Is a win for Magnus Carlsen a win for chess?

Is a win for Magnus Carlsen a win for chess?

Kasparov's assertion reflects view of wider chess world that Norwegian’s marketability will help sport.

It is a testimony to the enduring and quirky charm of the world championships that despite thoroughly dominating the field for the last two years,Magnus Carlsen’s ascendency will not be completely ratified unless he beats the defending champion Viswanathan Anand in the title bout this month. Carlsen must be desperate for that last piece of the greatness jigsaw to fall in place.

And so,it seems,is former world champion Garry Kasparov.

“A win for Carlsen will also be a win for the chess world…Magnus is a dynamic young man eager to promote the sport,to raise its profile along with his own,and who can inspire a new generation of chess kids (and chess sponsors!) around the world,”wrote Kasparov,in his WCC preview for Business Insider.

“I am rooting for a Carlsen victory because a new generation deserves a new champion.”


More accurately,perhaps,chess yearns for a marketable champion. Someone young,good looking,well-adjusted and quite obviously brilliant. Someone like Carlsen.

Carlsen’s long

wait for a number of reasons,FIDE,the world body,has struggled to find sponsors for its premier event. The world championship cycle,for one,has come under criticism for failing to consistently pit the two best players against each other. Carlsen himself has had to wait more than three years — he first became World No. 1 in January 2010 — to have a crack at the title.

Second,its format isn’t exactly designed for a mass audience. Furthermore,Kirzan Ilyumzhinov,FIDE’s president,doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean image.

Rumours linking him to the death of Russian journalist Larisa Yudina,who had accused the then president of the Republic of Kalmykia of corruption,refuse to go away.

For all these reasons,chess has clearly not been a popular choice for fans or investors.

It is into this breach that Carlsen has stepped. Can he revive chess’ flagging fortunes,from a marketing perspective?

Much has been made of how Carlsen,were he to win,would be the first champion from the west since Bobby Fischer. That in itself makes his face likelier to get splashed across international (read western) magazines. Peter Svidler,when asked if he was jealous of Carlsen’s marketing pull,remarked: “He’s exceptionally good,and so he gets extra opportunities. Somehow,I’m less marketable than Magnus. I’m somewhat less young,and somewhat more Soviet.”

Marketable persona

While it is true that being from that part of the world makes it easier to appeal to western corporations,Carlsen’s charm is founded on other things too. Foremost of these,according to Peter Doggers,founder and editor of the popular website,is Team Carlsen’s drive to create a marketable persona.

“Chess has been waiting for or searching for corporate sponsorship from big western companies for a very long time and has never really succeeded in doing this … In a way a western player would help this possible development. On the other hand it is hard to say Magnus is marketable because he is western. There are a lot of other features that make him interesting. The way he looks,he is considered a handsome guy. The story that he is a GM at a very young age,that makes the story attractive for sponsors,” says Doggers. “For Anand it is harder to get into the western press. Anand is a modest person and doesn’t really try himself try to get into the media. Carlsen’s team is trying to create an image … Somehow Vishy is more happy with the chess life and family and does not look for glamour,like his opponent.”

But with so much that is ineffective in the system,even Carlsen’s success,claims Doggers,will only help the sport so much.

“It will help of course (if Carlsen wins) … The news story will be picked up by mainstream media much more than if he doesn’t win. If Anand keeps the title … it will be fantastic for Vishy but the story is less attractive to people who don’t know anything about chess. But you could also say it (Carlsen’s win) won’t be enough to guarantee sponsorships … Personally Carlsen will have a lot of offers. But for tournaments in general and championships it is difficult to transform this one-person focus into the whole game. More needs to change to successfully develop the game itself,” he says.

Kasparov needs to win,too

“It would also help if Kasparov wins the presidential elections next year. Even if Carlsen wins,they (investors) will still have a problem with the current FIDE relationship…I don’t want to get political but Kasparov,among others,has said one of the main reasons (for the lack of western investors) has been the FIDE president … He (Ilyumzhinov) doesn’t really try and is using his own wallet to sponsor these events.”


In essence,chess needs a marketable world champion,an administrative body that is willing to reboot itself and deal on the straight with corporate houses and sponsors from the west. While Carlsen guarantees the first,the chess world looks to Kasparov,who will contest the next FIDE elections against Ilyumzhinov,to take things forward.