Russian grandmaster aims to dethrone chess king Carlsen
Oct 26, 2016, 11:12 PM
Moscow (AFP) – Sitting next to an ornate chess board in his home outside Moscow, 26-year-old Russian grandmaster Sergei Karyakin lowers his gaze as he ponders how to beat reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen.
“He has to prove that he’s better than me,” Karyakin told AFP.
“If he tries too hard, I can beat him on the counterattack. That’s my plan.”
Next month Karyakin will have his stab at dethroning Carlsen, 25, in New York as he takes on the Norwegian phenomenon in a 600,000-euro ($668,000) match some are hyping as a clash between East and West that echoes the Cold War.
The showdown, the youngest ever by cumulative age, has drawn parallels with the 1972 world championship match between American grandmaster Bobby Fischer and Soviet star Boris Spassky as it comes during another surge in tensions: this time over Ukraine and Syria.
“We want to bring back the chess fever of the Fischer-Spassky era,” Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the Russian president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), told reporters in Moscow.
“Back then it was the USSR versus the US, and now it’s the European Union and the US and their sanctions against Russia.”
– From Ukraine to Russia –
For Karyakin the geopolitics surrounding the match could have a special dimension.
Born on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, he grew up playing for Ukraine until he moved to Moscow seven years ago and took Russian citizenship.
But despite supporting Moscow’s takeover of his home region from Ukraine in 2014, he dismisses any comparisons with the Spassky-Fischer clash and insists its all just a matter of sporting pride.
“I don’t see the same kind of rivalry,” said Karyakin, who shied from discussing politics further.
“But of course we all want to show that our chess school is stronger.”
Ranked ninth in the world, Karyakin qualified for the world championship in March by upsetting third-ranked Fabiano Caruana of the United States at the Candidates’ Tournament in Moscow.
The youngest grandmaster in history at the age of 12 years and seven months, Karyakin was a stronger player than Carlsen as a child but now admits that he is the clear underdog against an opponent he says has “practically no weaknesses”.
Carlsen has lost only two of 27 games against Karyakin since late 2007.
The pair have known each other for a while — sparring together over the board — and Karyakin jokes they enjoy “diplomatic relations” and sometimes talk by Skype.
And while Carlsen has enjoyed the backing from some major names in the West including Microsoft, Karyakin’s path has been a little more circuitous.
“He had strong support,” Karyakin said of his opponent.
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