What’s the endgame?

Norwegians dominating in chess

Magnus Carlsen

Photo courtesy of Auster Agency
New Yorkers in Times Square play chess against Norwegians at Oslo Central Station.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Chess has had a long hold on the Norse. The Vikings created detailed ivory pieces for the game, meticulously and beautifully carved walrus tusk, a precious trade commodity. From the outset, it was an important game.

Probably the most renowned ivory chess set was named for the island where it was discovered, the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, once under Norwegian control. Buried in a sand bank and protected by a stone encasement, it is believed to have been created in Trondheim. Although recognized as one chess set, it comprises pieces from no less than four separate chess sets.

In 2012, The Game of Kings exhibit held at The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, allowed visitors to view these unique 12th century pieces in the round: queens with elaborate braids, horses with well-groomed manes, and a rook gnawing on his shield, thought to be a berserker working himself into a frenzy for battle. It was here I learned that this game of strategy originated in India and was adopted by the Persians. It continued to spread westward throughout Europe, encountered by the Vikings and others through trade.

Photo: The British Museum / PxHere
The Isle of Lewis Chessmen are believed to have been created in Trondheim.

The game has thrived in various incarnations for about 1,500 years. On this side of the Atlantic, there has been a history of chess playing in NYC parks, where permanent boards poured from stone-filled concrete can still be found. Washington Square Park is perhaps the best place to see the game still flourishing, as well as on Thompson Street just a few blocks away, where one can play indoors.

But it is a Norwegian, Magnus Carlsen, who has reigned as chess champ since 2013. On Friday, Nov. 9, he was challenged by American Fabiano Caruana at the People’s World Chess Championship, organized by FIDE (World Chess Federation), in the first of 12 grueling matches at the College in Holborn in London to take place Nov. 9 to 28.    

To add to this excitement, on the morning before the start of the first match, the public was encouraged to play in the streets of New York at Times Square, competing against challengers in Norway playing from Oslo Central Station between the hours of 7-10 a.m. EST. The game was broadcast on billboards in both places, one move per person, one minute per move.

At the time this article was written, the winner of the first big playoff had just been announced. It was a draw between Carlsen and Caruana, but there are still 11 matches to go, and it is yet to be seen who will be victorious.

But as chess fever has commenced, why not let it linger a little longer and indulge, whether you play a game in Oslo or in iconic Washington Square Park. Or perhaps you will catch the match online and learn some new moves (worldchess.com)? If nothing else, you can check out the Isle of Lewis Viking chess set. There are wonderful videos you can catch on YouTube. Whatever your endgame, why not nourish the flame?

This article originally appeared in the November 16, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.