Magnus Carlsen is the best chess player in the world. He is also the world’s most lucrative chess player. (Don’t believe us? Read this.) Now, after years of false starts, conquering New York and growing the reach of Magnus Carlsen Chess Academy, the 28-year-old great is about to launch a new global tour. Called the Chess Grand Slam, the tour will take advantage of the growth of TV sports rights, as well as to put chess back on the map.
But as the Discovery Channel’s Conan O’Brien told The New York Times’s Nicholas Thompson, it’s not all fun and games. There is an ulterior motive behind Mr. Carlsen’s Sports Grand Slam: Mr. Carlsen has a financial stake in the organizing company of the Grand Slam. “You are sponsoring a sports event,” Conan O’Brien told Mr. Carlsen at a taping of the host’s series, “The Business of Sports.” But how? “I am,” Carlsen said.
Let’s set this straight right now: Each player is able to use only two pieces on his board at a time, while every opponent is able to play one piece against him. (Like a chess game, there are normal and flush, and unusual, positions. So it’s much harder for players to win from the 3½ position.) Even a player as masterful as Carlsen would be best off with two or three pawns. How do you play 5 pieces against a player as masterful as Mr. Carlsen? It’s more like trying to set up an ambush against a city of 7,000 highly trained snipers.
In order to win, we would need to be able to anticipate Mr. Carlsen’s play. And that is precisely what the Grand Slam tour is set up to do: You’ll be able to watch televised tournaments between the pros while simultaneously playing the live games, which will have a real-time scorecard. It’s a legitimate game of “chicken” for viewers, and in fact, the Grand Slam tours could be the most compelling reason to watch actual professional sport this year.
At its best, it really is fun to watch. After he finally ousted the world’s top-ranked player,
Candid’s, in a tournament in New York City last month, Carlsen said that he wanted to inspire the next generation of chess players.
“I feel like this game and everything is in my blood,” he said.