World Championship: Editor’s Notebook

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 10: (L-R) Reigning Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, Actor, host Adrian Grenier and Chess grandmaster Sergey Karjakin attend 2016 Gala Opening for World Chess Championship at The Plaza Hotel on November 10, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for World Chess Championship)

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 10: (L-R) Reigning Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, Actor, host Adrian Grenier and Chess grandmaster Sergey Karjakin attend 2016 Gala Opening for World Chess Championship at The Plaza Hotel on November 10, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for World Chess Championship)

Chess Life editor Daniel Lucas reports on the sights and events surrounding the first World Championship match to be held in the U.S. in 21 years. Also see Vanessa West’s preview and for viewing options,  Ian Rogers’ “Couch Potato Guide.”

The Fulton Fish Market opened in 1822 on the site of the current South Street Seaport in New York City. The market moved to the Bronx in 2005, leaving the Seaport to reinvent itself as a prime Manhattan tourist destination and now host location for the World Chess Championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin. No fish smell, either literal or (“chessically”) figurative, will mar this match.

This is the first World Championship match in the U.S. since the 1995 Kasparov-Anand match held at the top of the former World Trade Center (there was a FIDE World Championship in Las Vegas in 1999, but that was a knockout event, not a classical world championship match). From the Seaport, you can see the new 1776-foot-tall 1 World Trade Center tower standing just to the side of where the former twin towers once did.

When the Seaport was in it’s prime as a working market and port, the first World Championship match was being held 130 years ago in 1886 at 80 Fifth Avenue further north on Manhattan island, between 49-year-old Wilhelm Steinitz and 43-year-old Johannes Zukertort. Steinitz won 10-5. The current match will be decided in 12 games, with the first to 6.5 winning.

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Everything kicked off on Thursday, November 10 with a press conference that featured the usual official platitudes and some attempts by the assembled world chess press, and some mainstream media outlets, to generate useable copy such as:

Press: Who is the best player in the world right now?

Carlsen: “That’s going to be decided in the next couple of weeks. But if I may be so bold, right now, I am.” (Editorial comment: Well, he is the World Champion, so, “Yawn.”)

Press: How embarrassing is it for FIDE that their president could not enter the U.S. for this match?

Israel Gelfer, FIDE VP: “We know there is a case between U.S. and the FIDE President, but this isn’t the time to discuss this.” (Editorial comment: “Yawn.”)

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FIDE President Ilyumzhinov conducted a brief press conference “at the Seaport” via a smart phone, Photo Daniel Lucas

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Photo Daniel Lucas

Press: What is your opponent’s best quality?

Carlsen: “Sergey is very well prepared. He is extremely resilient in defense.” (Editorial comment: “Yawn.”)

Press (To Carlsen): There was a report that Microsoft was helping you defend against possible Russian hacking into your preparation.

Carlsen: “The fear of hacking–that was not the word from me or anyone on my team. I don’t fear that Sergey is hacking me.” (Editorial comment: At least it is somewhat newsworthy that the champ denies his camp made the hacking claims as reported in various outlets.)

Champ, Challenger, Chess Life

Mentioned many times on media day is that this is the youngest championship ever, with the players’ combined ages adding up to 51 (Steinitz-Zukertort combined ages: 92; Kasparov-Anand 1995 combined ages: 57). Magnus is 25 (turning 26 on the last scheduled match day) and Sergey is 26. Since they are so young it hasn’t been so long since they made their first appearances in Chess Life magazine.

In the May 2004 issue, FM Aviv Friedman, reporting from Wijk aan Zee, wrote, “If there was a prize for the player who left the best impression in the festival, it would go with overwhelming consensus to 13-year-old IM Magnus Carlsen. I saw him two year ago in Oslo–a small, unassuming kid who as I was told by friends was taking chess very seriously, attending GM Simen Agdestein’s chess school and is considered a great promise. Since then he got his IM title, became known in the chess circuits, got sponsorship from Microsoft Norway. During Corus he was in the midst of a sabbatical year (with his entire family) in pursuit of playing in as many strong chess events as he could.

