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General Feb 1, 2023 | 2:14 PMby Colin McGourty

Nepo and Ding swap places before match

Ian Nepomniachtchi is up to a career high world no. 2 on the February 2023 FIDE rating list after his World Championship opponent Ding Liren dropped 23 rating points to world no. 3. Tata Steel Masters winner Anish Giri climbed to world no. 5, while Nodirbek Abdusattorov is 2nd only to Alireza Firouzja among the world’s best juniors, climbing 21 points to world no. 18.

Ian Nepomniachtchi has overtaken Ding Liren two months before their match | photo: Lennart Ootes

Magnus Carlsen approaches 12 years unbroken as no. 1

On February 1st 2023, Magnus Carlsen topped the official FIDE rating list for a 134th time in a row — a sequence beginning in July 2011. His reign looks unlikely to end anytime soon, as he recovered from two losses in a row in Wijk aan Zee to win four games and limit the damage to seven rating points lost. He remains above 2850, now 59 points above 2nd place, while Ding Liren dropped out of the 2800 club.

Ding & Nepo swap places before match

Magnus Carlsen’s reign as classical World Champion will end soon, however, as Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren face off for the title in Astana, Kazakhstan this April. Ding had been the clear world no. 2, but a good start turned into a tournament to forget for the Chinese star.

That saw Ian Nepomniachtchi climb above Ding to a career high ranking of world no. 2.

Ian is an unusual player in terms of rating, since despite his immense talent being obvious in junior events he was a very late developer — the 32-year-old only entered the Top 10 for the first time four years ago, in February 2019. 

Chess fans are understandably disappointed about the undisputed world no. 1 and reigning champion not playing the next match, but in historical terms having the world no 2. and no. 3 in action is among the best match-ups we’ve seen in recent chess history.

YearChampionWorld rankChallengerWorld rank
2000Garry Kasparov1Vladimir Kramnik3
2004Vladimir Kramnik3Peter Leko5
2006Vladimir Kramnik4Veselin Topalov1
2008Vishy Anand5Vladimir Kramnik6
2010Vishy Anand4Veselin Topalov2
2012Vishy Anand4Boris Gelfand20
2013Vishy Anand8Magnus Carlsen1
2014Magnus Carlsen1Vishy Anand6
2016Magnus Carlsen1Sergey Karjakin9
2018Magnus Carlsen1Fabiano Caruana2
2021Magnus Carlsen1Ian Nepomniachtchi5

The only time the world nos. 1 and 2 on the rating list met was in 2018, when Fabiano Caruana was only three ratings points behind Magnus Carlsen and would have overtaken his opponent with a win in any of the 12 games.

Magnus Carlsen's win over Fabiano Caruana in Wijk aan Zee transformed the fortunes of both players | photo: Emilia Castelao

On the other end of the scale, in Moscow in 2012 we had world no. 4 Vishy Anand play against no. 20 Boris Gelfand, who won the 2009 World Cup and then the 2011 Candidates Matches. Four of the last 11 matches didn’t feature the world no. 1, though we have to look back before 2013, since Magnus has been the world no. 1 for the last five matches.

Nothing is set in stone before the match, however, since Ian Nepomniachtchi plays in a new supertournament, the WR Masters in Dusseldorf, starting on February 16.

As you can see, Anish Giri, who just won his first Tata Steel Masters, will be facing off against Nepomniachtchi, with the world no. 2 spot well in range for Anish.

Abdusattorov takes the lead among the juniors

The race among the new generation of talent has long been the most interesting thing to watch on the rating list in recent years, and Wijk aan Zee shook up the standings. Nodirbek Abdusattorov fell at the final hurdle, but the 18-year-old Uzbekistan star still scored a brilliant +3, picking up 21 points to move to 2734 and climb 12 places to world no. 18.

On the junior rating list he’s behind only Alireza Firouzja, who we’ve long since stopped thinking of as a junior. In fact we haven't been given much chance to think about Alireza at all as he's been so inactive recently — the earliest likely classical appearance for the Iranian-born French star may be the 1st event of the Grand Chess Tour in May (check out the 2023 Chess Calendar).

Nodirbek’s performance was even more impressive since the other juniors struggled in the Netherlands, with none of his fellow teenagers scoring even 50%. (Parham Maghsoodloo, who gained nine points and climbed to world no. 23, is already 22 years old.)

Can Nodirbek Abdusattorov break into the Top 10? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Tata Steel Chess

Praggnanandhaa still increased his rating, to 2690 (catching Vincent Keymer, who dropped six points), Gukesh limited the damage with a comeback (-7), while Arjun Erigaisi surprisingly suffered, losing five games, winning none, and dropping 21 rating points. The good news for the Indian star, however, is that he’s still in the 2700 club, on 2701 in 38th place.

Giri leads the FIDE circuit

There’s a new list to watch out for this year, with all major tournament results contributing points to a FIDE Circuit from which the winner at the end of the year will qualify for the next Candidates Tournament.

The formula for calculating the points is complex, but it’s heavily weighted based on the rating of participants, so that Anish Giri’s supertournament win earns far more points (27) than winning, for instance, the Armenian Championship (Samvel Ter-Sahakyan, 7.4), the Azerbaijan Championship (Vasif Durarbayli, 6.83) or the Rilton Cup (Pranesh M, 6.76).

One curiosity, however, is that finishing 4th in the Tata Steel Challengers with 7.5/13 (Amin Tabatabaei, 8) gave around double the points of finishing on 50% in the Masters (Levon Aronian and Richard Rapport, 4.05), though the latter result is much tougher to achieve. That’s one reason some have suggested a system based on rating performance instead of scores.

There’s a long way to go with the Circuit, however, with players' best five scores over 2023 ultimately counted.

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