Russian underdog Ian Nepomniachtchi has spoken ahead of his World Championship Chess showdown against reigning king Magnus Carlsen, and will put their friendship aside for the clash with a $2 million prize fund up for grabs.
Speaking at a press conference to promote the event in Dubai on Wednesday, Nepomniachtchi remarked: “Once you sit at the board, you have no friends”, when probed on his relationship with the Norwegian.
Firing back, though, was Carlsen when reminded of what his rival had to say about him in a recent interview.
Nepomniachitchi quipped that he didn’t think the 30-year-old would be burning as hard as usual for their much-anticipated meeting with it being their fifth.
“That’s the first time I heard about it and really makes me fired up. So thank you very much,” Carlsen responded, while laughing.
More than just the prize money, set to be split 60-40, is at stake in the spectacle held at the Dubai Exhibition Centre from November 26 until December 14.
Becoming world number 1 aged 19 and recently celebrating a decade in the lofty ranking, Carlsen defeated Vishy Anand to be crowned world champion in 2013 and is defending his title for a third time.
In successfully doing so against Nepomniachtchi, Carlsen can possibly pip Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer in the greatest of all time conversation.
As for Nepo, as he is often called, a win would revive Russian chess after Soviet dominance in the 20th century.
Journalist: "Ian gave an interview recently saying that he didn't think your fire may be burning as hard for this match because it's your fifth one. What's your reaction?" Carlsen: "That's the first time I hear about it and really makes me fired up. So thank you very much." pic.twitter.com/UlVrB5y2Ce
— Olimpiu G. Urcan (@olimpiuurcan) November 24, 2021
Magnus Carlsen highest rated player for 10 years now! 🔥🔥🔥
This was the World top 10 on May 2011, last list before the reign of Magnus. pic.twitter.com/K4wc6VpbwD
— agadmator (@agadmator) July 1, 2021
— International Chess Federation (@FIDE_chess) November 24, 2021
Though they are only meeting now in the world championship match, the pair have been rivals since they competed in under-12 competitions.
Nepo fared well and got the best of Carlsen at the time, but the Norwegian eventually overtook him as the Russian earned a reputation for being “gifted but erratic”.
The latter’s only big wins were at the Russian and European championships in 2010.
Over the past couple of years, though, die-hard Spartak Moscow fan Nepo, who helped announce the Russian Premier League outfit’s new manager Rui Vitoria back in May, cracked the top 10 in 2019 with a hard-working and more consistent approach to finally live up to his potential.
He enters this showdown in the top five, which is also a first for him, and qualified by finishing in second place in the 2019 FIDE Grand Prix and topping the 2020 Candidates in Yekaterinburg.
I’ll just leave this here pic.twitter.com/T05f2vNnqJ
— Yan Nepomniachtchi (@lachesisq) February 26, 2021
Games between the two men will be played with “classical” time control giving them each three to four hours to complete all their moves.
There are 14 games in total, which is new for 2021 as before there were only 12.
This has been done with the hope that the players will take early risks, though the matches often go down to the wire.
The first contestant to reach 7.5 points will be declared the winner of the $2 million prize money, but if the match is a 7-7 tie, a playoff will be set where the purse split is reduced to 55-45.
In the playoff, increasingly fast games will be played to produce an overall winner.
Turning 31 while the match is in play, Carlsen, who recently met compatriot Erling Haaland at a Borussia Dortmund game, is a 1-4 favorite with the bookies.
Asked if he thought that his previous experience would be his biggest advantage against Carlsen, he cockily answered: “No. My biggest advantage is that I am better at chess”.
On Friday from 16.30 onwards, we’ll see how true this proves.