“His performance and level in Wijk aan Zee were nothing short of amazing. Like a hot fire in a thorn field the young Norwegian scorched through his field in the GM C group mercilessly. Projecting the calm of an experienced player, innocent-looking Magnus collected point after point winning nine games and losing only one.”

This game was included, which Friedman labeled “A brilliant performance!”

Sergey Karjakin, who holds the record as youngest GM ever by earning the title at age 12 years, 7 months, made his first appearance in US Chess’ flagship publication in the January 2005 issue. Current US Chess News editor Jennifer Shahade wrote of the now-challenger in her Olympiad report:

“A star on the Ukrainian team was the 14-year-old prodigy Sergei Karjakin (editor’s note: Karjakin adopted Russian citizenship in 2009). Karjakin was benched for most of the beginning of the tournament, and could often be found around town, dancing and socializing with players twice his age. When they started to play him, he won game after game, and after each victory, he walked around the tournament grinning ear to ear. Sergei ended with 6 ½-7, earning the sixth-board gold medal. The teenaged prodigy likes Eminem and winning, and doesn’t care much if it’s in the endgame or in a wild attack, although he did tell me the following game was his favorite:”

Trumpowsky

As game one got underway, there was some mild buzz in the media center about Carlsen’s choice of the Trompowsky, wondering if this was the champ’s sly nod to the Presidential election three days ago, an event that is seemingly keeping any coverage of the championship buried in mainstream media outlets.  Carlsen was nonplussed by the second raising of this question at the round-one press conference following his draw, telling the media, “If I had known how many questions I would get, I would have played something else.” His response suggests he just wanted to play the Trompowsky on its own merits.

President-elect Trump certainly looms large at this event. The night before the first game an Opening Gala was held at the Plaza Hotel, just a few blocks from Trump Tower where a large anti-Trump rally was being held. (And the Plaza Hotel was owned by Trump from 1988-1995.) The “Trumpkowsky” questions were at least partly fueled by the memory of  October 10, when Trump raised the ire of the U.S. chess community with his statement about trade pacts: “… you can’t terminate — there’s too many people, you go crazy. It’s like you have to be a grand chess master. And we don’t have any of them.” Of course, the U.S. has 90 grandmasters. The December Chess Life will have more on the Trump/American chess connection in an article by GM Pal Benko.

The gala was hosted by Entourage star Adrian Grenier. The color selection ceremony for game one took place, with Carlsen getting white for the first game. Hollywood A-lister Woody Harrelson made the actual ceremonial first move for game one the next day. The organizers have promised that every game will feature a first move made by someone that will vary from celebrities to representatives of nonprofit organizations of note.

 

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Woody Harrelson makes the first move of game one. courtesy of World Chess by AGON Limited

US Chess was well-represented at the gala, with Executive Director Jean Hoffman in attendance, along with Executive Board member Anjelina Belakovskaia and Director of National Events Francisco Guadalupe, who is doing double duty as Deputy Chief Arbiter for the Championship. Another attendee was FIDE Vice President Beatriz Marinello, a former US Chess President.

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Soltis and Pandolfini, Photo Daniel Lucas

Chess Life’s first editor (when it went to a magazine format from a newspaper one) Dr. Frank Brady attended, as well as our two longest-serving columnists, GM Andy Soltis and Bruce Pandolfini. GM Lev Alburt, our “Back to Basics” columnist and former US Chess Executive Director Al Lawrence, whose column “Faces Across the Board” appears on our “First Moves” page each month, rounded out the Chess Life attendees.

Carlsen with Cardboard virtual reality viewer. If you have one of these devices and pay for the privilege, you can watch the championship in VR. courtesy of World Chess by AGON Limited

 

Round two will be played Saturday, November 12 with Sunday the 13th as a rest day. Keep checking uschess.org and the official championship site worldchess.com for more on the 2016 World Championship.

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