My Brief Encounter With Magnus Carlsen

My Brief Encounter With Magnus Carlsen

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I felt like a thief. With every photo I took of Magnus Carlsen, I stole his privacy and personal space. And he saw me stealing away...

My hometown, Toronto, just got lucky with the arrival of the King. It generated quite a stir in the chess community and many people got set on the Magnus Carsen hunt. Where will he show up next? What pub? What chess club? What sporting event? I too, became a huntress, although just for one day. And bingo!

Magnus has recently joined the Chessbrahs team – our Torontonian Grandmaster-streamers. They are currently playing in the Pro Chess League 2023. And I hear, Magnus’s experience would be more authentic if he played on the Canadian-based team in Canada!

So, last Wednesday, a friend invited me to play chess in one of our local pubs, known for its weekly chess + beer gatherings. Will Magnus come? He came here last week. I didn’t. Maybe we’ll get lucky this week!

I came to the pub at 6:30pm and set on to play chess with my friend. The atmosphere was booming with cheers and loud laughter from left, right and center. While contemplating my moves, I couldn’t help but tune into various, random conversations surrounding me. There were more recent immigrants and foreign students than one could imagine. Everyone watched the Queen’s Gambit. Someone just discovered the Nimzo-Indian Defense, with much success. Someone just began playing chess. “What’s your rating?” was randomly asked about thousand times everywhere! And, of course, someone asked me my usual “Are you a student?” question. Ah, the flattery … It was fun times!

By 10pm, with a dozen chess games behind me and a $15 diluted cranberry juice in my hands (thanks to the participation fee in the pub), I saw no sign of Magnus. The noise levels started to go down and I was about to leave … when I noticed a strange wave of newcomers. A younger crowd. They didn’t look like chess players although some attempted to play. They didn’t look like they knew Magnus; yet, somehow, the air has shifted. Perhaps they all knew something we didn’t. The insiders! It was a strange feeling that the Chess King has arrived.

And sure enough enters the glorious Magnus Carlsen! Everyone stared in awe.

He was only thirteen when he drew Kasparov and, in a different sense of the word “draw”, drew the world’s attention to himself. For years, we’ve all now watched him grow and become the World Champion, over and over. And now … he was in the same room as us!!

The hunt complete. All I wanted now, was to get a decent photo next to Magnus and I could put a big, fat checkmark in my chess life. But getting a photo next Magnus was … impossible. Unless you wanted to be one of those crazy fanatics who runs up to a celebrity and does something inappropriate for the sake of a photo. And then gets jailed or fined. Not me!

Magnus was simply unapproachable. The head of the chess pub told everyone LOUDLY and CLEARLY(!) that Magnus is not open for pictures at the moment …

Bummer. What to do?

So, I watched. I watched Magnus, in his personal space, play billiards with a lucky few who knew him.

And I thought about my life. The past 20 years since I’ve “known” Magnus. I remembered my own chess journey. I remembered all the highs and lows … and the gaps. The time spent away from chess, living the life outside the 64 squares. And here I am. Back in the game. And Magnus is here. The man we all rooted for so much for the past two decades. He's here. Live. 

The time was now 11:15pm. Since I wasn’t going to get a photo with Magnus, I decided to get one of Magnus. Paparazzi! I turned into a Paparazzi! With every click of my camera, a voice within me yelled “This is so wrong! Invasion Of Privacy Alert! Wee-ooo, wee-ooo! Stop immediately.” But I couldn’t stop. Click, click, click! From different angles. 

Magnus looked me in the eyes, several times. I couldn’t read his expression. Was he thinking “Get lost, woman,” or something nicer like “Damn, woman. Maybe I should let her take a picture with me so that she would get lost.” I don’t know.

Then I realized, Magnus wasn’t looking at me. He was looking through me. Lost in thought. To him, I was a ghost. Leaving only an invisible shimmer from all the angles I tried to approach. Maybe I was there, maybe I wasn’t. Who knows?

At 11:30pm, my husband texted me. Our children are asleep (hooray!) but he’s trying to stay awake (oh!) to make sure I come home safely (aw!). I can take my time. And it occurred to me. THAT is the man I will always want a picture next to. Magnus missed out on his opportunity to take a picture with me, and so I’m leaving …


And I left …

Disappointed. But also grateful that I got to be in this man's presence, under his majestic aura. 

And, who knows, maybe one day I catch Magnus in more favorable conditions and will finally tick that big, fat checkmark in my chess life. Perhaps, it is already ticked ... 

Former Canadian Girls Chess Champion (1999 tied for 1st, 2001 1st place)

Busy mom of two

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