It’s a game desperate to present itself as the new “cool” – but maybe this time it has gone a little too far.
The 2018 World Chess Championship started in London last week promising a clash to rival the titanic Cold War battle between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer.
Well, it certainly was cold. So much so that reigning champion Magnus Carlsen, the rock star of chess, is believed to have complained about the chill.
>> ‘Deadlock’ in Carlsen-Caruana match after third draw: Our Round 3 report
In round 1 Carlsen, who is facing a stiff challenge from the American Fabiano Caruana, was seen donning his coat in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the greatest event in chess.
Carlsen is Norwegian, so you might think he could handle it a little chill, but around an hour and a half in the sharply-dressed 27-year-old disappeared out of the playing arena.
He returned to the glass-enclosed “fish tank” from backstage wearing a black Patagonia puffer jacket, put on over his blazer and shirt.
Magnus is ‘extremely sensitive’ to cold
Was the great Magnus Carlsen cold? Was the temperature inside putting him off his game?
Chessable now understands that Carlsen’s team have held a meeting with the organisers, World Chess, to sort it out.
Chessable approached World Chess for a comment, but have not yet received a response.
International Master Malcolm Pein, who runs the London Chess Classic tournament, said: “My experience of dealing with Magnus over many years is that he’s extremely sensitive to the temperature and to flows of air.
“I noticed when I inspected the venue about a week ago and they were building the air con I could feel some air flow and I thought ‘Hmm, Magnus won’t like that’.
“I don’t know if that air flow is still there, but if it is it is definitely something he is really sensitive to.”
Was Magnus Carlsen cold?
English Grandmaster and chess commentator Daniel King said changes in temperature can be off-putting to all chess players, not just Carlsen.
“I noticed at some point he was wearing the coat so at some point he must have got a bit chilly,” he said. “I know there’s air conditioning in there and that could be a factor.
“Sometimes if you are sitting down for a long time – as these players are – it can affect you. You need to feel comfortable in yourself.
>> Magnus Carlsen jokes: ‘Women hate me, I repel them’
“For a chess player, it can be very irritating and put you off your game. If you don’t feel comfortable you don’t confident in yourself and if you are cold it can actually affect your nerves.
“It can exacerbate what you are feeling. It’s just hard to concentrate if you’re a bit chilly – I don’t think it’s more complex than that really.”
After a week in which the organisers and sections of the media had been at pains to suggest that chess is now “cool”, it was rather apt.
In the pre-match press conference, Carlsen was asked whether he thought chess was now becoming cool.
Carlsen cool on chess being cool
He responded laconically: “Personally, I’ve found chess the coolest thing in the world since I was eight-years-old.
“So… I think it’s always been this way.”
His opponent said: “Yeah, I think that chess is definitely becoming cooler and there are a lot of people in the celebrity world, movies and music who have an interest in chess so I think it is definitely gaining more exposure.
“I also think chess is a great thing and can be very beautiful and cool and accessible to a wider audience.”
The match is currently locked 1.5-1.5 after three draws.
The title match, the first to be held in London since 2000, had got off to a comical start when Hollywood star Woody Harrelson was asked to make the ceremonial move but instead ended up knocking over a king.
Cheers star Harrelson then made another clumsy “mistake” when he moved the wrong piece for Caruana and the American number one had to ask him to replay the move. However, Harrelson later said the blunder was a pre-planned joke.
When it did start, the first game kicked off in intriguing fashion, with Carlsen playing aggressively before the game ended in a long-drawn-out – but at points very exciting – draw.
Another draw followed in round 2 with Caruana, the US heir apparent to Fischer, having the best of it, but unable to break down Carlsen’s defenses.