World Championship Will Rotate Around 12 New York Landmarks

World Championship Will Rotate Around 12 New York Landmarks

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This is going to be a world championship unlike any other.

The chess world waited many months for the announcement of New York City as the location for November's World Championship Match. Now we also know the players -- champion GM Magnus Carlsen and challenger GM Sergey Karjakin.

Was Karjakin's qualification a small surprise to you? Perhaps, but now comes a bigger one. Agon, the organization with the rights to the match, will rotate all 12 rounds around New York City's iconic landmarks. has confirmed that Agon has finalized plans to have one game played at each of a dozen locations around the five boroughs, with historic chess settings and city landmarks amongst the planned sites. Air, sea, and land will all be covered. Below you can read about the dozen, which range from a zoo to an old MTV studio to an 80-year-old aircraft.

The first round will be in Times Square, in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. Agon Director Ilya Merenzon said it is important to start off the match in the most visible place possible.

That's not too surprising, but the choice of co-commentators will be more of an eye-popper: former MTV VJ Carson Daly, along with chess fanatic and fellow media personality Howard Stern. The two will be joined by GM Garry Kasaparov, making for quite a trio of chess knowledge, bawdy humor, and pop culture.

The opening game will be in the glassed former studio for MTV's "Total Request Live," right in Times Square. Daly used to host the teenaged-hormone-filled music video show in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Speaking to, he described his chess knowledge as "the skill of a six-year-old but the passion of Justin Timberlake!"

MTV's former "TRL" studio will showcase the match to the public as the players compete beside the windows. (Photo: Diogo Almieda, Wikipedia)

There will be limited space inside the studio (which is now the clothing store Aeropostale, but which Agon will rent for the month). The plan is to have several of the large digital billboards in Times Square show the games, with fans being able to sit and watch from the seating areas installed by former mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration.

The plan is to change out the green chairs for white and black, giving fans a chance to show their support for a particular player. The giant digital ads will show the moves with a 15-minute delay. (Photo: Jim Henderson, Wikipedia)

While watching, a specially-built app will allow you to vote on the moves, with the results shown on the displays. You'll still be able to see the players through the windows, but they won't be able to see you. Merenzon said he's discussing with engineers the ways in which the windows will be opaque from the inside but translucent from the street (similar to how one-way mirrors work).

Merenzon said he wants all of New York City's culture, both historic and goofy, to play a role. He is in talks with the famous Naked Cowboy to make the ceremonial first move.

Robert Burck, more popularly known as the "Naked Cowboy," will also be walking billboard for the match -- he plans to create songs about chess and apply a giant temporary tatoo of the score on his back each day. (Photo: Wikipedia)

From there the match will move north to the former FAO Schwarz toy store at Fifth Avenue and 58th street. That location may seem random, but reportedly World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen was consulted and it was revealed that he is a fan of the 1980s Tom Hanks' classic Big. The famous piano scene came from there and Carlsen will repeat the number alongside Hanks, who is an amateur chess player.

Don't think 60-year-old Tom Hanks will be able to relive his youth? He was able to repeat his piano dancing three years ago! Carlsen remains untested.

Round three will be more standard. The Marshall Chess Club on 10th Street in the West Village will play host, but again, there's a twist. The club houses the chess table that Bobby Fischer used in the 1965 Capablanca Memorial. Agon is hiring engineers to retrofit the table to DGT's capabilities, making it the first "historic" chess table that is DGT compatible in the world. And that's not all!

"DGT boards also require special pieces that communicate with the board, so we're looking into crafting a special set made out of materials from the Brooklyn Bridge," said DGT expert Lennart Ootes. He explained that the bridge undergoes regular maintenance and "retired" materials from the bridge are available for the project.

Carlsen and Karjakin will surely play better than the staff did at the Marshall Chess Club.

Round four will he back uptown, to the next borough in fact. The Bronx Zoo, the largest city zoo in the U.S., will play host. Early renderings show that Carlsen and his challenger will play in the "Madagascar Exhibit," (the lemurs will be temporarily moved due to their ability to shriek loudly). Again, the ceremonial first move will be the show-stopper.

The zoo's 45-year old elephant, Happy, is being trained to make moves via a giant chessboard that will be installed.

Will Happy be trained to play the Elephant Gambit, or will it come naturally to him?

Round five will again fulfill a Carlsen request -- he reportedly wanted a sports-themed location for one of the rounds. Madison Square Garden would not "play ball" so instead the match will cross the East River and be hosted by the Barclays Center, home of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets.

The Barclays Center. Like in Times Square, the games will be broadcast on the jumbotron with a 15-minute delay. Carlsen and Karjakin will play in the owner's lounge (the team's majority owner is fellow Russian Mikhail Prokhorov, who volunteered his suite). (Photo: Erik Kristensen, Wikipedia)

Why there? The team's former minority owner Jay-Z is yet another chess-mad celebrity. Since game five will follow a rest day, the plan is to have a two-on-two chess and basketball event with Carlsen, Jay-Z, fellow rapper and chess player RZA, and Karjakin if he so chooses.

Jay-Z's song "This Life Forever" features the lyrics: Over the years I've seen rook get tooken (sic) by the knight/Lose they crown by tryin' to defend a queen/Checkmate in four moves/The Bobby Fischer of rap/Where we all move.

RZA has been waiting five years for the chance to play Jay-Z.

