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One-Fifth Of Norwegians Tune In To Watch Rock Star Chess Champ

Nov 19, 2013
Originally published on November 19, 2013 3:54 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

He's both the highest-rated chess player in history and one of 2013's sexiest men, according to Cosmopolitan magazine/UK. He is Magnus Carlsen, a 22-year-old Norwegian. He's electrified the chess world and posed shirtless. Magnus Carlsen is now vying for the crown of world chess champion at the 12-game championship match in Chennai, India, and that's huge news back home in Norway.

That's where we've reached Joran Aulin-Jansson. He's president of the Norwegian Chess Federation and he joins me from Oslo. Welcome to the program.

JORAN AULIN-JANSSON: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: And tell us just how big a star is Magnus Carlsen in Norway.

AULIN-JANSSON: Well, I think it's probably one of the most famous Norwegians ever, and in Norway, everyone knows who he is.

BLOCK: So it's not just among young people that he's a huge star.

AULIN-JANSSON: No, I think, well, chess popularity - thanks to Magnus - has grown considerably in the last few days actually here in Norway.

BLOCK: Really?

AULIN-JANSSON: Literally everybody in Norway, apart from those below two years old, knows his name now.

BLOCK: You're saying everybody in Norway, except for those who are too young to speak or understand...

AULIN-JANSSON: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: ...know his name.

AULIN-JANSSON: Yeah.

BLOCK: Well, how does that show itself in Norway? How does that popularity reveal itself?

AULIN-JANSSON: You can't open a newspaper without seeing his face. You can't turn on the television without seeing something from Magnus. He's everywhere now.

BLOCK: I gather also that it's not just that it's not just that he's popular. He's making chess more popular too. I mean, sales of chess boards and chess apps are going up in Norway.

AULIN-JANSSON: It's quite crazy, actually, but in our capital, Oslo, you're not able to get a chess board anymore. It's all sold out.

BLOCK: Are folks in Norway glued to the TV broadcast of this championship match in India?

AULIN-JANSSON: Actually, I just received some new figures from the national TV channel which is broadcasting this move-by-move. And on Saturday, we actually managed to beat both skating and (unintelligible) almost one million, which is 20 percent of the Norwegian population watching this.

BLOCK: So a fifth of the country is watching a chess match.

AULIN-JANSSON: Yeah. I don't know how Super Bowl figures are in the United States. But for us in Norway, that's a very big numbers.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk a bit about Magnus Carlsen's career. He was a grandmaster at 13. I think he was the youngest in the world at the time.

AULIN-JANSSON: Correct.

BLOCK: The youngest number one player at age 19. And now, the highest rated chess player ever in history. What's his style of play?

AULIN-JANSSON: He is a combination between previous world champions Anatoly Karpov and your own Bobby Fischer. Anatoly Karpov because he used to be they say the king of strategies and the positional play; and Bobby Fischer because he was thinking outside the box.

BLOCK: Well, if Magnus Carlsen becomes the world chess champion, what will happen back home in Norway? What's a celebration going to be like?

AULIN-JANSSON: I don't know if you have ever experienced our National Day, 17 May.

BLOCK: I'm afraid I haven't, no.

AULIN-JANSSON: We become crazy.

(LAUGHTER)

AULIN-JANSSON: But it will be a combination of that, Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, all of the great days in Norway will be come together as one.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Jansson, thanks so much for talking to us.

AULIN-JANSSON: By all means, pleasure was all mine.

BLOCK: That's Joran Aulin-Jansson, president of the Norwegian Chess Federation. We were talking about the 22-year-old chess phenom Magnus Carlsen vying for the title of world champion in Chennai, India.

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