November 22, 2013

Youthful world champ might just give chess sex appeal

Fans hope that Norway’s Magnus Carlsen can maneuver the cerebral game into the mainstream.

The Associated Press

NEW DELHI – The world of chess has a new king, and it’s a 22-year-old who is as much at home posing for fashion shoots as he is pushing pawns.

click image to enlarge

Norway’s Magnus Carlsen answers a question during a news conference after winning the match against India’s Viswanathan Anand during the Chess World Championship match in Chennai, India, on Friday.

The Associated Press

Magnus Carlsen of Norway won the chess world championship Friday, becoming the first Western player since Bobby Fischer to hold the title.

Carlsen, a former child prodigy who has already been on a list of the world’s sexiest men and has moonlighted as a model, defeated defending champion Viswanathan Anand of India in a title match that was the game’s most highly anticipated in decades.

A draw in Game 10 gave Carlsen the necessary 6 1/2 points to clinch the win, having won three of the previous games with no losses.

The victory fulfilled the lofty expectations that have been placed on Carlsen since he became a grandmaster at 13 – the second-youngest in history at the time.

What remains to be seen is whether the Norwegian – who has been referred to as the “Justin Bieber of chess” – can fulfill an even bigger hope among fans: to bring the cerebral game back into the mainstream.

“I really hope that this can have some positive effect for chess, both in Norway and worldwide,” Carlsen said after clinching the title. “The match was shown on television and I know a lot of people who don’t play chess found it very interesting to follow. And that’s absolutely wonderful.”

Since the days of Fischer’s title match against Boris Spassky during the height of the Cold War in 1972, chess has lost much of its appeal to a general audience – especially in the era of video games.

Carlsen’s good looks and youthful personality make him the game’s best opportunity by far to reverse that trend. He has already done some modeling for a major clothing brand – together with actress Liv Tyler – and was named one of the sexiest men of 2013 by Cosmopolitan magazine in Britain.

Carlsen becomes the youngest world champion since Garry Kasparov, who was also 22 when he won the title in 1985. Kasparov trained Carlsen for most of 2009, and has long been touting the Norwegian as the future of chess.

“He continues to shatter the highest expectations with his skill and tenacity,” Kasparov said on Twitter after the match ended.

The match in Chennai, India, which began Nov. 9, has been shown live on TV in both Norway and India, with millions more watching online.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg called Carlsen on Skype to congratulate him on the victory and thank him for “a fantastic experience.”

“You’ve brought an incredible amount of young people to chess in the last few weeks,” Solberg said. “But that also means you’ll have an incredible amount of competitors from now on, because everyone wants to play chess.”

In India, organizers said up to 100 million people a day watched the games on TV and online – and the official website for the match estimated that another 100 million unique viewers around the world had tuned in at some point.

Since Fischer refused to defend his title against Anatoly Karpov and retired from the game, the chess world has been dominated by the former Soviet bloc, although Anand became the first Asian world champion in 2007.

The Indian, who at 43 is nearly twice Carlsen’s age, failed to seriously test the challenger, making several big mistakes that led to his three losses.

“It’s clear he dominated,” Anand said. “My mistakes didn’t happen by themselves, clearly he provoked them, and all credit to him.”

With the title, Carlsen gets about $800,000 in prize money, while Anand receives about $540,000.

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