Magnus… A magnum opus!

Published : Dec 14, 2013 00:00 IST



Magnus Carlsen is already changing the way players look at chess. He eschews the obsession with opening moves which has dominated Grandmaster study in recent decades. He may also change the way the world at large looks at the game. Here is a World Champion who models for the clothing company G-Star Raw in his spare time, and plays and follows multiple other sports! By Ian Rogers.

That Magnus Carlsen would have an unusual influence on the chess world has been clear since 2010 when the Grand Slam Final was rescheduled to avoid a clash with the New York Fashion Week.

Not long afterwards Carlsen dropped out of the World Championship cycle, claiming that the world federation, FIDE, was fiddling too often with the format and dates and explaining his preferred qualifying system. The main feature of Carlsen’s preferred system, a Candidates tournament, was adopted for the next cycle.

Such are the perils of having a world number one who models in his spare time and refuses to have his life and career controlled by FIDE. (Carlsen also dropped out of the 2008-10 Grand Prix cycle when FIDE moved the events from cities in countries such as Switzerland and Qatar to venues not far from war zones in the Caucasus.)

Whether the chess world is ready for a Generation Y World Champion or not, Carlsen will be like no other of the 15 who have held the world title since 1886.

Carlsen has been world number one almost continuously for more than three years and has won so many tournaments that he is far ahead of the world number two, Levon Aronian, and has broken Garry Kasparov's rating record. He became the second youngest World Champion in history by beating the defending champion Anand without losing a game, using a brand of endurance chess rarely seen at top level.

Carlsen’s will-to-win is already legendary — comparable to the great Bobby Fischer — as shown by his attempt to win his final game against Anand when a draw was enough to take the world title. Even those who had criticised Carlsen’s style of play as dry were impressed; here was a player who did not need to launch attacks on his opponent’s king to exude aggression and determination.

Carlsen is already changing the way players look at the game. He eschews the obsession with opening moves which has dominated Grandmaster study in recent decades. “I just try to play 40 or 50 good moves,” explained Carlsen, “and challenge the opponent to do the same.” To play without error for up to six hours requires great concentration, an attribute Carlsen has in spades but which few can emulate.

However, Carlsen may also change the way the world at large looks at chess.

Here is a World Champion who models for the clothing company G-Star Raw in his spare time, plays and follows multiple other sports and answers questions in press conferences with terms such as “Yada, yada, yada.” (Summarising a boring draw, Carlsen said “I played the most solid line...yada yada yada...we went to the doping control.”)

While Anand was never a big celebrity outside India and the world of chess, his replacement seems to have become a media darling almost overnight. Carlsen featured on Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2013, Cosmopolitan’s Sexiest Men of 2013 and his title win was featured in the Huffington Post’s Style section! He has more than 200,000 Facebook ‘likes’ and 55,000 Twitter followers.

When Anand won his world title he spent the following day giving interviews to the journalists who had followed the match from day one. It was noticeable after his title win that Carlsen and his management gave priority to high profile media such as CNN and the The New York Times, neither of which was represented in Chennai. Even the Norwegian media were only granted a group interview and just one Indian newspaper, The Hindu, was given a one-on-one interview.

As a consequence of his management’s media strategy, Carlsen seems to be regularly fielding questions bearing no relation to his primary skill; questions ranging from whether he wants to be part of a dancing or reality show, to whether he has a girlfriend, would he require that his girlfriend be able to play chess and does he still have fellow G-Star Raw model Liv Tyler’s phone number? (The answers are no, no, no, no and no.) After his match win Carlsen optimistically said that, “I’ll be able to control some of it and steer clear of most of the nonsense,” but he has had no luck so far doing so.

With so many distractions and Hollywood knocking at his door — Carlsen has already declined a role in a Star Trek film — it might be thought likely that Carlsen, especially if he lacks a worthy challenger, will turn to other pursuits.

However, when asked if he would want to do something other than chess, Carlsen replied, “Ask me in 20 or 25 years’ time.”

Carlsen looks as if he wants to follow in Kasparov’s footsteps and dominate the chess world for decades, a position which will thrill chess fans and strike fear into the hearts of the younger players among the world’s top 20. (Carlsen’s future conqueror may not have been born yet.)

There is no doubt that Carlsen’s eyes light up when the questioning turns to chess. “I enjoyed the match (against Anand) much more than I had believed I would,” said Carlsen. “Chess is a fantastic game,” he added.

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