US hope eyes Carlsen’s crown

The Phnom Penh Post - - SPORT - Edouard Gui­haire

NOR­WAY’S Mag­nus Carlsen will seek to ce­ment his rep­u­ta­tion as his­tory’s great­est chess player on Fri­day 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-year-old 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 said.

‘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.

In Fis­cher’s shadow

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

What Carlsen has done for the global game, Caru­ana is achiev­ing in the US. The US has 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 No2 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 Dinic of Bri­tish Chess Mag­a­zine.

“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.

ED­UARDO MUNOZ AL­VAREZ/AFP

Mag­nus Carlsen, Nor­we­gian grand­mas­ter holds the tro­phy dur­ing the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the World Chess Cham­pi­onship on De­cem­ber 1, 2016.

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