World Chess Championship 2016: Can champ Carlsen conquer New York too? | More sports | DW | 11.11.2016
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World Chess Championship 2016: Can champ Carlsen conquer New York too?

It's the year's top chess match. Starting on Friday, defending champion Magnus Carlsen and challenger Sergey Karjakin will battle for the world championship. The chess scene is hoping for a successful show near Broadway.

Magnus Carlsen Schachweltmeister und Sergei Kariakin (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Zorrilla)

The final pits world No. 1 Carlsen (l.) against world No. 9 Karjakin

Out of the darkened rooms and on to the bright lights of Manhattan. World chess champion Magnus Carlsen has arrived in the city that's supposed to bolster the 25-year-old Norwegian and his sport. Starting on Friday, Carlsen begins a 12-game match against this year's challenger, 26-year-old Sergey Karjakin of Russia. The first game is this Friday, and the match runs until the end of the month, with a series of speed-chess tie-breaks if the series ends in a draw.

"For Magnus, the match is a great chance to make the game better known around the world," said the world champion's manager, Espen Agdestein.

Since the US team won the world team chess championship recently, the game has enjoyed a boost in the homeland of past greats like Bobby Fischer and Paul Morphy. Karjakin and Carlsen's match will take place in the heart of Manhattan, a stone's throw from Wall Street and Broadway. The notoriously cash-strapped FIDE world chess federation is hoping to attract some wealthier sponsors in the process.

The internet to rescue one of the world's oldest games?

A decisive factor in the mini-renaissance enjoyed by this thinker's sport is the world wide web. As well as providing people the chance to play with friends remotely, not just at a table, important chess games can now be streamed live online, with commentary from experts providing insight to even the most amateur enthusiasts about what's going on across the 64 squares. In New York, for the first time, the organizers are putting together comprehensive online video coverage of the games, available for a fee of $15 (13.80 euros).

Sergei Kariakin russischer Schachspieler (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Shipenkov)

Karjakin and Carlsen have been playing each other since they were teenagers

"The quality of this broadcast will be decisive as to whether we attract a broad audience for this match," manager Agdestein said. He's not sure it will be a success, however, not least because of technical problems thwarting the project's test-run earlier this year. What's more, the chess federation has simultaneously sought to limit live coverage of the games on other websites, angering those enthusiasts who already had a favorite venue for live chess coverage and analysis.

It's blunders like these that may help explain the distance between chess' governing body and its latest poster boy Carlsen. FIDE's president is unlikely to make the trip to New York at all. The reason's worth noting: Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, seen as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is on the US sanctions list owing to dubious oil deals in Syria. This is not the ideal backdrop for a sponsorship-seeking mission on Wall Street.

Two boy wonders, but only one 'Mozart'

The chess world is hoping for as exciting an encounter as possible, preferably plus some magic moments from Carlsen. He became a chess grand master as a child, beating vastly more experienced opponents and even playing some exhibition matches, blindfold, against multiple opponents simultaneously - still winning for the most part, of course. His prodigious talent at the board has fascinated many, a recent documentary "Magnus" tracks the progress of the boy-wonder the "Washington Post" once dubbed "The Mozart of Chess".

Already considered one of the all-time greats, Carlsen is the clear favorite to take the title in New York. Head to head, Carlsen has four wins to Karjakin's one. Yet even if the name Karjakin only resonates with die-hard chess afficionadoes, for now, the Norwegian knows he will not have an easy ride.

Filmstill Magnus - Der Mozart des Schachs (Moskus Film)

A documentary dubbed Carlsen 'The Mozart of Chess'

"He has very strong, very good nerves, and he defended extremely well," Carlsen told DW in a recent interview when asked about Karjakin's win on home soil in the Candidates Tournament that chose his world championship final opponent this March.

The 25- and 26-year-olds have plenty in common: both made the step up to top-level chess at an early age (even by chess' standards) and both approach their games fairly similarly. Neither likes to wildly attack the opponent's king, with both focusing instead on constantly piling pressure on their opponents.

Reckless streak meets defensive specialist

The similarities stop in one crucial respect though: Carlsen is known for his desire to win games at any cost, and his willingness to take risks to achieve this. Karjakin, on the other hand, is known as a defensive specialist who will try to use the Norwegian's zealous streak against him. This attention to microscopic detail is in part an evolution of the game that can be traced back to computers; both players used them extensively in their preparations.

Information technology's importance to modern chess brings new dangers with it, however. Carlsen's team has admitted to some concerns about the repeated recent reports of Russian cyber espionage.

"For this tournament, we have professionals protecting our online communications and data," manager Agdestein said.

A major US company was enlisted for the task, part of a bid to ensure hackers have no influence on the world championship's outcome.

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