramnik would hold the unofficial title until the 2007 unification tournament, with Viswanathan Anand winning. Of course everyone is aware that Karjakin is Ukrainian, but switched federations back in 2009 and became a Russian citizen.
What will Karjakin’s prospects be in the match? Many are not expecting him to make it much of a match. His play was a bit unstable in the Candidates and he was dismantled by Anand. However, he will be at full strength and have the weight of the Russian empire behind him to bring the crown back.
Sergey Karjakin receiving the baton from Viswanathan Anand.
There have already been predictions made and Carlsen is an overwhelming favorite. It will perhaps be closer than many imagine. In addition, the question has become the issue of marketing the match to Madison Avenue. The marketing angle from this match will be more challenging without either Caruana or Nakamura, but AGON will have to work hard to make it happen. While Carlsen had become a media darling, Karjakin will have to work on his charismatic appeal to attract his share of the media attention.
Karjakin has had a good run with wins in the 2015 World Cup and the 2016 Candidates tournament. Despite being the youngest Grandmaster in history (12 years, 7 months), he has been under the radar and not often mentioned as a challenger to Carlsen. It is with some intrigue that Giri did not choose Karjakin, but chose Caruana, Anand, Nakamura, Wesley So, Wei Yi, Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi, Alexander Grischuk, Maxime Vachie-Lagrave, Richard Rapport. All of these players will be watching … and they will be taking note.
2016 World Championship Challenger, Sergey Karjakin
Photos by Amrita Mokal.