Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian who became the youngest World Chess Champion ever last year, has since humbled everyone from Microsoft founder Bill Gates to Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and a long string of other celebrities. Now he’s also managed to fend off new challenges from other top-rated chess players in Switzerland.
Carlsen was predictably favoured going into the Zurich Chess Challenge last week, but downplayed his own chances and even seemed to be somewhat distracted during the tournament. Opponents speculated over the time he spent playing basketball during breaks, and several games ended in remis (undecided), also against his opponent at the World Championships, Vishy Anand of India, who bravely tried for a comeback.
On Tuesday, though, the 23-year-old Carlsen won the tournament on its last day after collecting enough points to keep his challengers at bay. He had eight points after Monday’s action, giving him the lead and a new top rating of 2880, and he was satisfied with his performance against Anand. He also had won the classic portion of the tournament.
Carlsen thus confirmed his status as the king of chess, a title no one had really disputed. He faced such highly ranked players as Armenian-American Levon Aronian, currently ranked number two in the world after Carlsen, and Hikaru Nakamura, also of the US, in addition to former world champ Anand and ended up prevailing over them all even though he admitted to having a bad day on Tuesday.
“I wasn’t feeling very well,” Carlsen told reporters when it was all over and he’d won over Boris Gelfand of Israel but actually lost against Aronian and Fabiano Caruana of Italy, and ended up with another remis against Nakamura. “Luckily I had enough points to win anyway.”
Carlsen, now an international celebrity, had already handily beaten some of the world’s other major celebrities like Gates, who he defeated in another lightning round during the Scandinavian TV talk show Skavlan last month, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who he beat during an exclusive dinner party in California. Carlsen has lived a jet-set lifestyle of late, impressing international investors, entrepreneurs, sports stars, politicians and other famous folks from Las Vegas to Silicon Valley to Spain.
Sponsorship interest in Carlsen has increased in line with his victories and fame, and he even reportedly won a modeling contract in competition with film star Johnny Depp. Newspaper VG reported last month that Carlsen is now keen to protect his own name, applying for a patent for “Magnus Carlsen” that will allow him to put his name on products from chessboards to computer programs to luggage and other products.
Now he says he’s looking forward to the Chess Olympics in Tromsø in August, when around 2,000 participants from 170 countries will gather in the Arctic city in Northern Norway. Carlsen will help represent Norway along with Simen Agdestein, age 46, and Jon Ludvig Hammer, also age 23. Agdestein is the brother of Carlsen’s manager Espen Agdestein, who never seems far from Carlsen’s side.
The three players “have excelled as Norway’s three strongest chess players for a long time,” Thomas Robertsen of Norway’s chess federation told news bureau NTB in explaining why they were chosen for the Norwegian team before others are named later this spring.