Chess ‘traitor’ row erupts in Russia after Carlsen world title win
Prominent figures from Russian chess have reacted with shock to the news that one of their countrymen helped to prepare Magnus Carlsen for his world title match against Ian Nepomniachtchi.
Carlsen wrapped up a dominant defense of his crown by beating Nepomniachtchi in Game 11 of their best-of-14 series in Dubai on Friday.
That gave the Norwegian an unassailable 7.5-3.5 lead as he emerged victorious in a fifth world title match to cement his legacy as one of the greatest ever to play the game.
Nepomniachtchi – known as ‘Nepo’ – had held Carlsen to five draws to open their showdown before cracking in a marathon Game 6.
The Russian never fully recovered and made several big blunders on his way to defeat, including a reckless attack on Carlsen’s rook with his 23rd move on Friday, paving the way for his resignation.
While the result was on the cards, there was shock afterwards when an online clip revealed the team who had helped Carlsen prepare for his meeting with Nepomniachtchi.
Among them was Russia’s Daniil Dubov, the 2018 world rapid chess champion.
Now @MagnusCarlsen reveals his team! @PHChess "the adult in the room", @FressinetL "I wanted someone French & MVL & Bacrot were not available", @GMJanGustafsson "the go-to guy for medium & low-culture references", @jordenvforeest, "the new guy" & ideas man Dubov! #CarlsenNepopic.twitter.com/I45fFzLPn2— chess24.com (@chess24com) December 10, 2021
“It’s kind of important for [Carlsen] to actually like the guys,” Dubov, 25, says in the clip as Carlsen introduces his team.
“For instance, the Russian team it’s exactly the opposite. Normally they would bring all the biggest guns in, it doesn’t matter if they’re fighting or they are friends, or whatever. You just use all the power.
“Here it’s a European approach, mostly you care about the atmosphere and so on, and only then you need people to work well.
“Still, sometimes I feel like I’m responsible for the chess part. All these guys are nice guys, and I’m not a nice guy, but someone has to work. It’s a kind of a problem, otherwise I would never be in the team. I’m joking of course, in general I think [Carlsen] kind of likes us and tends to trust us.”
The news stunned some fans online, with one replying: “Dubov is a big surprise to me.”
There was disappointment among some in the Russian chess community that Dubov had aided a foreigner for such a vital showdown with one of their own.
“Oh, Danya, Danya… Why? How much for? Why could you not take a break for one match or commentate on it on any internet stream – brightly and talentedly!” wrote Russian grandmaster Sergey Shipov on his Telegram account.
“And now the seeds of discord have been sown in the Russian team. It’s turned into a classic situation of a ‘stranger among his own’. PS. I think that now Dubov won’t play for the Russian team. And that’s correct,” he added.
Russian chess star Sergey Karjakin, 31, was similarly dubious about Dubov’s actions.
“The idea wouldn’t even come to my head. I wouldn’t even consider it, just as I would not try to entice any of the Norwegians [to my team],” said Karjakin, whose own world title defeat against Carlsen was settled by rapid tiebreaks in New York in 2016.
“I would never do that in my life, but let it be on his conscience. Danya is a strong grandmaster, but I don’t understand his actions.
“It's hard to say how much this affected Carlsen's victory – he has a large team. But Dubov was on the team, he made a contribution – that's for sure.”
Former Russian Chess Federation president Ilya Levitov said he had struggled to digest the news.
“Yesterday evening it became known that Daniil Dubov helped Magnus. To be honest, first of all I didn’t believe it, but it turned out to be true,” Levitov wrote.
“I can’t get this idea into my head. Daniil loves to say how proud he is to represent Russia, that we are a great chess superpower and that we should always win.”
However, speaking to Championat, Dubov himself played down the row.
“The fact that someone might not like it isn’t news,” he said.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this. I take this relatively calmly.
“It’s not a problem for me. I don’t think [it’s a problem] for Ian either.
"I don’t know where the idea comes from that a Russian should not help a foreigner prepare for a title match with a Russian. Not from a great mind, perhaps."
“There are some imperial ambitions – everyone is against us, everyone is enemies. Especially if something doesn't work out for us.”
“In general, logically, you can look at all this differently. From the point of view of the Russian national team: one of the best Russian chess players, relatively young, worked with the best chess player in history – he gained experience that will help in his career.
“For example, after my previous collaboration with Magnus, I won the World Rapid Chess Championship. This is also how you can look at the situation. Or you can see it in the context of ‘your own and strangers’.”
Carlsen bagged 60% of the €2 million ($2.26 million) prize money for his victory and said he was “satisfied” with his performance.
“It’s hard to feel that great joy when the situation was so comfortable to begin with, but I’m happy with a very good performance overall,” said the 31-year-old.
“You can point to things you could have done differently in every game of course, but overall I’m happy with my play, very proud of my effort in the sixth game, and that sort of laid the foundation for everything.”
Nepomniachtchi, 31, rued a missed opportunity but said he would learn from the experience.
“These things which happened here, they have never happened to me at basically any events… In my career I lost quite some stupid games but not as many in such a [short] time,” said the Russian.