2018 is going to be a very big year in chess as Magnus Carlsen goes for a World Championship 4-peat
- The 2018 World Chess Championship will take place in London in November.
- Current World Champ Magnus Carlsen will take on a challenger to be decided in March in Berlin.
- Two American players have a shot at facing Carlsen.
In 2016, Norway's Magnus Carlsen defeated Russia's Sergey Karjakin in a tight match held in New York to claim his third World Chess Championship title.
Carlsen, 27, will be going for the four-peat in London this November. It will be the climax of a big 2018, with the race to take on Magnus beginning in March with the Candidates Tournament.
For American chess fans, there will once again be a chance to root for the first US World Champ since Bobby Fischer. Fabiano Carunana, two-years younger than Carlsen and now the second-ranked player in the world, narrowly missed winning the previous Candidates, while Wesley So, a year younger than Caruana, has come on strong in the past few years and is currently world number six, residing just out side the 2800-rated club, at 2792 (both Carlsen and Caruana are rated above 2800).
Carlsen's play since his WCC win in 2016 has been up-and-down. He came back on form mid-2017, but at the London Chess Classic in December he had a mediocre performance. Caruana, meanwhile, won that event, capping a recovery that pulled his world ranking back from a low of number five.
Both the Candidates and the World Chess Championship itself can be tough to handicap
Younger Carlsen challengers failed to overcome the Candidates challenge as Viswanathan Anand, a six-time WCC under the current incarnation of the title, took on Carlsen twice, losing both times.
The first bout, in 2013, saw Carlsen as the contender and Candidates winner and Anand as the champ, while the rematch found Anand as an unlikely Candidates victor; many had expected the Armenian Grandmaster Levon Aronian to rival Carlsen.
Karjakin was also an unexpected challenger in 2016, although he played Carlsen to standstill in their 12-game classic battle before the match went to extra innings and Carlsen triumphed. Karjakin is now outside the world's top ten, but as the 2016 challenger, he's automatically included in the Candidates field.
In 2018, a lot of chess-savvy folks will be keeping an eye on Ding Liren, a Chinese GM ranked nine in the world who is leading a charge of new players from his country. As a finalist in last year's Chess World Cup (he lost to Aronian, who will also be at the Candidates), Ding will China's first shot at a WCC, if he can win the Candidates in Berlin.
The WCC is never without controversy
A somewhat controversial wildcard at the Candidates is 42-year-old Vladimir Kramnik, the 2000 World Champ and the choice of the WCC's organizers. Kramnik is a top-ten player, ranked number seven and rated 2787. But both Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France and Hikaru Nakamura of the US are also in the top-ten, yet excluded from the Candidates due to how it's put together.
As far as the actual chess on display on 2018 goes, it could be interesting.
Screenshot via YouTube/St Louis Chess Club
The current lineup of candidates has spent plenty of time facing off against each other in the Carlsen era, lessening Carlsen's early dominance through sheer exposure. This could open doors for Ding or even Shahriyar Mammadyarov, a 32-year-old Azerbaijani GM who blasted back into the top ten in 2017 and is now the number-three ranked player - and the only other member of the 2800 club.
If I were a betting man, I'd say that Aronian and Caruana have the best shots at meeting Carlsen across the board in November in London. That's because both GMs have been close to winning the Candidates in the past, and that counts for more than just something. Caruana, in fact, told me in an interview last year that he's learned to pace himself better after essentially running out of gas in 2016.
Aronian is 35 and in the middle phase of his career, but he won Norway Chess in 2017 in convincing fashion, in the process capturing victories over Carlsen, Kramnik, and Karjakin at a tournament that was also packed with other Candidates contenders.
The coming year could be a breakout once for big-time chess. Carlsen has cemented himself as the champ to beat, but the third cycle of the Candidates process since he won his first WCC suggests a consistent cadre of young challengers could be primed to take him on for the next decade. His 2016 WCC was no walk in the park, either, so Magnus will need to play at a high level. I for one am pretty excited about what the year has in store.