Among wizards and geeks, Magnus Carlsen is a pleasant variance. He is surreally cool, boyishly handsome, has sponsors queuing up for endorsement deals and smudgy-eyed teens thronging for autographs. He is not your usual chess champion—nerdy and crusty, reluctant and aloof.
Hence, it’s all the more surprising that Carlsen remained aloof on his first day in the city, the venue wherein he would take on reigning world champion Viswanathan Anand for the title that would place him among the greats of the game, if he weren’t already one.
At 22, he has hoarded more laurels than most of those gnarled pros. He is the number one ranked player in the world, has amassed more ELO points than anyone in the game’s history, has won four Chess Oscars on the trot. The World Championship crown, hence, would officially coronate him as the peerless king of the game, and place him atop the game’s Peak Parnassus.
In chess parlance, there is even a phrase coined after him—the Carlsen effect—by former world championship semifinalist Jon Speelman. “He plays on forever, calmly, methodically and, perhaps most importantly of all, without fear: calculating superbly, with very few outright mistakes and a good proportion of the 'very best' moves. This makes him a monster and makes many opponents wilt,” explained Speelman in the magazine New in Chess.
Chennaiites would have a glimpse of his game on Monday, when he takes on a batch of 20 players, simultaneously. “He usually does that wherever he goes. He always likes to be involved in the game, right from his childhood. We have had a nice day in chennai. The weather is comfortable and we have received a warm welcome by the staff at the hotel and by the organizers. Main purpose of the trip is to get a feel of the city and the playing venue. It's good to get the first impressions now, so that everything is not new when we come in November," his manager Espen Agdestein told TNIE.
He is so used to playing, and as used to winning, that he gets over losses “by going out to win the next day”. The competitive streak was evident right from his childhood. By nine, he used to beat his father Henrik. By 13, he was already a Grandmaster. To put this into perspective, Bobby Fischer did not become a grandmaster until he was 15 and a half, while Russia's Garry Kasparov, often regarded as the greatest chess-player of all time, was 17 when he completed the GM norms.
As a child, he was super-intelligent. Before he was two, he could solve jigsaw puzzles with more than 50 pieces. From jigsaws he graduated to Lego, constructing models that would have challenged teenagers. Feats of memory came easily to him. By the age of five, he knew the area, population, flag and capital of every country in the world.
The Norwegian arrived at 3 am, accompanied by his father Henrik, manager, a chef and four Norwegian journalists. DV Sundar, vice president of FIDE, V Hariharan, secretary of All India Chess Federation, Bharat Singh, CEO of AICF and Muragavel, vice president of Tamil Nadu State Chess Association, received him at the airport. The city shed its usual sultriness to greet him, and once at the hotel, he went for a lie-in, slept until afternoon before he checked in at the swimming pool.