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The Laaaaargesse of Chess in the Early Part of the 21st Century

  • March 2, 2024
  • 8 min read
The Laaaaargesse of Chess in the Early Part of the 21st Century

As we moved from the old into the New Year, chess globally figured prominently, not least with the evolved and enhanced engagement of the electronic world’s capabilities that emerged out of the pandemic and Brexit. Free chess through the Lichess platform and Chess. com’s vast global network, amongst others, is now part of everyday life and seems to have been there forever. Both provide services, allowing players to analyse their games with in-depth software programs giving invaluable advice and variations on set patterns, openings, and defences.

In fact, several years ago, I suggested that a chess column regularly published in the media, perhaps under a pseudonym, electronically and in hard copy in newspapers and magazines, could be solely by an AI software program, with no human presence or input. Perhaps this is already happening?

In celebration of the triumph of chess and its participants, Chess.com’s annual poll, involving over 16,000 voters, has been published, giving the names of the various award winners in its various categories. For example, to no one’s surprise, Magnus Carlsen was voted ‘The Player of the Year.’ Carlsen’s highly triumphant 2023 performance was measured against him surrendering his World Championship title, defying expectations that he would step down from world competition. He showed determination and gave wizardly performances in world tournaments against the top elite in chess, winning numerous titles, including some he had won on previous occasions and adding another world title not won before to his extensive cabinet of world triumphs.

Chess.com’s award announcements carried several explanatory introductory paragraphs exhorting the explosion of all things chess in 2023. For example, “2023 was the greatest year for chess yet. We’ve witnessed the biggest wave of new players picking up the game, received mass media attention, and met our new world champion.” Their statement continued in celebratory mode, “Chess was at one point the most popular free game on the iOS App Store and topped three Amazon bestsellers lists with IM Levy Rozman’s book!”

Rozman’s chess book, ‘The Gotham Chess 1.e4 Repertoire,’ also earned him ‘The Chessable Course of the Year’ award. Fabiano Caruana’s book, ‘Caruana’s Ruy Lopez: Dark Angel,’ secured second place, and ‘The Caro-Kahn: Simplified’ by Alex Banzea took third place.

In a moment of personal reminiscence, I recall playing the Caro-Kahn defence many times myself with success during the 1990s and 2010 decades. On one memorable occasion, I drew against Anatoly Karpov in an exhibition game at Simpson’s in the Strand, London. Despite knowing that this defence was one of Karpov’s favourites, I felt proud at holding the ex-World Champion to a draw.

Levy Rozman’s success in these awards continued, with a second award in the form of ‘The Creator of the Year,’ marking the third consecutive time he had been awarded the top prize in this category. Rozman is the person behind YouTube’s largest chess channel, and Chess.com has described him as “spearheading chess content creation and making it to Forbes’ under 30 list.” A third title was in his pocket with the award of ‘The Commentator of the Year Award.’ Chess.com, in explaining this award this year around, states, “Maybe it’s the way he (Rozman) understands the mind of chess fans like no other commentator, or perhaps it’s just the way he screams ‘The rooooook.’ Whatever it is, people love it, and that’s why they chose Levy as ‘The Commentator of the Year’ in 2023.” Hurrah, though, as in 2nd and 3rd places and runners-up were Daniel Naroditsky and our own David Howell, respectively! So, David just has to practice drawing out and extending his vowel sounds, and he may just be onto a winner next time around, “Kiiiiing,” “Queeeeeeen,” “Paaaaaaaaaawn,” and so on.

‘The Woman of the Year Award’ went to Vaishali Rameshbabu, the Indian player who has inspired many of that country’s female and male players to be proud of their country’s very impressive position in the league of World Countries with a wealth of great players from the young to the old, both male and female. 2023 was ‘a stellar year’ for Vaishali; she gained her 3rd GM norm in the Qatar Masters, was undefeated in the FIDE Women’s Grand Swiss, and gained ELO points in winning the IVEILlobregat Open, taking her over the 2500 ELO rating and securing the Grand Master title! This also qualified her for the 2024 Women’s World Candidate’s Tournament, allowing the winner of that tournament to challenge for the World Championship Crown. Ju Wenjun and Hou Yifan came 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in the Woman Player of the Year Awards.

The ‘ Game of the Year Award’ was between So and Carlsen, CCT Finals, and which So won. The presenters asked the question, “What does it take to win against the World’s number one player? Two sacrifices, a 95% accuracy score, and the name Wesley So!” The game had a “devastating sacrificial attack, seemingly out of nowhere, with the endgame analysis program unimpressed!” The 59 mover was designated a brilliant win by So. There were 13 nominations in this category and 19 nominations in ‘Creator of the Year Award.’ Eleven nominations for ‘Woman Player of the Year Award’ and 13 in ‘Player of the Year Award.’ ‘Move of the Year Award’ went to Carlsen vs. Nakamura, in the last game of the Speed Chess Championships, described as “one of the most thrilling SCC finals ever.”

‘Rising Star of the Year Award’ was Gukesh Dommaraju, who in September 2023 made his top rating of 2758, becoming the 8th strongest player in the world! In doing so, this was the first time in 37 years that any player in India had surpassed Anand as the top-rated player in India. Gukesh just a few months later went on to win the strongest classical tournament held on Indian soil, qualifying for the forthcoming 2024 Candidates tournament. This would mean that if he won the latter, he would become the youngest World Champion ever! Vincent Keymer and Denis Lazavik came second and third, respectively.

The ‘Chess Kid of the Year Award’ went to Tani Adewumi, Nigeria, who had already secured a FIDE Master’s title. Massive media attention followed him in playing against the tennis legend Roger Federer while winning a match against Harvard University students. He also contributes to his own foundation in playing tournaments.

The celebratory nature embedded in world chess through awards such as this creates a global jubilation that not only inspires but drives the quest for even higher performances that contribute to the chess world’s consciousness of endeavours shared through a common egalitarian process of values open to all!

The Challenge

Anastasia Bodnaruk emerged victorious in the FIDE Women’s World Rapid Championship held from December 26th to 30th, 2023, featuring a substantial $150,000 prize fund. This championship ran concurrently with The Open Rapid Championship, where renowned players such as Carlsen, Nepo, Duda, Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian, and Caruana competed, with Carlsen securing victory (as mentioned above). The venue for the FIDE WRC was The Silk Road Samarkand resort in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. In the Women’s World Championship (WWC), Humpy Koneru, the 2019 champion, was anticipated to secure a top three placement, if not claiming the overall victory. Despite putting up a formidable defence against some stellar performances by the world’s strongest female players, she fell short. Humpy staged an impressive comeback on the second day, specifically in rounds 9-15. However, her critical game against Gunina proved pivotal. Humpy missed a straightforward move, ultimately impacting her final pointtally. What was this crucial move that Humpy overlooked, carrying such weight in determining her overall score?

About Author

Barry Martin

Barry Martin as artist has his work in many collections including: the Tate, V&A Museum, City University, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds City Museum and many more. He is both a chess player and writer about chess. He has written books and articles about chess, and was the official artist for several World Championships including, Short v Kasparov and Kramnik v Kasparov.

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