One night in Dubai

Not going anywhere for a while.

Magnus Carlsen has defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi at the World Chess Championship, held this year in Dubai. This is Carlsen’s fifth championship and gives him some claim to be the greatest chess player of all time.

I followed the match intermittently, mostly through recaps. I didn’t have the patience, or the understanding, to watch any of the games live. The sixth game, which was the turning point in this contest, was the longest in the history of the WCC, clocking in at nearly 8 hours (136 moves). A great game, but hard to follow for the casual fan.

To my inexpert eye the early games were kind of interesting. They were all draws, and indeed Game 3 was rated the most accurate game ever played, as judged by the computer engines. Of course it was a draw. At the highest levels chess is sort of like a staring match. At one of the early press conferences Nepomniachtchi remarked that the only way to have decisions was if someone made a mistake. In the later games he would prove himself correct by making a number of bad ones. After Game 6 he really didn’t seem that interested any more. So not a great event, and one that just seemed kind of sad at the end.

Chess played online has enjoyed an explosion of popularity in the last couple of years, with many of the top players and Internet personalities becoming stars. But there’s also a trend toward faster formats like Rapid and Blitz that will likely continue, while classical chess will remain more of a prestige event. What I do like about all of this is the fact that even though computers are better at chess than humans now, we still want to watch humans compete.

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