Norway challenged its chess champ

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Magnus Carlsen spent his 24th birthday on Sunday playing chess against what state broadcaster NRK billed as “the Norwegian people.” Fresh from defending his world championship title in Sochi last week, Carlsen played eight chess games simultaneously on live nationwide TV, at least indirectly promoting his chess app at the same time.

The president of the Norwegian Parliament, Olemic Thommessen, was among those challenging Magnus Carlsen back home in Norway Sunday night. PHOTO: NRK

The president of the Norwegian Parliament, Olemic Thommessen, was among those challenging Magnus Carlsen back home in Norway Sunday night, and live on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). PHOTO: NRK

One of the teams consisted of Norwegians who, using a free app called Kongen av sjakk (The king of chess), could cast votes for deciding the team’s moves against Carlsen. The other teams consisted of top politicians, entertainers, sports stars, junior chess champions, a team of chess experts and Carlsen’s own family.

There were some technical difficulties Sunday night, with NRK at times seeming overwhelmed by the public response to their homegrown chess hero. The winner, NRK said, would be the team that managed to hold out against Carlsen longest but in the end, Carlsen beat them all after 34 moves. Thousands of Norwegians sent in their proposed moves, and Carlsen claimed he was impressed. “Folks have really come far,” Carlsen told the program hosts on NRK. “There were no bad moves and it really made me proud on behalf of the Norwegian people.”

It was an unusual way to spend his birthday, just a week after coming home from two weeks of intense world championship play against challenger Vishy Anand. Carlsen made it clear that he was exhausted and suffering from a cold by the time it was all over, and that he just wanted to head home to Norway and sleep.

He wasn’t lying still for long, even though he doesn’t need to worry about defending his title for another two years. Now he’ll be devoting time and energy to sponsors and other business ventures including his own “PlayMagnus” app. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Carlsen has attracted some of the US’ and Silicon Valley’s wealthiest investors in efforts to spread the app around the world.

It’s already been downloaded 260,000 times in 204 countries. Users can play against a five-year-old version of Magnus Carlsen and work their way up to trying to beat him at later stages of his life. The app has been embraced by investors keen to develop it.

‘Bringing chess to the world’
“The goal is to bring chess to the world,” Anders Brandt, chairman of PlayMagnus, told DN. That’s why the app has been free of charge, but the plan is to earn money off it through sales of training videos, for example, starring Magnus Carlsen.

He already has quite a few smart and wealthy investor friends, DN reported, including oil magnate George Kaiser of Tulsa, hedge fund managers David Siegel, John Overdeck and Paul Tudor Jones, and Erik Anderson of the private investment company West River Management and founder of America’s Foundation for Chess. DN reported that they’re all investing USD 400,000 each in the company Play Magnus Partners Llc.

Other business ventures are organized in the Norwegian company Magnuschess AS. It’s 85 percent-owned by Magnus Carlsen, with his father Henrik holding a 15 percent share.  It generated NOK 18.2 million last year, including Carlsen’s winnings from last year’s Chess World Championship in Chennai. The rest of the money comes from sponsors whose ranks are expected to grow.

Carlsen earned EUR 600,000 on last week’s victory in Sochi, while Anand earned EUR 400,000 of the million-euro pot.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund