Magnus Carlsen To Play For Iceland

Magnus Carlsen To Play For Iceland

| 88 | Chess Event Coverage

April Fools!

In a stunning decision, World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen has decided to not only relocate permanently to Iceland, but also change federations with FIDE — effective immediately. This was announced today in a press release.

“My parents love Iceland,” said Carlsen during a recent visit to the island between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean. “And I do too.”

Two weeks ago Carlsen visited his parents in Reykjavik, where his father participated in the tournament. Magnus stopped by for just three days but as a true champion, he netted two victories in this short period: the pub quiz and the football tournament.

Carlsen checking out his father's position in the Reykjavik playing hall. | Photo Fiona Steil-Antoni.

The biggest victory however was scored by the Icelandic Chess Federation. “Negotiations during the Reykjavik Open were quite fruitful,” says ICF President Gunnar Björnsson. “It didn't take much to convince Magnus to move to the city with the highest density of grandmasters in the world.”

A delighted Björnsson added: “Now we have two world champions!”, obviously referring to Robert James Fischer (1943-2008). The 1972 world champion is buried at a small church cemetery in Selfoss, Iceland. “We have made sure that for the next century the spot next to Fischer will be kept available for Magnus.”

“The space next to Fischer's grave will be kept available.”

“Government financial support to grandmasters in Iceland was another contributing reason,” said Björnsson. Terms were not disclosed, but Carlsen is expected to be the top-paid Icelandic sportsman of all time.

The reigning world champion revealed to that he had been courted by larger chess powerhouses, but ultimately liked the political climate of Iceland more. 

“I was given a more lucrative offer by the U.S., but when I look at both countries and compare things like their twin financial crises, the Americans put no one in jail while Iceland convicted everyone involved. I believe in personal responsibility, so Iceland is a better fit.”

While visiting Iceland, Carlsen toured the unique formations and topographical features that the land is known for. Speaking to, he remarked that he hadn't imagined playing chess on a floating board in a geothermal pool could be so relaxing.

Chess in the Blue Lagoon — what can be more relaxing?

Carlsen said he also enjoyed some recent reading he had done on Iceland. 

“I just bought this book The Geography of Bliss and the author claims that Icelandic happiness is based on the ability to have different careers since there is such a small population. Who knows, maybe I'll be a rock musician or a bartender in a few years. I like having options.”

Curiously, the move is downward according to the most recent research. In the 2012 World Happiness Index, Norway ranked 29th while Iceland was 88th.

“I feel like I'll help put Iceland back on on the map. My federation change will move us up at least 20 spots,” Carlsen said when asked about the rankings.

While visiting the Reykjavik Open, Carlsen remained silent about his unexpected move.

A top GM chosing to “fly under a new flag” is not something completely unknown to the chess world. Less than a year ago world #8 Wesley So changed federations from the Philippines to the United States. In 2009, world #12 Sergey Karjakin changed from Ukraine to Russia. Never has a world champion made such a move. 

The news comes closely after a possible federation switch by world #2 GM Fabiano Caruana made headlines. Even Jon Stewart decided to report on it in The Daily Show:

GM Jon Ludvig Hammer, Carlsen's childhood friend and second on many occasions, was surprisingly down to earth when hearing about the news:

“Obviously it's upsetting news for the chess culture in Norway, but it's not something I can say I'm surprised to hear," said Hammer. "I know Magnus has been growing frustrated with the slow pace at which the appreciation for chess grows in our country. And honestly, everyone outside of our country confuses us with Sweden and Iceland anyway... so why not make it official?”

Hammer added that he is “seriously considering” to follow suit.

GM Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson, Iceland's current number three, said he was “delighed” to welcome Carlsen in his team: “We can always use a good striker.”

Carlsen (left) and Gretarsson (third from the right) in the winning football team in Reykjavik. | Photo Fiona Steil-Antoni.
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