Magnus Carlsen takes things into his own hands

New online chess tournament ushers in a new era for international chess

Magnus Carlsen - World Cup Fischer Chess Tournament

Photos: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix
Wesley So (left) and Magnus Carlsen in the World Cup Fischer Chess Tournament on Nov. 2, 2019, at the Henie Onstad Art Center in Høvik, Norway. So won. Carlsen hosted an online Magnus Carlsen chess tournament April 18-May 8.


When the International Chess Federation’s (FIDE) Candidates tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus, Norwegian chess champion Magnus Carlsen decided to take things into his own hands. His version of chess might change the way the game is played permanently. 

The first half of the tournament was played in Yekaterinburg, Russia, March 17 to 25. On March 26, FIDE postponed the second half of the tournament. It had been originally scheduled for March 15 to April 5.

Carlsen beat longtime rival American Hikaru Nakamura to win his own tournament. He was leading 2-1 after three matches, having won his matches with white pieces, and needed a draw in the fourth to win the tournament. Carlsen put up a solid defensive wall, and the match ended in a draw after only 58 moves.

“World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen is filling the void left by canceled sports with the launch of the first ever highly-professional online tournament in the history of chess,” the tournament’s official press release read.

With almost all sports canceled or postponed, Carlsen and his team saw a unique opportunity to showcase chess as entertainment, for both new and existing audiences. They launched their own online chess tournament, where the Norwegian champion challenged seven of his fiercest rivals to compete for the biggest prize fund ever seen in an online chess tournament: $250,000. The tournament was streamed live at (a website Carlsen co-owns through his company Play Magnus), with commentary in nine languages.

Photos: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix
Carlsen in deep contemplation in his face-off with So.

“Chess is unique in the sports world, as the moves are the same whether played on a wooden board or on a computer screen,” Carlsen was quoted saying in the official press release.

In contrast to traditional chess tournaments set up in a rather antiquated and old-fashioned way with a tendency to be drawn out—sometimes boring matches where players more often than not try “not to lose” rather than to win—Carlsen’s tournament was more modern. The eight contestants first met in four matches of rapid chess to decide the final four. The winner of a match was awarded three points, unlike the single point awarded in traditional classical tournament play. Then, almost comparable to the FIFA World Cup, the champion was decided when the final four faced each other in two semifinals and a final on the tournament’s last three days.

In an article titled “The Quarantine Chess Tournament That Could Change the Game Forever,” said that the heads of FIDE were taken aback by the Norwegian’s initiative and that Carlsen’s tournament “could speed the game up permanently,” meaning fast chess could be taking over for standard chess, where matches can last up to four or five hours in the long run.

In the article, famous German chess player and commentator Jan Gustafsson was asked about standard chess versus fast chess: “Magnus and a lot of the younger generation have been in favor of mixing in forms of rapid chess. For me, as a commentator and spectator, it is exciting, because it generates action.”

For years now, Carlsen has been a man on a mission: to bring chess to the masses as sports entertainment. He has partly succeeded in Norway, because Norwegians will watch anything if a Norwegian ends up at the top of a podium, but also because chess has true potential as sports entertainment.

“In a difficult time for many, I think this has been super entertainment, and more tournaments like this one will be held. This is not the end, but hopefully the start of something fun,” Carlsen told VG after his victory.

This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.