MAHABALIPURAM: It's 11.45 am on Saturday morning. In three hours and fifteen minutes, Magnus Carlsen will play his first game for Norway at the Olympiad. He’s scheduled to face Uruguay’s Georg Meier, who has an ELO rating of 2613. In most games, that would make him a favourite. Against Carlsen who has white pieces, it’s a bit like having to survive 120 fourth innings overs batting against an all-time Indian spin attack in Indian conditions. At 11.45 am, though, Carlsen is relaxed. He is executing one touch passes and back-heels with a football on a private beach.
But he cannot control the scrum of mediapersons and photographers next to him. They are all there to watch the greatest chess player (in terms of Elo rating), living or dead, make the first move. It’s pawn to e4. There’s some 40 cameras going off at the same moment. At one point of time in the opening exchanges, his three teammates and their opponents in the Uruguayan team turn their heads to watch Carlsen. His opponent, Meier, is also watching him. Seven pairs of eyes watching and tracking the world champion, who’s dressed black suit and black buckled formal shoes.
Norway is going through a dream phase of producing elite sportspersons. Erling Haaland. Karsten Warholm. Jacob Ingebrigsten. The winter Olympics team. Casper Ruud. Yet, Carlsen, on his own, has silently brought about a chess revolution in a country not really known for traditional chess prowess.
“Magnus was a capacitor for the popularity of chess in Norway,” Haarr says. “Chess was on the main broadcast TV in Norway. They are sending the World Championships like Classical, Blitz and Rapid on the main station and lots of people watch it. People are looking at chess as entertainment. Many people have been influenced by Magnus and started playing because of him. We have seen several people GM norms and whatnot after he got into chess.”
There is also a fun side -- coolwashing as Haarr refers to -- to Carlsen. Sometimes, he turns up unannounced during Offerspill’s over-the-board events. He has also played with some of the members of the public during these events. “Sometimes he just shows up (laughs) and people are surprised but it’s usually a chill atmosphere.”
His Twitter bio is an accurate reflection of the two things he cares about. Chess and football. The second part of the bio reads: “Former (live) #1 Fantasy Premier League player”. Haarr calls Carlsen a ‘sports idiot’. “I know he watches a lot of football,” he says. “He’s a big sports idiot. He probably knows all the football players in so many of the leagues. He has an exceptional memory.”
After more than five hours, Carlsen prevails. When the news filters out that he’s leaving, some 150 people form a queue outside one of the exit gates for an autograph. He leaves via another gate. People are racing across the lawns to get another glimpse of their hero. Their GOAT.