At the age of 22, Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen, is the no. 1 ranked chess player in the world. In February, Carlsen peaked with an Elo rating of 2872—the highest ever—as administered by the World Chess Federation (FIDE), the sport’s governing body. Second on the all-time list is Carlsen’s ex-coach, Russian Garry Kasparov, who became the youngest world champion at 22 in 1985 and held the title for fifteen years; Kasparov retired in 2005 and has since become an outspoken human rights activist, and one who has clashed often with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He remains very involved with chess, which at the moment means being very interested in Magnus Carlsen. “[He] conserves the mystique of chess at a time when every CPU-enhanced fan thinks the game is easy,” Kasparov says. “If he can rekindle the world’s fascination with the royal game, we will soon be living in the Carlsen Era.”
But a ranking in chess does not a world champion make. That title belongs to current world no. 8 Viswanathan “Vishy” Anand, 43, a five-time victor who has safeguarded his undisputed throne since 2007 (his first win came in 2000 but the title was split). And though it took a real stroke of luck, Carlsen has earned the right to stake his claim to outright chess sovereignty this November in India at the 2013 World Chess Championship versus Anand.
There’s something special about this one, even by world championship standards. For one, it’s Magnus’ first title shot, which has manifested as the most significant peak to Carlsen’s protracted and well-managed marketing crescendo, a triumph in both performance and image. Recall if you can or will a pre-2011 Lebron: a high-flying stat-sheet filler who’d earn multiple MVP’s before winning a kiss with a sweaty, champagne-soaked Larry O’Brien Trophy, and then another. That’s Magnus, and Anand, in this equation, is something like this year’s San Antonio Spurs.
For Anand, whose play has steadily declined, this championship defense may be part swan song, part torch passing. He will stage his title defense against Carlsen in Chennai—the very place Anand calls home. The narrative is tidy enough; the question is how it will end. What’s clear is that Carlsen may yet be Anand’s most formidable—and bold—challenger. In April, on Charlie Rose, Carlsen said: “You need to have that edge, you need to have that confidence, you need to have that absolute belief that you’re the best and that you’ll win every time. It’s just a feeling I had…[that] I’m probably going to be the best at some point.”
Should Carlsen prove prescient and win in November, he’d become the first chess player from the “West” to win the world championship since American Bobby Fischer defeated Russian Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972, which ended 24 straight years of Soviet chess dominance. At that time, Fischer’s quirky mega-ego, manipulative posturing in a press (the press? though I think “a” is correct…) hungry for Cold War scandal, and brilliance on the board, proved the locomotive force chess needed to gain the international spotlight.
Fischer, of course, would go on to become one of chess’ foremost what-if men, never defending his crown; he’d wander Europe and Asia for decades, showing up every now and again to offer vitriol against, among other subjects, Jews and the U.S. (famously during 9/11). He’d die of Kidney failure in Iceland in 2008. Being the next Bobby Fischer is not an uncomplicated aspiration.
Perhaps aware of Fischer’s reputation, Carlsen, during a comedic interview with Rainn Wilson, said, “I’m only 21 years old so give me some time to develop the crazy.” But Carlsen, besides being handsome and well-spoken, appears to have his head on straight, and is held fast by the type of close-knit familial and managerial support that eluded Fischer. Add it up and Carlsen, whose first name means “the great,” represents chess’ best chance is over 40 years to return to international mindshare without a fastidious, political spectacle—and instead with positional, hard-nosed chess playing.
Full article here.
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– GM Susan Polgar