More than 150,000 Norwegians sat up in the middle of the night over the weekend to watch the 11th game of the World Chess Championship on state broadcaster NRK. As Norway’s own Magnus Carlsen battled to retain his World Champion title, the popularity of his game has reached fever-pitch.
NRK released ratings figures on Monday that were impressive in a small country like Norway. They came after the release of ratings showing that a quarter-million people in Norway watched the action live from New York on Thursday night, which extended into the wee small hours of Friday given the time zone difference. That accounted for fully 7 percent of the entire population, most of whom had to go to work or school the next day.
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“This is actually quite wild,” said NRK’s analysis chief Kristian Tolonen. On top of that come all the people who watched VGTV’s online coverage as well, which VG reported involved around 4 million page views during the course of the game. Newspapers like Aftenposten have also had reporters in New York full-time since the championships began on November, while World Chess is offering live broadcast coverage as well.
“This just shows enormous interest in Norway now,” said NRK commentator Torstein Bae, who ranked it at “10 on a scale of one to 10.” Morten Madsen, president of Norway’s chess association who’s in New York, called the interest and the packed locale where the championship is taking place “surreal,” not least because it involves two men wearing suits and sitting at a chess board for as long as seven hours, with most games ending in draws.
Interest isn’t high just in the homelands of the two players involved, Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin of Russia, but also in New York and, for example, Germany. Newspaper Die Zeit has also had full-time reporters at the championship and their coverage attracted more readers on Sunday than the death of Fidel Castro in Cuba or the latest on the US’ president-elect, Donald Trump. In Die Zeit’s sports section, chess stories topped all three top spot on the “most read” list instead of, for example, German football.
Carlsen, meanwhile, played a bit of football, along with some cards, went for a walk and slept fairly well as he geared up for Monday’s next and arguably most important game in the World Chess Championships. After another draw in the 11th game on Saturday, Monday’s 12th game can determine whether Carlsen or Karjakin wins the World Champion title.
Tie-breakers ready if needed
If either wins Monday’s game, they’ll win the title, too. In the case of another draw, championship play will move into a series of tie-breaker games on Wednesday, starting with four rapid games of just 25 minutes each. World Chess Championship organizers said that if that doesn’t produce a winner, Carlsen and Karjakin will have to play four blitz games. If the two are still tied after that, they’ll play an “Armageddon” game with varying advantages for the white and black pieces.
Commentators were expecting “a long night” on Monday, given Carlsen’s strategy to put slow pressure on his opponent. Karjakin has proved repeatedly, though, that he puts up a good defense. The action was due to get underway around 8pm Oslo time, and, once again, extend past midnight.