Norway's Magnus Carlsen Is New Chess World Champion

Nov 22, 2013
Originally published on August 11, 2014 10:53 am

In Norway, it's "Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, all of the great days" rolled into one: That's because 22-year-old Magnus Carlsen has beaten the defending champion, India's Viswanathan Anand, to be crowned chess world champion.

The world No. 1's victory Friday over Anand, the world No. 8 and an Indian fan favorite, came after 10 games in Chennai, India. Carlsen won three and drew seven, and earned the highest rating of all time with the 6.5-3.5 win.

"The match was shown on television, and I know that a lot of people who don't play have followed it and that's absolutely wonderful," Carlsen said after the win. "I really hope that this could have positive effect on chess both in Norway and worldwide."

It's certainly had an effect in Norway. That "Christmas Eve" quote at the top was from Joran Jansson, president of the Norwegian Chess Federation. He was speaking to NPR's Melissa Block earlier this week about what a Carlsen victory would mean.

Jansson told Melissa that one-fifth of all Norwegians watched the games being played in the Indian city, which is more viewers than skating and skiing, which are national sports.

Update at 5:45 p.m. Celebrating Carlsen's Win

As sportswriter Mads Burheim of the newspaper Dagbladet tells NPR's Melissa Block, Carlsen's victory touched off a spirited celebration, though he says it's too cold for the party to spill out into the streets.

"Well, there should be but it's like 20 degrees now so no dancing the street," he says, "but I think everybody's dancing at home."

The new world champion celebrated his win by being tossed into a pool — still wearing a coat and dress shirt. Photos of that celebration were posted on a Russian chess site, as well as Carlsen's Twitter feed.

Burheim also tells Melissa that Norway's lone chess store has been busy.

"It's in a small town outside of Oslo — they are sold out of almost every board," he says.

Carlsen became a grandmaster — that's the highest title in chess — when he was 13. At that same age, he drew with Garry Kasparov, regarded by many as the greatest player ever. But as this BBC profile notes:

"[I]f we want to characterize Carlsen's chess style, we should turn to another sporting analogy.

"At his peak, Roger Federer was the complete tennis player. He had an astounding forehand and backhand, he could serve, volley and smash.

"Carlsen is the complete chess player. He is brilliant at strategy as well as tactics: he has mastery of the opening, the middle game, the endgame."

So how popular in Carlsen? "You can't open a newspaper without seeing his face. You can't turn on the television without seeing something from Magnus. He's everywhere now," Jansson told Melissa.

As Reuters reports, Carlsen's been called the Justin Beiber of chess and his "boyish good looks have earned him lucrative sponsorships, a modeling contract and coverage on tabloid front pages showing him poolside."

And the BBC adds:

"He has already done a fair amount of modelling — some for a Dutch clothing company, whose brand manager Cherbanker Ray described Carlsen as looking like a 'cross between a boxer and a '50s gangster.'"

If you want to know more about Carlsen, The New Yorker profiled him two years ago. (There's a paywall.)

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They are celebrating in Norway tonight. Native son Magnus Carlsen has won the chess world championship. He's just 22-years-old and, as we heard on the program earlier this week, he has become a huge celebrity, even a sex symbol back home.

In Chennai, India, where the championship was played, Carlsen's team celebrated his victory by throwing him into a swimming pool. Carlsen promptly tweeted a picture. He's in the pool, soaking wet, his fingers raised in a number one salute. He dethroned the reigning champion, Viswanathan Anand of India, with three wins and seven draws, forcing Anand into making several key mistakes.

MAGNUS CARLSEN: People crack under pressure, even in world championships.

BLOCK: Chief sportswriter Mads Burheim with the newspaper Dagbladet joins me now from Oslo and Mr. Burheim, are Norwegians dancing in the streets with this win?

MADS BURHEIM: Well, there should be but it's like 20 degrees out now, so there's no dancing in the streets, per se, but I think everybody's dancing at home maybe.

BLOCK: Too cold for dancing outside, but the celebration is still going on. This is a huge, huge deal for Norway, right?

BURHEIM: Yeah, absolutely. Everybody's been following Carlsen's matches for two weeks and the interest has been extraordinary, I have to say. The traffic on our website has been unprecedented and it's been a little bit of a surprise for us as well.

BLOCK: Why is that?

BURHEIM: Chess has never been a big sport here in Norway. Of course, when Carlsen rose to fame, we started paying attention and when these world championships became reality, we started covering it more seriously. And, but still, it's considered a board game for many. And when it got the numbers and the ratings and the viewership on TV that it has gotten, it was amazing to see.

BLOCK: So after he won today, Magnus Carlsen said, I really hope this can have some positive effect for chess, both in Norway and worldwide. I know a lot of people who don't play chess found it very interesting to follow. And it sounds like that the popularity of the game has really soared in Norway, with sales of games and chess apps also.

BURHEIM: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. What we can measure, which is the traffic on the websites and maybe - I heard that the one chess store we have in Norway, it's in a small town outside of Oslo, they are sold out of almost every board and much of the other merchandise. So I think the chess federation are looking to capitalize in the next months, recruiting new talents. I think that's the thing they're focused on.

BLOCK: Well, what do you think happens when Magnus Carlsen comes home?

BURHEIM: Well, he's landing in Oslo on Sunday, I see, and he's obviously going to get a big reception at the airport, which is common for Norwegian sports heroes when they come home. So there will be a lot of fans there, his family, the ones who were not in Chennai will be there. And after that, I think he will probably cover most news sites and TV outlets for the weeks to come.

BLOCK: I was trying to figure out whether he would have a parade back home.

BURHEIM: I don't think so.

BLOCK: Not the Norwegian thing to do.

BURHEIM: No. There were a few parades. I think the last one we had were an impromptu on when we beat Brazil in the soccer world championships 20 years ago. And chess is not at that level yet, but maybe with Magnus, it will happen someday.

BLOCK: Well, a day of big national pride there in Norway. Mr. Burheim, thanks so much for talking with us.

BURHEIM: Oh, thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Mads Burheim is chief sportswriter with the newspaper Dagladet in Oslo. We were talking about the victory today by Magnus Carlsen who is now the world chess champion. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.