Right now,back in Norway,it is light for close to 20 hours a day, said Henrik Carlsen later in the evening. So it must not have been unfamiliar light that his son,Magnus Carlsen,was trying to blink away,upon looking up as he stepped into the atrium of a womens college in the city.
It was not the shards of Chennais noon sun that Carlsen was trying to keep from disorienting him,but a sight that later prompted a Norwegian journalist to ask the 22-year old: What do 2000 screaming girls do to a chess player? The World No.1,his father sitting a few seats away,summoned an impressive poker face and said he was humbled by the welcome.
Carlsens reaction to the question perhaps bore the same in-between relationship to truth as the claim (later,revealed to have originated from the student representative of the college) that there were indeed 2000 women clinging on to the balustrades of the successive tiers of the gallery,cheering Carlsens name. A report on a Norwegian website gushed over the Beatles-esque reception.
To remain unimpressed that burning afternoon was to have waited a good hour for the entrance having previously witnessed the emcee trying to orchestrate bigger and more fearsome yells (the roar never coalesced into a word,let alone a name) and growing increasingly desperate,and the several false-alarms (something that sounded like a Yay! went up each time a car pulled up at the gates,first disgorging the Norwegian journalists,then the manager,then the father and so on) or to be possessed of a deeply cynical streak.
a hit with the crowds
The success of an event depends greatly on its ability to destroy memories of the effort,anxiety and discomfort that lead up to it. And by that count,Carlsens visit,and his first public appearance in India,was a hit. By the evening,Carlsen had convinced the audience (now more comfortably seated in an air-conditioned auditorium which could surely not have held more than 300) that Anand was an opponent he respected.
He toned down his status as the favourite for the final he had rated his chances as 100 per cent in a previous interview; this was sheepishly dismissed as a bit of an exaggeration. If I am in good shape and well-prepared,I have good chances to win, he now said. Then,as if surprised at what he had said,Carlsen came out strong again. There is no sense going into a big match without supreme confidence. He took Anands side,delivering a put down to Vladimir Kramnik,who in a recent interview had said that the Indian seemed to be scared of Carlsen (the Russian had also said Anand had realistic chances in the final in the same interview). Despite his serious reputation,Kramnik is a bit of loose cannon, Carlsen joked.
He even managed to lose more games in the span of a couple of hours than he has in two years past. In the simultaneous display that was arranged for the evening,Carlsen won ten games,drew six and lost four. I am sure he played his best. He just doesnt like losing, Henrik said later,but Carlsen was all grace. I cant remember the last time I lost and drew so many games in a simultaneous display, he said. To the opponents who repeated moves in better positions (for the draw),please dont be so modest the next time.
On Monday,Carlsen took on a selection of children between seven and 17 years of age,all at the same time,who were medal winners at the Asian level or above. The kids tactically outplayed a jet-lagged Norwegian, Carlsen said later.
Among the journalists,there was some speculation if Carlsen would be so accommodating as to chorus puratchithalaivi (in honour of the chief minister whose funding made hosting the World Championships in Chennai possible) along with the officials of the All India Chess Federation. But if the evening ended without the Norwegian attempting any Tamil,it was to the disappointment of very few of the plenty that had turned up.