It is the most anticipated world championship match since the Fischer-Spassky title clash in 1972. A new era has possibly dawned,where one of the greatest players in the history of chess,Viswanathan Anand,plays Magnus Carlsen.
In Norway,like in India,chess is in the shadow of more popular TV sports such as skiing and football. Despite his being recognised in the streets regularly,Carlsens fame hasnt led to an increase in the number of chess players.
When I first saw Carlsen as a nine-year-old in April 2000,I knew he was something special. It may sound like a cliché,but he was different. Not only because he looked around three to four years younger than his actual age,but because he had completely outplayed a strong friend of mine to reach a winning position.
He made a couple of mistakes and drew the game,but he had already made a huge impression on everyone.
Still,the fact that this shy little kid would become the worlds best chess player and a possible world chess champion was beyond all expectation. At that time,I attended Grandmaster Simen Agdesteins chess class at the Norwegian High School for Top Athletes.
Agdestein,with eight caps for the national soccer team and the only chess celebrity in the country at the time,was also impressed by Carlsen and decided to hire civil worker Torbjørn R Hansen – now a strong International Master – to have training sessions once a week with Carlsen. This produced instant results.
Being 19 at the time,I also took part in the tournament in Germany and ended up ahead of Carlsen on points. I had jokingly pointed this out to him,to which he replied,with a grin,asking me,who faced stronger opposition. Of course,his opponents were considerably stronger than mine.
Less than a year and a record 1,000 rating points later,Carlsen,10,grabbed attention again by becoming the youngest to take part in the Juniors Under-20 section of the Norwegian Championship.
The tournament wasnt a particular success for Carlsen,but keeping in mind that he mostly faced players eight to nine years older than him,he did well by finishing fifth. Besides,it must have given him a certain amount of satisfaction to finish the tournament by outplaying me in the last round.
Although we were around the same rating and had played a lot of blitz games in which I occasionally beat him,he was clearly stronger than me. He demonstrated that very well in the post-game analysis with a tremendous memory of key ideas in the opening.
Carlsen loved playing in Norway,especially at the mountain resort of Gausdal where he made his international debut. Hanging around with chess friends in a friendly atmosphere and having excellent skiing opportunities appealed to him just as much as to many other players taking part there.
Guess who he faced in the first round? Yes,yours truly. I got into a very good position with white and had two more pawns. Seeing him continuously shaking his head,I knew he was nervous. But I was to have time trouble because of which I started playing inaccurately and lost. I could see the relief on Carlsens face.
It is amusing to look back at some of the comments made by a very young Carlsen at the Gausdal tournament. Knowing hes about to play a world championship,it is quite interesting that as a 12-year-old he actually said: Why did I have to be born completely without any chess talent?
Eight years later,Carlsen had not only become the worlds number one rated chess player,but a mega star,a brand with TV appearances in several shows in the US and Europe as well as in Norway.
Earlier this year,he,like former world champion Garry Kasparov,made it to Time magazines Worlds 100 most influential people list. This week he announced his second contract with Dutch clothing brand G-Star Raw,currently his sixth sponsor. According to Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang,his estimated income may exceed $3.5 million in 2013.
Attention from the opposite sex is never a problem for a superstar. Carlsen recently said in an interview to The Guardian that he has only had brief relationships with girls as the world championship title is too important for him to focus on that.
There is no question that Carlsen is a genius. But among the people who know him,he is actually a remarkably normal guy who likes to spend time with a small group of chess-playing friends playing poker or competing at FIFA ’14 on the Playstation.
He has been involved in physical activity for a major part of his childhood. He was an active skier both in ski-jumping and cross-country before he became serious about his chess career. Even now he actively pursues sports like football and tennis at a high level. Last year,he even joined a local amateur football team so he could play more regularly while in Norway.
Earning millions has not made Carlsen take his feet off the ground. It was only this summer,at the age of 22,that he moved out of the basement of his parents home. Although he could surely afford to buy his own flat,he decided to rent one.
While Anand stands between Carlsen and the world champion title,Norwegian chess fans have pretty much taken it for granted that this will happen. But if he doesnt win it this time,he will do it the next time.
It is bound to happen. With this in mind,it is a good feeling to know that I once almost beat a future world champion.
TARJEI J SVENSEN
Tarjei J Svensen writes on chess for Norways leading online news portal SOL.No. A former player,Svensen first played Magnus Carlsen when he was nine-years-old