Norway’s reigning chess champion, threatened with losing his crown after a shocking loss in New York Monday night, was being roundly blasted as a “bad loser” on Tuesday morning. After storming out of the obligatory press conference that follows all matches at the World Chess Championships, Carlsen now faces a hefty fine and, worse, a loss of respect.
“I can understand his disappointment and frustration (after losing to his Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin after all previous matches had ended in a tie),” chess commentator Tarjei Joten Svensen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), “but to leave the press conference, that’s not good.” Svensen called Carlsen’s behaviour “unacceptable.”
Svendsen was far from alone. As Norwegians woke up Tuesday morning to catch the latest news from the championship action on the other side of the Atlantic, they could read and hear a torrent of criticism directed at Norway’s chess hero. “This was disappointing both for spectators and media folks,” said Peter Doggers of the website Chess.com, while NRK’s own expert commentator, Torstein Bae, reacted with amazement, “He (Carlsen) has pure and simple lost his composure. This was certainly not handled in a good manner.”
No mercy back home in Norway
All the Norwegian commentators were as critical as their foreign counterparts. Tom Nordlie, a well-known Norwegian football coach and sports commentator who was a guest in NRK’s studio at the chess championships in New York, blasted Carlsen for failing to show respect for his opponent and his victory. “He didn’t respect Karjakin,” Nordlie said live on the air. “He should have taken part in the press conference.”
Øyvind Brenne of VG Nett, which has sponsored Carlsen over the years, was among those calling Carlsen “a bad loser,” and criticized Norway’s chess hero for not offering any visible recognition of Karjakin’s win right after the game, and igoring reporters as well. “I can also very well understand the frustration,” wrote author and chess expert Hans Olav Lahlum on social media, “but I very much disagree on his decision not to take part in the press conference.”
Now Carlsen faces even more expensive consequences, since the World Chess Championship organizers, Agon Ltd and the international chess federation FIDE, can impose a heavy fine on players who refuse to take part in the obligatory post-game press conferences or in other official events at the tournament. It can total 10 percent of their winnings, or as much as NOK 500,000 (nearly USD 60,000), if players are found to conduct themselves “in a manner contrary to the event regulations or the spirit of sportsmanship or the FIDE Code of Ethics.”
‘Full crisis’ for Carlsen
The drama occurred after the World Championship tournament finally secured a leader and it wasn’t Magnus Carlsen. His challenger for the World Championship title, Karjakin, now leads the best-of-12 match by a score of 4.5 to 3.5 points. The first player to reach 6 points, with four games remaining, will become the next World Champion.
Carlsen, according to commentators, had appeared desperate to win Monday’s 8th game after the first seven all ended in remis (a draw). The two young players, both in their mid-20s, had thus been tied with 3.5 points. Carlsen was said to have “intentionally unbalanced” the position on the board by taking a piece with a pawn. “It was a risky idea and clearly indicated that, after so many draws, Carlsen was anxious to try to win,” according to World Chess’ account of the game. The position “quickly became complicated,” Karjakin “kept finding the best moves,” Carlsen found himself under intense pressure, and eventually lost.
Bae, the Norwegian commentator, referred to Carlsen’s loss as “a full crisis” for Norway’s national chess hero. “He has had many opportunities to win games. Now there are only four games left, and he’s the underdog.”
Then came even more drama, when Carlsen, after arriving at the press conference first, suddenly decided that he couldn’t be bothered to wait for Karjakin’s arrival. He stood up and left the press conference without answering a single question. His long-time manager Espen Agdestein, also a well-known chess player in Norway, ran after him calling out “Magnus!” as the defeated champion literally left the room.
While Carlsen pouted, Karjakin was gracious
NRK published photos of Carlsen standing in a corridor behind the press room with Agdestein and Anastasia Karlovitsj, who was supposed to lead the press conference, as they desperately tried to convince Carlsen to return to the press conference. They failed, leaving Karjakin alone to face the reporters. He was predictably happy after finally winning a game and gracious as well, even giving Carlsen credit for creating “a really interesting game.” Karjakin said Carlsen “really tried … but somehow he did not manage to make a draw. Thanks to Magnus, it was a really big day.”
Carlsen now finds himself in highly uneviable position, not only behind his opponent with few chances left to claim victory but also with a tarnished reputation. Agdestein was left in a tough spot, too, as he tried to explain Carlsen’s behaviour.
“Magnus knows that he is obligated to take part in the press conferences, so in this case, it was his temper that took the upper hand,” Agdestein told NRK around an hour after Carlsen’s dramatic exit and when he and Carlsen had arrived back at their hotel. “Magnus is just so determined to win, and like most, he despairs when he feels he has underperformed,” Agdestein added. “It is so limitlessly irritating that everything else becomes secondary.” He noted that Carlsen was preoccupied with the fame itself on the ride back to the hotel, not his poor performance at the press conference as well.
Agdestein believed things had calmed down as they headed off to eat dinner, but that was before all the negative reaction to Carlsen’s behaviour started pouring in. A decision on what sort of fine Carlsen faces was due later on Tuesday.