Carlsen to de­fend world crown against Amer­i­can hope

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Nor­way’s Mag­nus Carlsen will seek to ce­ment his rep­u­ta­tion as his­tory’s great­est chess player to­mor­row when he launches a de­fence of his crown against the first US ti­tle con­tender since Bobby Fis­cher in 1972.

Both Carlsen — a 27-year-old su­per­star at home who is also a part-time model — and 26-yearold Fabi­ano Caru­ana are prodi­gies re­turn­ing mass ap­peal to their high­brow game.

The world ti­tle will go up for grabs in a for­mer Lon­don school of art and de­sign whose sweep­ing glass dome and im­pos­ing col­umns have fea­tured in a re­cent se­ries of fash­ion shows.

It is a fit­ting venue for Carlsen. The cham­pion since 2013 has also been one of the faces of a street-smart Dutch ap­parel brand since 2010.

But the chess world is more en­thralled with Carlsen’s in­tu­ition and prodi­gious mem­ory than his rugged looks.

“There is no doubt that Carlsen is one of the best chess play­ers ever,” Bri­tish Chess Mag­a­zine edi­tor Mi­lan Dinic told AFP.

‘NOT NERDY LOOK­ING’

The Nor­we­gian won his third world ti­tle in a se­ries of rapid play tiebreak­ers against Rus­sia’s Sergey Kar­jakin in 2016 in New York.

His first came when he top­pled Viswanathan Anand on the for­mer cham­pion’s home turf in In­dia. Carlsen de­fended his crown in a re­match played the sub­se­quent year in Rus­sia.

But he re­ally be­gan mak­ing a name for him­self when he man­aged to draw Garry Kas­parov — the Soviet and Rus­sian leg­end whose record rank­ing Carlsen even­tu­ally broke — at the tender age of 13.

Carlsen ac­tu­ally beat Kas­parov’s com­pa­triot and neme­sis Ana­toly Kar­pov at the same event.

He has spent a good part of his time since then mak­ing chess fun again.

Carlsen took time off prepa­ra­tions for the Lon­don se­ries to play an ex­hi­bi­tion game against the Liver­pool foot­ball team’s chess-lov­ing right-back Trent Alexan­der-Arnold.

The 20-year-old ris­ing star lost, but can con­sole him­self with the knowl­edge that he held out against Carlsen for nearly twice as many moves as Mi­crosoft’s Bill Gates.

Carlsen has suc­ceeded in “re­mov­ing the stigma associated with chess,” cham­pi­onship or­gan­iser Ilya Meren­zon told AFP.

“He’s not a nerdy look­ing male and he’s not just an­other Rus­sian chess player,” said Meren­zon.

“Carlsen has gal­vanis­ing main­stream in­ter­est in chess and (is) bring­ing new peo­ple to it.”

IN FIS­CHER’S SHADOW

What Carlsen has done for the global game, Caru­ana is achiev­ing in the United States.

Amer­i­cans have not had a chess hero since Fis­cher stunned Soviet cham­pion Boris Spassky in an epic se­ries in 1972 that epit­o­mised the Cold War ri­valry be­tween the two su­per­pow­ers.

Now, US me­dia is fas­ci­nated with the pos­si­bil­ity of the chess ti­tle com­ing home nearly 50 years later.

Caru­ana has the cre­den­tials to be­come an­other chess sen­sa­tion in the 12-match se­ries that plays out over the com­ing weeks in Lon­don.

The Ital­ian-Amer­i­can from Mi­ami has played for both coun­tries and be­came a grand­mas­ter at 14.

He earned his shot against Carlsen by win­ning this year’s Can­di­dates Tour­na­ment in Ber­lin.

And his climb up the FIDE chess fed­er­a­tion’s rank­ings to the num­ber two spot has taken him within just three points of Carlsen’s to­tal of 2,835.

“Caru­ana had an amaz­ing

2018 which gives him a lot of vigour ahead of the match,” said Bri­tish Chess Mag­a­zine’s Dinic.

“Also, I think Caru­ana is psy­cho­log­i­cally stronger than Kar­jakin was in 2016, while Carlsen is a bit weaker on that front com­pared to two years ago.”

Chess has its own unique scor­ing sys­tem that awards the win­ner of each game one point.

A draw sees the con­tenders share half a point.

The ti­tle goes to the first per­son to reach 6.5 points.

A rapid se­ries of tiebreak­ers are played in case the two are level on points after the first 12 games.

(AFP)

In this December 1, 2016, pic­ture, Mag­nus Carlsen of Nor­way holds up his tro­phy after de­feat­ing Rus­sia’s Sergey Kar­jakin at the World Chess Cham­pi­onship in New York.

US chess player Fabi­ano Caru­ana.

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