Magnus Carlsen Mentors Homer Simpson
World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen is an avid connoisseur of pop culture. Now, he's part of it.
Yesterday his long-awaited cameo on the American animated program "The Simpsons" finally aired on the FOX Network. Hard to believe, but the series premiered in 1989 and is now in its 28th season, making it even older than Carlsen.
Magnus Carlsen steps in to save the day and plays life coach for Homer Simpson, who is about to quit chess forever.
Of course Homer Simpson, the slovenly, beer-guzzling father of three, hasn't aged a day. The writers have to keep reinventing the characters, and on Sunday their 611th(!) episode gave Homer a backstory. Despite his buffoonery, he had a secret gift for chess, but his talents have remained dormant since they brought back complicated feelings of playing with his father.
Cue the Reuben Fine psychoanalysis, which actually does grace the episode. That's some deep writing research!
A young Homer (White) does his best "Hou Yifan" impersonation against his father, leading to him burying his proclivity for the game.
Who better to help him regain his confidence than Carlsen? In typical modern fashion, the champion's likeness appears only on a computer screen via Skype, not unlike how many of our readers have seen Carlsen's image on Chess.com.
"Homer, I'm afraid you cannot run away from chess," Carlsen insists.
"The reason that I got in to chess was because it didn't involve running!" Homer quips.
Carlsen then "breaks character" by claiming that he also abhors exercise (he does not) and that, like most Norwegians, he is emotionless. Clearly that's not true either.
Still, despite the artistic liberties the show took with his real-life persona, the episode is a tremendous stage for the champion to show off the game and some small acting talents.
"This is an honor for Magnus," said his manager, Espen Agdestein, last year after Carlsen's voice-over had been recorded. "If you aim to make chess more popular in the world, this is a chance."
ChessCenter viewers have known this episode was coming for a while!
The longest-running sitcom in American history is known to feature cameos from famous personalities, but this is apparently the first time a chess player has had that kind of crossover appeal. (There have been other episodes where chess played a small role, including brainiac Lisa Simpson mistakenly scared by some Russian players and troublemaker Bart Simpson playing the worst simul in history.)
In the episode titled "The Cad and the Hat," Homer plays the part of untrained savant, ignorantly calling the rooks "mini-ashtrays" but yet winning games on the boardwalk.
Certain readers will be able to watch the full episode here.
The moment Homer's family learns about his chess abilities.
Most television shows or movies that feature chess hire professional consultants, but perhaps Carlsen filled in for that capacity. It's apparent someone's chessic touch graced most scenes, as several positions were contrived for eagle-eyed chess players to deduce (although U.S. Chess director of publications Dan Lucas found a few incorrectly-oriented chess boards).
As one post in Reddit pointed out, in one scene, Homer plays what appears to be 1. Qd8+ and announces "this leads to mate in three."
Richard Reti would be proud that 107 years later he helped inspire Marge's amore for her husband's hidden skill.
Other even more subtle references are thrown in for the benefit of only chess superfans. Take, for example, one of our hero's victims, who claims that Homer has just played "like Polugaevsky at Mar del Plata" (he won in 1962, two points clear of second-place Smyslov, and again in 1971).
Many of our readers can relate.
As the episode draws to a close, Carlsen requires his mentee to have one final rematch with his father. Like the Kingside Diner in St. Louis, a crowd watches the game unfold to its dramatic conclusion (which we won't spoil!).
Carlsen commentates via Skype on the Simpson family battle, with Moe's Tavern being the replacement for the Kingside Diner.
Also thanks to a commenter on Reddit, we learn more about an offhand remark made by the character on the far left in the picture above. Claiming that Magnus is "my cousin" seems to be a joke based on the obvious dissimilarity of skin color. But no, the beer drinker at far left is "Carl Carlson," hence the joke that only a chess and Simpsons loyalist could know.
For those that have watched the full episode, what other chess references did we miss? GM Ben Finegold, who has watched nearly every episode, told Chess.com his current round-robin has precluded him from seeing the Magnus episode so far, but we're sure he will jump into the comments thread very soon!