Chess crowned a new superstar Friday, as Magnus Carlsen clinched his first world chess title in a victory many expect to revolutionize the game.
At 22 years old, and with enough mainstream appeal to have secured a modeling contract and various endorsement deals, Carlsen is seen as the poster boy for a new era in chess, which has long been stuck with an image that was anything but dynamic.
The Norwegian secured victory by outlasting reigning champ Viswanathan Anand in Chennai, India, with a draw in game 10 of their scheduled 12-match series, building an unassailable 6.5-3.5 lead and bringing the contest to a close.
Carlsen's win earned him the $1.5 million winner's check, but that figure may be dwarfed by the commercial sponsorships he is able to secure on the back of his triumph.
With the "nerd dollar" one of the most powerful forces in modern marketing, Carlsen's combination of charisma and supreme strategic intelligence looks certain to pocket him some serious cash, as well as lead to a surge in popularity for his game of choice. Having secured the highest rating in chess history, his head-to-head battle with Anand over the past two weeks was all that stood between Carlsen and chess immortality.
However, he has already ventured where no chess player has gone before, with his modeling appearance for clothes brand G-STAR, a spot on Cosmopolitan magazine's sexiest men of 2013 list and a fanbase that includes even those unfamiliar with chess' complicated vagaries.
"The future belongs to him," said former world champion Garry Kasparov, one of chess' all-time greats. "He has the ability to reach an audience that has previously been shut off to chess. That is a wonderful thing for the game, to have this special talent and the character that goes with it."
Carlsen's style of play flies in the face of conventional chess logic and proved too much for Anand, a three-time defending champion.
Constantly throwing his opponent off balance with unorthodox and aggressive maneuvers, Carlsen asserted control in the championship match, which was played in a glass cage in India's sixth-largest city.
After the first four games all ended in draws, as is highly common at the top level of chess, where both players are of extremely high skill, Carlsen snatched away games five and six with ruthless attacking play. Following two more draws, he staved off a barrage of attacking moves from Anand to win game nine, putting him a mere half point from the championship. Players are awarded a full point for each game won, half for a draw.
Anand did not lie down quietly in game 10, despite his virtually impossible plight, forcing the game to 65 moves apiece before the players eventually agreed to a draw.
Carlsen is now expected to be greeted with a hero's welcome when he returns to his native Norway, before embarking on a world tour aimed at maximizing the spoils of his success.
"There is no telling how far his popularity could go," said two-time U.S. women's chess champion Jennifer Shahade. "He is a great looking guy and he has the personality and charisma to appeal to a very broad audience. This is a great time for him – and a great time for chess."
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