World chess champion Magnus Carlsen, the first Norwegian to win the crown and one of the strongest players in history, announced Wednesday he will not defend his title again in an upcoming match.
Mr. Carlsen, who has been champion since 2013 and has successfully defended the title in four matches since then, has long hinted he may step down, citing in part a lack of motivation.
He most recently defeated challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia decisively in a title match in Abu Dhabi in the fall of 2021.
The Norwegian, only 31, would be the first player to relinquish the world title without being beaten at the board since American Bobby Fischer, who was stripped of his title in 1975 by international chess officials in a dispute over the terms of his first title defense match against Soviet star Anatoly Karpov.
“I simply feel that I don’t have a lot to gain,” Mr. Carlsen said on a podcast for his sponsor Unibet, an online sports gaming company. “I don’t particularly like it, and although I’m sure a match would be interesting for historical reasons and all of that, I don’t have any inclination to play and I will simply not play the match.”
Mr. Carlsen was slated for a rematch with Mr. Nepomniachtchi after the Russian won the recent Candidates tournament in Madrid. According to the rules in place, the Russian will now play second-place finisher Grandmaster Ding Liren of China for the vacated title.
While several female Chinese stars have won the women’s world championship, Mr. Ding would be China’s first open chess world champion ever should he win.
Mr. Carlsen, who has held the world’s highest official chess ranking since 2011 and is also a multiple world champion at faster “rapid” chess time controls, said on the podcast he would continue to compete and was not stepping away from the game. He is set to anchor the Norwegian team at the biennial Chess Olympiad world team event in Chennai, India later this month.
“Just so there’s no ambiguity here, I’m not retiring from chess, I’m still going to be an active player,” he said Wednesday.
“I’ve got a lot of chess coming up. I enjoy playing tournaments a lot. Obviously, I enjoy them a lot more than I enjoy the world championship, and frankly, I don’t see myself stopping as a chess player any time soon.”
The president of FIDE, the international chess federation which organizes the championship cycle, expressed disappointment and understanding at Mr. Carlsen’s decision. FIDE chief Arkady Dvorkovich, in a statement from Lausanne, Switzerland, said officials tried to negotiate with the champion on a way to hold the match but were unsuccessful.
“His decision not to defend his title is undoubtedly a disappointment for the fans, and bad news for the spectacle,” Mr. Dvorkovich said. “It leaves a big void. But chess is now stronger than ever — in part, thanks to Magnus — and the World Championship Match, one of the longest and most respected traditions in the world of sports, will go on.”