Norway’s World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen was brimming with confidence as he headed into his third FIDE World Chess Championship Match to defend his title on Friday. This time the marathon tournament is taking place in New York, and will run for the rest of the month.
Asked at a press conference on Thursday who he thinks is the world’s best chess player, Carlsen responded that “right now, if (he could) be so bold,” he thinks he is.
His Russian opponent, Sergej Karjakin, smiled and said he agreed, since Carlsen is still world champion. In a few weeks, however, he would be better able to answer the question.
The championship will run until November 30, Carlsen’s birthday when he’ll join Karjakin in turning 26. The youthfulness of this year’s championship, with two relatively charismatic chess masters, has helped attract huge international interest in the tournament, and boosted the popularity of chess both in the US and around the world. Among prominent guests expected to watch at least parts of the tournment in New York are Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, both of whom Carlsen has trounced in informal play.
It’s Carlsen’s third world championship, after winning his first title in India in 2013 and successfully defending it, also against former world champion Vishy Anand, in Sochi in 2014. Since then, Carlsen has become one of Norway’s few superstars, traveling the world, earning millions from sponsorhips and other pursuits from modeling to creating the app Play Magnus. The still-young man, who became a grand master at the age of 13, also holds several titles as world champion in blitz and lightning chess.
The championship tournament will play out in a glass cage of sorts in lower Manhattan, with a view to the Brooklyn Bridge. Wall Street is nearby in a city recovering from the shock election of one of its biggest real estate developers, Donald Trump, as president. Carlsen, who arrived in New York City on Election Day itself, claimed last spring during the height ofTrump’s highly controversial campaign that he was a “big fan” of Trump and that it was “fun to hear him.” While his longtime manager Espen Agdestein attempted to downplay Carlsen’s apparent enthusiasm for Trump, the chess champ himself told Norway’s TV2 that Trump “was incredibly good at finding opponents’ weaknesses.” That proved to be true.
While Carlsen has claimed he’s trying “to make chess great again,” most would argue he already has. While around 20 journalists sought accreditation for his first World Championships in India three years ago, more than 200 will be covering the tournament in New York. And then there’s the money involved: Carlsen and Karjakin will be splitting a winner’s pot worth a million euros (NOK 9 million), with the winner getting 60 percent. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Carlsen can also double his sponsor income if he wins again. But Agdestein is quick to note that money isn’t what motivates Magnus.
“He understands the value of money, but that’s not what makes him play good chess,” Agdestein told Aftenposten. Carlsen has been in his proverbial “bubble” for weeks now, pondering his opening move on Friday.