Written by By Staff Writer
Until recently, Magnus Carlsen was a man who was seen as a footnote when it came to the male gaze, largely lurking in the shadows as America’s largest series of elite sporting events unfolded.
That has changed dramatically with the arrival of the 2018 World Chess Championship.
Numerous sponsors and news outlets — including CNN — have focused their attention on the event, with many audience members displaying increased interest in the sport after a decade of sitting out the World Championship between a male and female competitor.
The 16-player field for the biggest event in world chess has been reduced to just three — Carlsen, world champion Magnus Carlsen and American Levon Aronian — as hectic press and attention at the November match between the Norwegian and Armenian heats up.
Before a single move is made, the world will be deluged with just the slightest details about the cool-headed Norwegian.
The week Carlsen’s daughter has been the main focus of press attention. Courtesy Magnus Carlsen Foundation
Known for his dapperness and chic wardrobe, Carlsen may have cut a more minimalist figure in the past, but this year he is paying attention to the market.
In the build-up to the match, sponsors ZTE have forged a deal that will see them become the first technology partner of the World Chess Championship — a new deal seen as a vote of confidence in his tenacity and skill.
This is in contrast to 2005 when Nike acted as official sponsor.
Until recently, chess was seen as an arcane pastime, a sort of rough-and-ready “MMA for the cerebral,” with one player at a time rising from obscurity to highlight the wonder of the game.
But with the increasing coverage given to the World Chess Championship by the digital media landscape, the profile of chess has on the whole risen.
The five-star World Chess Championship Hotel has hosted games between Carlsen and Aronian for many years, despite it not being a championship-eligible venue.
That has changed for 2018 as Carlsen and Aronian will play from a permanent venue, the grande dame of chess, the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
Kempton Park is the venue for the first WFDC match in 2014. Courtesy Magnus Carlsen Foundation
However, something of a Cinderella story is unfolding at this year’s venue with two former world champions playing out a battle for major chess honors.
Two days before the tournament starts, the former world champion Viswanathan Anand is fighting fit in the city of Santa Clara, California where he will face Russia’s Sergey Karjakin.
The match will be the first for Karjakin since losing in the last World Chess Championship in 2014 to Anand.
The winner of the match will take Carlsen’s title and access to the $1.3 million prize purse — an unprecedented result.
However, the conclusion of the match will not be a foregone conclusion. The prize money for the champion still makes $34 million and looks set to soar.
One chess fan who has been there to witness the spectacle is USA-based European champion Peter Higgs.
“‘ESPN’ was always one of the more ambitious programs in terms of scheduling at the World Championship, being shown in prime time, almost from the first move,” Higgs said.
“The match is being extended in Santa Clara due to growth in the number of viewers and potential revenue-generating for television companies. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be exciting.”
Chess is the only game of the ancient sport still played with wooden pieces on a pine board.
Art Director Neil McVey said, “When Chess first got their American TV show in 2005 it has been reported as being one of the most popular programs ever on ESPN, thanks to having their beloved Bobby Fischer playing for them.
“Since they’ve moved from live to taped sessions this year, with more TV time, The matches are sure to grab the attention of a new demographic.”
“The way this is working and being promoted, I doubt they’ll become more vanilla than in the past, but could cut edge.”
A better Carlsen?
With an unyielding support base with no let-up in the promotional efforts, Magnus Carlsen has probably enjoyed the biggest boost to his image this year.
However, there is still uncertainty surrounding the image he carries in the eyes of the public as the real cause for concern in Los Angeles begins to subside.
The test for Carlsen will come after he has played a lone match against Karjakin, and also his Magnus Carlsen Foundation announced a major fundraising boost over the weekend for families across Norway affected by strokes in 2017.
“I think a new Magnus was born,” said Neil McVey