When I was eight years old my father taught me how to play chess. It was one of those moments that could have defined a lifetime and in a way did. I was enchanted by the game’s complexity, started playing almost every day and joined a club. It didn’t take long before I beat my father, then a mid-level club player. I started entering national tournaments for my age and managed to win my first Swedish chess championship for my age when I was ten years old.
Chess is a fascinating game and it swept me away for many years of my childhood. First I travelled the country and then a large part of Europe taking part in international tournaments. At 19 I won the Swedish junior championships and a little later I became a FIDE master. In 2003 I played an international tournament in Stockholm where a certain youngster named Magnus Carlsen took part. He was an international master then, closing in on the grand master title. I played the white pieces but had to fight for six hours before I managed to get a draw. A few years after that I moved to Malta to start a new career and era in my life. For some reason I exchanged chess for my other favourite childhood sport – tennis – and I lost touch with the game I loved as a kid. It’s how life goes sometimes.
Magnus Carlsen on the other hand, he beat all the tough expectations placed on him so early on in his life and became World Chess Champion ten years later (2013). Now he’s defending his title in New York against Sergey Karjakin from Russia and chess is in the main news again.
A world championship match in chess is a special event. It’s a true test for both players, both mentally and physically. Playing 12 (or in the past up to 24!) games against the same player (with the whole world watching) for the title of the world’s best chess player can play havoc on your nerves. It truly can be a spectacle to watch even if you don’t have a strong understanding of chess. Sometimes you can almost taste the tension in the air.
To understand the preparation and importance of a world championship match, just read this article about Carlsen’s worry about Russian hackers getting access to his preparatory work ahead of the match.
This championship match between Carlsen and Karjakin is not even half as political as the famous cold war style Fischer vs Spassky duel in 1972, but both players have early made it clear about their political differences (unintentionally perhaps) with Carlsen mentioning that he doesn’t like Donald Trump and Karjakin earlier being open with his support for Vladimir Putin.
In my mind, chess is more sport than politics and I think the two are best apart, but sometimes it does make for an increase in drama. But that this chess world championship draws interest without political hot air is evident by some of the celebrities frequenting the event in New York: Woody Harrelson, Adrian Grenier, Ken Rogoff and miscellaneous high-flyers in business and politics.
The first two games in the match has turned into quite predictable draws. The third game starts tonight at 20:00 CET. I will for sure keep my eyes on it and hope for some fireworks.
Kudos to the organizers for giving the spectators a great chance to follow the match online through live streaming and commentary. The official website is not half-bad either.
My prediction in this match? Well, I might be a bit biased but I think Carlsen will prevail by two games.