Norwegian newspapers and broadcast outlets suddenly have their own chess experts, front pages are plastered with news from the World Chess Championship in Chennai, India and constant updates top local websites. Chess fever is gripping the country, as home-grown chess star Magnus Carlsen started the tournament of his life this weekend.
The hype has been building for months and Carlsen, age 22, has been preparing for even longer, arguably since he first started playing chess as a child with his father Henrik at home in Lommedalen, just west of Oslo. They both landed in India this week, after acclimating with a warm-up session in Muscat, and the young Carlsen seemed full of self-confidence.
“The warm-up in Muscat was perfect for Magnus,” his manager Espen Agdestein told newspaper Aftenposten, which has sent its Asia correspondent from Beijing to Chennai for the occasion. While in Oman, Carlsen “could exercise with several different ball games,” Agdestein said, “and he could swim in the gulf.”
From Oman, Carlsen, his family (mom and three sisters are along as well) and support crew headed for the luxurious Fishermans Cove on the Bay of Bengal after landing in Chennai and getting a rock star’s welcome at the airport. All of them were adorned with flowers and Carlsen was given a traditional shawl before driving the roughly one hour to the place where Carlsen will also unwind between games.
Now they’re all settled in at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chennai, where Agdestein earlier has said that Carlsen and his entourage would have an entire floor to themselves. “Team Carlsen” consists of himself, Agdestein, doctor Brede Kvisvik, security chief Bjørn Nesse, his father Henrik who also serves as chairman of the business unit and cook Magnus Forssell.
And then there are the sparring partners, or so-called “seconds” that Carlsen has continued to keep secret even after his opponent in the upcoming World Chess Championship, reigning World Champion Viswanathan “Vishy” Anand, disclosed his at a press conference on Thursday. Anand, age 43 and playing on home turf in India, identified his seconds as Krishnan Sasikiran and Sandipan Chanda of India, Peter Leko of Hungary and Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland, in a move that even surprised Carlsen.
“I appreciate that Anand revealed his seconds, but I am not going to return the favour,” Carlsen said with a smile. He previously has trained with former top-ranked player Garry Kasparov but wouldn’t hint at who he’s been training with lately. Carlsen appeared characteristically calm, visibly unaffected by the hordes of journalists and fans crowding around him.
Norwegian officials, meanwhile, are using the occasion to do some national promotion in Chennai. Opening ceremonies on Thursday featured Norwegian folk dancing, song and even a Sami joik. The Nowegian Embassy in New Delhi has been involved and flew in the Norwegian artists to put a national spin on the festivities.
Meanwhile, interest back home in Norway is running at fever pitch, with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) even paying to broadcast all the games live after winning a bidding contest against VGTV. NRK will air around 100 hours of chess, and newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that the state broadcaster paid NOK 1.5 million for the rights. VG was undaunted.
“For us, the World Chess Championship is perhaps the biggest sports event of the year,” VG’s sports chief Øyvind Brenne told DN. The media house, which includes Norway’s biggest tabloid newspaper VG, has three reporters following every move in India, while in Oslo, program leader Mads Andersen and historian, author and chess enthusiast Hans Olav Lahlum will comment on every one of them.
NRK, meanwhile, has four reporters and photographers in Chennai, with sports anchor Line Andersen guiding TV viewers through the entire championship which runs until November 28. Since each game yields one point for a victory and a half-point for remis (a tie), a winner could be declared as early as November 18, if either Carlsen or Anand becomes the first to exceed 6.5 points, the amount needed to win the 12-game tournament. All games are scheduled to start at 10:30am Norwegian time, and last around five to six hours.
Carlsen, who refused to participate in the last World Championships because of a disagreement over regulations, is the challenger this time around and widely favoured to win. The winner not only will claim the title but also the equivalent of NOK 9 million.