What are Carlsen's basketball skills? He played on nearly every rest day during his Sochi, 2014 title defense and was able to methodically inch his way to the goal, not unlike his usual chess style.

This reporter's scouting report from Sochi: Magnus Carlsen likes to get deep into the paint before shooting.

The halfway mark of the match will take place even farther down the track of the A-train. Round six will be the least-known location for many of the readers: the former TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport. JetBlue, whose main hub is JFK, is trying to revive the departure hall and is making the world championship a showcase event to advertise its expansion.

This time the ceremonial first move won't be played by a celebrity; instead the setting is the star. One of eight remaining DC-2 aircraft will circle New York City at 6,000 feet while the two players engage in one blitz game. Lucky fans can purchase a seat on the flight for $5,000, which includes champagne and a photo with the players.

This surviving 1935 DC-2 (call number 1368) was repainted years ago in the TWA "Linbergh Line" and will be flown from it's home in Seattle for the match. (Photo: Woodys Aeroimages, Creative Commons License 2.0)

Round seven comes back down to Earth as chess will merge with the arts. New York City and London are arguably the two most important theater districts in the world, and so the chess will move to Broadway.

First, the match will be played at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. The round time will be moved up, with a logical reason -- fans in attendance for this game will get to stay for the one-night-only evening production of the musical "Chess," which takes over the theater that normally hosts "The Book of Mormon" (but which will be dark that night). "Chess" closely resembles the real-life careers of Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi.

This author's personal copy of the original Broadway recording of "Chess."

The performance has not been on the Great White Way since 1988, despite lyricist Tim Rice once saying that it was his all-time favorite. "It may sound arrogant, but 'Chess' is as good as anything I've ever done," he said to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001. "And maybe it costs too much brainpower for the average person to follow it." That likely won't be the case this time!

Round eight heads back to more mundane quarters. The New York Stock Exchange will host, and like the day before, the round will be earlier. Whomever is leading the event will get the honor of opening the largest American financial exchange at 9:30 a.m., then the players will commence their game in a private room about an hour later. If there is a winner that day, he will get the honor of ringing the bell at 4:00 p.m. (if there is a draw they will do it together).

The next two games, nine and 10, will be choices of the players, and will be showcasing the city's multifarious culinary traditions. Both men get to choose a restaurant, which will be rented out for the day for players, commentators and spectators. The day's game will be followed by a meal, and again, VIP tickets will be available to schmooze and dine with the grandmasters.

Carlsen chose the Nordic-inspired Aquavit, whose seasonal menu now features "Norwegian Skrei Cod." He is also reportedly a fan of Rakfisk, which consists of trout fermented for up to one year.

Good thing it's not an eating competition. Rakfisk with its traditional accoutrement looks to be an acquired taste. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Karjakin hasn't had as long to ponder his choice, but some notable Russian restuarants include the Russian Samovar, Russian Vodka Room, or Russian Tea Room.

Round 11 will be played in another New York City chess landmark: Washington Square Park, the famous site where about 10 outdoor chess tables have seen all the famous hustlers and grandmasters come and go over the years. The park was also a main setting for Searching for Bobby Fischer but the obvious challenge is that it is outside.

This is not as insurmountable as it might sound. Recall that in 2014 Carlsen himself played a double round robin outdoors at the Caxias do Sol in Brazil -- competition was housed in a makeshift shelter:

Carlsen will again be flinging stones from inside glass houses, though at least his opponent will know who he is unlike GM Maurice Ashley's victim!

There will also be an open blitz tournament to be held after the round, with the added feature that Carlsen and Karjakin will act as judges, awarding bonus points for the best trash talking.

So only round 12 is left, if the match makes it that far (Agon is considering having the players compete in exhibition rapid games if the match has been decided before any of the later rounds).

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov had an idea about a possible setting:

But no, the deciding game instead will take place in the final New York City borough! Since numerous events are in Manhattan, the Barclays Center is in Brooklyn, JFK Airport is in Queens, and the Bronx Zoo obviously in the Bronx, Merenzon wanted all five parts of New York City included.

What's Staten Island most famous for? The ferry! Carlsen and Karjakin will play in a specially-built soundproof platform while fans are welcome to get on or off at their leisure at either terminus.

A "Kennedy Class" Staten Island ferry, much like the one that will have its top deck retrofitted for the match. (Photo: Norbert Nagel, Wikipedia)

The ferry crossing takes about 25 minutes, will be free as usual, and play will continue as it traverses New York Harbor back and forth. In case of rough seas, the plan is to moor one of the ferries to Staten Island's St. George Terminal, though that certainly doesn't mean they have to play the St. George Defense!

The St. George Defense has been played by at least two world champions (Wilhelm Steinitz and Boris Spassky) and was used to beat another one (Tony Miles beat Anatoly Karpov).

Merenzon said much thought and planning went in to these 12 locations. Some others that he wanted were impossible for logistical, financial, or security reasons. Those included the Ancient Near East Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Artinside the boyhood home Bobby Fischer, at the Norwegian Consulate, on the deck of the moored USS Intrepid, and atop One World Trade Center.

Merenzon said he wants to make the match "historically appealing" for fans and for the growth of chess. One additional idea would be to give chess players "events" during the frequent rest days, so they are not just sitting in their hotel rooms. He had an idea to schedule a chess "triathlon" or even "pentathlon" whereby chess players rotate around the city to famous chess locations like these in a giant one-day tournament.

Chess players will also be shown calendars to remind them that April 1 comes just once per year :-)

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