Carlsen’s 117th time as world number one as Van Foreest & Esipenko join 2700 club

The Tata Steel Chess Masters was among the few events that counted towards the March 2021 FIDE Rating List that was published on Monday. Ratings winners Jorden van Foreest (+30 to 2701) and Andrey Esipenko (+24 to 2701) are new entries in the 2700 club, while Magnus Carlsen’s disappointing 6th place led to him dropping 15 points to 2847, narrowing the gap to Fabiano Caruana, who is now 27 points behind at 2820. The World Champion may in any case celebrate 10 consecutive years at number one if he remains on top until July!

The chess world is still heavily affected by the pandemic and the Tata Steel Chess Masters was the only major tournament rated on FIDE’s rating list for March. Thankfully there is light at the end of the tunnel with the FIDE Candidates Tournament resuming in April, Altibox Norway Chess returning with a global event in May, the traditional Tepe Sigeman & Co Chess tournament with Anatoly Karpov in April and Grand Chess Tour events scheduled for the summer.

Carlsen’s 117th time as world number one

FIDE’s March 2021 Rating List sees Magnus Carlsen (2847) on top for the 117th time since his first appearance as number one in January 2010. He’s been no. 1 for a total of 128 months as at first the lists weren’t published monthly, while since July 2011 the 30-year-old has been the world’s highest-rated chess player on 111 consecutive lists, meaning he can celebrate an incredible 10-year anniversary if he remains number 1 until July.

However, the Norwegian had a disappointing start to 2021 with a shocking 6th place in Wijk aan Zee after nine draws and a loss to Russian youngster Andrey Esipenko. The result, in what he considers his favourite event, was his worst since finishing 13th as a 16-year old in 2007. The performance led to him dropping 15 rating points to 2847 on the March list, 35 points behind the ‘world record’ of 2882 he reached in 2014 and tied in 2019.

In a recent interview with Norwegian News Agency NTB, Carlsen said he has lacked confidence and that his opponents have been able to find and exploit his weaknesses. However, the Norwegian thinks there is plenty of time to get back into shape before he defends his World Championship title for the 4th time in a match scheduled for Dubai between November 24th and December 16th.

If I win the World Championship I will be satisfied with 2021 regardless. But I have to be realistic that even though I want to win everything in 2021, I may not succeed. I should rather try to focus on getting lots of positive experience before the World Championship match.

Carlsen’s 2018 challenger Fabiano Caruana dropped three points with his 4th place finish in Wijk aan Zee, but remains the world number two for the 35th time in a row and has narrowed the gap slightly. For Maxime Vachier-Lagrave the event was a disaster as he finished 13th, dropping 26 rating points and falling from 5th to 14th on the world rankings. 

The French co-leader of the Candidates reflected on the result in a post on his own website.

Concerning the overall analysis of my tournament, I’m not going to beat around the bush, it was clearly a failure all way long. Obviously, there were a lot of things that didn’t work. Having said that, I prefer to take this as a no-cost warning and frankly, I don’t expect to show this terrible level of play in the Candidates. In any case, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen.

The second biggest rating loser in Wijk aan Zee was Alexander Donchenko, who came in as a last-minute replacement when Daniil Dubov was forced to cancel his participation. The German youngster dropped 19 points to 2659 after finishing last in the event, falling 26 places on the world rankings to 83rd in the process.

Another significant drop was for Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who is now out of the top 20 after losing 14 points to move to 2729. The Tata Steel Chess Masters was a disappointment for Poland in general, as Duda’s countryman Radoslaw Wojtaszek fell out of the 2700 club, dropping 11 points to 2694.

The winners

The biggest gain on the list was for the sensational Tata Steel Chess winner Jorden van Foreest, who joined the 2700 club for the first time after gaining a massive 30 points. The 21-year-old youngster remained undefeated in 13 rounds, winning five games and scoring 8.5 points to become the first Dutch winner of Wijk aan Zee in 36 years.

Van Foreest is 36th on the world rankings with 2701, alongside the three years younger Andrey Esipenko, the other major ratings winner of Wijk aan Zee. The 18-year old Russian gained 24 points in the event after four wins, including a sensational one against none other than Carlsen.

Esipenko is second among the world’s best juniors, 58 points behind Alireza Firouzja (2759), another Wijk aan Zee ratings winner. The Iranian, who is expected to represent France in the future, gained 10 rating points and climbed to 13th on the overall world rankings after an impressive 5th place.

Last but not least, Anish Giri climbed to 7th place on the world rankings with 2776 after gaining 12 points in Wijk aan Zee. The Dutchman lost a thrilling playoff against countryman van Foreest, but proved he remains a serious contender to become Carlsen’s challenger if he can maintain the same level in Yekaterinburg.

While not counted for FIDE ratings, the next big tournament on the chess calendar is the fourth event on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour that takes place from March 13th to 21st. More details to come next week! 

Don’t forget to check out our 2021 Chess Calendar, which will be updated as soon as new events are scheduled.

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