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World Chess Champion Urges Quicker Games, Is Also Rich

CNN profiles Magnus Carlsen, the world’s best chess player — and the state of the chess community today:

Interest in chess spiked at the beginning of the pandemic, and again in October 2020 after the release of the Netflix series, “The Queen’s Gambit.” In the first three weeks after its debut, sales of chess sets went up by 87% in the U.S. and sales of books about chess leaped 603%, according to marketing research company NPD Group. Not since the 1970s, when American legend Bobby Fischer burst onto the scene, has the game captured the attention of the world like this….

Carlsen tries hard to be indifferent toward anything at all during the press conference and interview. But he does have strong opinions on how the game should be changed to make sure it holds the attention of the current groundswell of interested players. “I’ve been somebody who’s supported having quicker games in the world championship for a long time,” he said. “I think for people who are not into chess at all, who don’t know anything about the game, you’re more naturally attracted to quicker games.” World championship games can last hours and often end in ties because mistakes are so rare…

Carlsen’s love of fast-paced chess isn’t surprising, considering he is the current world champion in both “Rapid” and “Blitz” formats — games that generally last for 15 minutes or less. His tiebreak wins in previous championship games were both in the rapid format and there are numerous videos on YouTube where his quick thinking is showcased. Computers are now powerful enough to calculate billions of possible move combinations in seconds, ably deciding the best possible option. It makes preparation more exacting and less enjoyable, and Carlsen thinks quicker games would help solve that…

Carlsen could rightly be considered the greatest chess player ever. He has been the world champion for eight years and holds the longest unbeaten run in history. He only trails Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov in weeks spent as the highest rated player.
But the New York Times points out that Carlsen has done something none of his chess-playing predecessors have ever done. “He has leveraged his fame to become one of the chess world’s leading impresarios. In the process, he has amassed a small fortune.”
Carlsen has several private sponsorship agreements, including with Unibet, a sports betting site; Isklar, a Norwegian water company; and Simonsen Vogt Wiig, a Norwegian law firm. But the main vehicle for his business ventures is Play Magnus, a company that he co-founded in 2013, the year he became world champion. Initially designed as an app that allowed users to mimic Carlsen’s playing style and strength at different ages, Play Magnus has expanded, mostly through acquisitions, to become a company with a dozen subsidiaries. It now includes an online playing site, multiple teaching and training platforms, and digital and book publishing arms.

According to Andreas Thome, Play Magnus’s chief executive, the company has about 250 employees and about four million registered users of its products and proprietary learning programs. One year after it went public on the Euronext Growth Oslo stock exchange, Play Magnus now has a market capitalization of about $115 million. It is the only publicly traded chess company in the world.
Carlsen’s personal stake in the company is worth nearly $9 million, the Times points out — even as Carlsen is now competing in the world chess championship for a $2.24 million prize, where “as much as 60% will go to the winner.”

In the 14-game match, the first two games…all ended in a draw. “The result means there have now been 16 draws in a row in world championship games played at classical time controls,” the Guardian pointed out, “dating back five years to game 11 of Carlsen’s match against Sergey Karjakin in November 2016.”

And then the third game, played Sunday….also ended in a draw.

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