Chess title Actor fluffs his cue as stars hit the board
The opening match of a world chess championship is usually a tense and twitchy affair. But as Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen sat down to play in London yesterday, it was a Hollywood star who made the first blunder.
As dozens of photographers hovered around the board before the start, Woody Harrelson, who had been chosen to make the ceremonial first move on behalf of Caruana, accidentally knocked over the white king.
To make matters worse, Harrelson then misheard the American player and played his white queen’s pawn forward two squares rather than his king’s pawn – much to the amusement of the Norwegian Carlsen, 27, the world champion, and the crowd who were blocked off from the players by a giant glass screen.
Very quickly, however, things got serious as the two best players in the world headed for a sharp and unusual Sicilian position with opposite-sided castling.
Caruana, 26, who hopes to become the first American since Bobby Fisher in 1972 to be world champion, is renowned as an opening expert. But despite having the advantage of the white pieces, he found himself under pressure from the early stages - with Carlsen, who has held the world title since 2013, pressing hard during the fourth hour of play after riskily giving up a pawn for a venomous attack.
Most had expected a cautious start to the championship, which is due to continue for two-and-a-half weeks, with few risks taken. Instead there was fire on the board. Such is Carlsen’s popularity in Norway, there are 15 journalists in London to cover him. Every move of this 12-game match will also be shown live on NRK, the equivalent of BBC One in Norway.
Carlsen has long been a celebrity back home. By the age of five, when his father introduced him to chess, he could recite the populations of all 422 Norwegian municipalities and name all the world’s capitals. By 13 he was a grandmaster and already spoken of in hushed tones. Fide, chess’s governing body, says he is the highest rated player in history.
Yet Caruana, the world No 2, is a serious challenger. When he was young his parents estimate that they spent as much as $50,000 (£39,000) a year paying for coaches and training before he started making significant money in his late teens.
That could look a wise investment if the American claims the ¤600,000 (£525,000) winner’s prize – especially given the endorsements that will also come his way if he triumphs. The loser, incidentally, will walk away with ¤400,000.
Spectators at the College in Holborn were also able to enjoy live commentary from Judith Polgár, the best female player in history. Among those riveted by the action was the Oscar-nominated US film director Bennett Miller, who knows a thing or two about slow-burning drama.
Magnus Carlsen (left) and Fabiano Caruana at the Fide World Chess Championship in London yesterday