UPDATED: Russian President Vladimir Putin took time on Tuesday to not only congratulate the Chess World Champion, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, but also invite him to a tea party along with his challenger Vishy Anand of India. Carlsen’s meeting with the controversial Russian leader, however, couldn’t escape political overtones.
Carlsen had resisted committing to play the championship tournament in Sochi, Russia until the last minute, because of political tensions between Russia and the west. Carlsen has also tapped one of Putin’s major political rivals and critics, former world champion Garry Kasparov,to be his coach and special adviser. Carlsen even revealed on Tuesday that he’d had help from Kasparov during the past two weeks in Sochi, and that may have scared Anand.
Lurking in the background throughout the tournament was the prospect of a meeting and picture-taking with Putin, and that’s what happened on Tuesday. Commentators believe Carlsen had a fairly relaxed attitude about it all, though, and really doesn’t want to involve himself in political issues. His speciality is playing chess.
Others think it was “good for chess” that Putin took time to make an appearance at the closing ceremonies of the Chess World Championships that played out on Russian soil. Putin and Carlsen were all smiles as they shook hands, in a handshake described by Norwegians as “firm if a bit clammy” on social media. It was after Carlsen and Anand were called up to the podium that Putin turned up, greeting the two players briefly before launching into a speech.
“I want to congratulate Carlsen for a well-deserved victory,” Putin said. “I want to also thank Anand for a well-played tournament.” Putin went on to call Carlsen “a genius,” and say that he was “impressed” by what the Norwegian had achieved during the tournament. Carlsen shook hands with Putin, adorned with his victory wreath, gold medal and trophy. He’ll also bring home EUR 600,000 in prize money.
After that, Putin met Carlsen and Anand together for tea, sandwiches and fruit and Carlsen seemed pleased. “It was very nice and cozy,” Carlsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) afterwards. Carlsen looked a bit confused at times during the tea party, possibly because Putin is known for mostly speaking only Russian. Translated subtitles of his remarks had Putin congratulating Carlsen again and even expressing a desire that such events as the chess world championships could help “build bridges” among nations. He gazed admiringly at Carlsen during the session, which also included Carlsen’s father and teammates around the table.
Putin’s appearance illustrated how important chess is in Russia, but the president of the international chess federation confirmed on Tuesday that the next world championships will be held in the US. He wouldn’t specify where, but both Los Angeles and New York are leading candidates.
It will be held in 2016, giving Carlsen two years to savour his world championship title before having to defend it once again. Even though Norway was also a candidate to host the next world championships, Carlsen and his teammates are glad it will be held in the US, to further boost chess’ image and spread interest among Americans. The US also offers the best commercial sponsorship possibilities and is considered an important country in Carlsen’s bid to simply make chess more popular among the masses.