Ding Liren of China defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi in the 2023 World Chess Championship to become the World Chess Champion, to the displeasure of a vocal many. The reason for the unhappiness is that Ding is merely the third ranked chess player in the world behind Magnus Carlsen. Nepomniachtchi is the second ranked player.
Ding Liren and Nepomniachtchi finished up the most exciting chess championship in recent years with Ding Liren winning the fourth tie-break game. This after their fourteen round match ended with them tied at three victories each.
Carlsen decided not to defend the title he held for the last ten years and this is the crux of the issues against Ding, although anti-Chinese sentiment plays a role as well. What do I think about all this? Let me tell you.
Carlsen Refuses to Defend
Magnus Carlsen is one of those rare champions who truly dominates an individual sport. He is a Roger Federer or Tiger Woods like player. He won the World Chess Championship back in 2013 and defended it four times. He earned the title as the top-ranked player in the world in 2010 at the age of nineteen.
After ten years of holding the title, Carlsen decided not to defend it for a fifth time. He is widely considered the best chess player of all time.
The Championship Format
The world chess champion is decided in a peculiar way and I think that is the cause of much of the angst about Ding Liren. Unlike many team sports, there is not a championship tournament every year. Unlike many individual sports, the champion is not determined by a point rating system at the end of the season.
In chess, the champion remains champion for two years and then defends the title against a challenger who wins a tournament called Candidates. Magnus decided not to defend so it was decided the first and second place finishers in the Candidates tournament would play for the championship.
Nepomniachtchi won Candidates with Ding Liren finishing second. In a normal year this would result in a match between Nepomniachtchi and Carlsen, a rematch from the event two years ago when Carlsen thoroughly dismantled the challenger winning three games and losing none.
There are many people who, quite vocally, proclaim Ding Liren is not a valid champion. That the real champion is still Magnus Carlsen.
Ding Liren is the Champion
Poppycock! Ding Liren is the World Chess Champion for the simple reason he won the title. The Boston Bruins recently completed the best regular season in the history of the NHL. They lost in the first round of the playoffs. No one is going to claim the Bruins are the real Stanley Cup Champions.
If Magnus chose to defend, it’s likely he would have won but we will never know. What doesn’t happen, doesn’t happen. Any speculation on what might have happened is just that, speculation. There is no way to know. What we do know is they played under the rules and Ding Liren won.
Is Magnus Carlsen the best chess player in the world? Yes. He’s the number one ranked player and he will remain so until some future date. Is he the World Chess Champion? Nope, not anymore. He chose not to defend. It’s really that simple.
Ding Liren is the champion and to the victor go the spoils.