Wrapping Up The World Championship

Wrapping Up The World Championship

| 37 | Chess Event Coverage

After nearly three weeks of chess, the 2014 FIDE World Championship officially came to a close Tuesday night in Sochi, Russia. Unlike the opening ceremony, which featured a magic act, the main buzz around the closing ceremony centered on the appearance of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had been rumored to attend game 11, but that never came to fruition. Organizers told that he was held up in Moscow on official business. But Putin's arrival became very clear when this journalist awoke Tuesday morning with an urgent email to relay passport and personal details to Russian security apparatuses.

Carlsen's fans lined up for his autograph and picture at the closing ceremony.

The news gave energy to the press corps, who mostly sat around the hotel Monday waiting to see if World Champion Magnus Carlsen would give any interviews. The day after winning the tournament, we were told he did not feel particularly well.

The plan to have him visit the Formula 1 track (still installed after October's race in Sochi) and possibly drive or ride in a car also never came through. (No one knew what he intended to do at the track -- Norwegians told me that he doesn't have a driver's license!)

On Tuesday, Carlsen bounced around the hotel lobby and restaurant, giving an assortment of on- and off-camera interviews to Norwegian and foreign journalists. He looked stilted for the first series of questions, given by FIDE Press Officer Nastja Karlovich (in the opening minutes you can see me "vulturing" in the background on the right, waiting for my chance to chat).

For all other interviews he looked to genuinely enjoy himself. 

Karlovich's interview was not without revelation. Carlsen's biggest bombshell was the help that former champ GM Garry Kasparov provided. Kasparov had already told that he hoped and expected Carlsen to win -- now we know he helped his prediction come true!

"Yes, I was in touch with Garry before the match. He was regularly in contact with Peter Heine [Nielsen] to give advice." Carlsen added that in addition to the known seconds GM Jon Ludvig Hammer and GM Laurent Fressinet, that GM Michael Adams also assisted.

He demurred when Karlovich asked about his this post game 11 Tweet:

Karlovich asked if it was a reference to Kasparov's six titles, whereupon Carlsen responded that he values world titles. He's not the only one who once had his eye on seven titles:

For the record, both Carlsen and Lebron James are tied at two championships each.

Here's the full interview with Karlovich (video courtesy FIDE):

I was granted about five minutes with him. I asked Carlsen if there were any sports stars that he admired, especially with respect to training or handling of the media.

"I saw an interview with Marshawn Lynch today," he said. "I really admired the way he handled the media." Carlsen said he was joking about the Seattle Seahawks running back's part evasive, part-deadpan repetition of "yeah" answers:

On changes he would make for 2016:

"I would like to have more time to prepare next time, although I understand that it was partially my fault."

On how chess can be as popular as other sports that he follows:

"I think you need better presentation. Perhaps also more professionalism, from players. I think in general people don't always have the attitude that you're entertaining someone. People are mainly playing for themselves. That is obviously OK, but if chess is to become more popular, perhaps something more is needed."

Upon arrival at the Sochi Media Center (the same building that hosted the match), security checked passports and browsed the "cleared" lists of special guests and journalists. At first no media were allowed in, then a second list appeared and we were all allowed through. As with airport security, it is always better to refer to your "shotgun" microphone as simply "audio equipment" (also not advisable is "boom mic" for obvious reasons).

The first notable chess personalities to arrive were FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov.

Andrey Filatov, left, bought champagne and vodka for everyone in the hotel bar following Carlsen's victory. On the right is newly reelected FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

The ceremony began more than 30 minutes late, causing one Norwegian reporter who went live to do one long, continuous stand-up from the playing hall. Even Brian De Palma would be jealous.

What to do during the wait? Many youngsters were invited to watch the event. As with several of the match games themselves, seats were often filled by local children.

This young girl tries to frame the trophy on top of her palm.

Chess celebrities began arriving. At one point, four world champions were clustered within a few feet of each other. GM Boris Spassky and GM Anatoly Karpov arrived and chatted with GM Viswanathan Anand.

12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov.
10th World Champion Boris Spassky.
Karpov chatting with 15th World Champion Viswanathan Anand.

Eventually the ceremony began and everyone took his or her seat.

Anand with his wife and manager Aruna.

The two players took the stage, ready for the ceremony. Anand walked steadily while Carlsen bounded up the stairs.

Putin took the stage and shook hands with both players. This was the first time a Russian president attended a world championship. Carlsen said prior to the evening that he did not have a political viewpoint on the anticipated moment.

From there Carlsen received his winner's trophy and customary wreath.

He offered a few remarks where he thanked everyone on his team, starting with his father Henrik Carlsen and his manager FM Espen Agdestein (and ending with his personal chef and team doctor).

The champ said he appreciated all facets of his team's treatment in Sochi.

Carlsen had the most expensive top-floor suite at the Radisson Blu Paradise Resort and Spa.

He gave a behind-the-scenes look to official Norwegian TV sponsors NRK. It's well worth the read, not just for the pictures of his room, but also for the scoop on which other two Russian GMs assisted him last minute.

The host hotel, right on the shores of the Black Sea.

The Norwegian sports star played basketball every chance he got, usually using the press corps as his teammates and sparring partners.

Carlsen loves to drive to the post and rarely takes an outside jumper.
Here he appears to double-dribble against this reporter (but maybe he has just received the pass?!).
Carlsen proved to be quite competent in table tennis (no word on his rating in that sport, which uses the same basic system as chess).

Back to the main event, Carlsen's three sisters also visited the match, but only one at a time. One came and left every Thursday, with oldest sister Ellen getting the final support shift.

Ellen Carlsen, who is rated nearly 2000 FIDE, sits with a Norwegian chess author at the closing ceremony.

Ilyumzhinov gave brief remarks, the most important of which was the location for the 2016 World Championship: the United States.

Putin, Anand, Carlsen, Ilyumzhinov.

The U.S. last hosted a title match in 1995, when Kasparov and Anand played atop the World Trade Center.

Sources close to AGON, the owner of the rights to the match, told that Los Angeles and New York are the two leading cities to host the match.

Ilya Merenzon, the new owner of AGON, told he wanted to announce the 2016 match dates and location early to better promote the event. He said more than 2 million people from more than 100 countries followed the match online.

Two musical acts closed the ceremony. First, a violinist played the "Summer" portion of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" (quite fitting since the temperate subtropical weather of Sochi was 65-70F most days of the match).

Then a rock guitarist followed with an electric version of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." His second, louder number came across as out of place for the formal ceremony, and I couldn't help but thinking about Marty McFly in "Back to the Future."

The ceremony ended and Putin was surrounded by local children wanting his picture.


A private meeting took place immediately after the ceremony. Putin had tea with the players and other dignitaries. He also revealed that he followed the match.

At the more public cocktail reception, both Carlsen and Anand made brief appearances. Karpov and Carlsen chatted briefly.

There was one final bus ride back to the hotel, but the champ wasn't done. After a dinner at a Georgian restaurant with his team, he came down to the hotel bar and played journalists in an assortment of odds games and variants (Carlsen particularly likes atomic chess).

Using the exact same board and pieces that he used in the match, Carlsen, myself, and two other journalists played "Brains and Hand" -- a team game whereupon one player announces a piece and the other decides where to move it.

My team held its own, then Carlsen demolished me in two 5-1 odds games. He is the world blitz chess champion too!

All that was left for me was four plane flights and about 30 hours of travel to get back home.

Somnambulent Sochi -- the boardwalk was often all to yourself.

As for the world of chess, it should be an interesting remainder of the cycle to see who will next get to challenge Magnus Carlsen.

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