Carlsen flexing influence in Norway

by André Schulz
6/28/2019 – The Norwegian Chess Federation is facing a democratic dilemma. The betting company Kindred Group, registered in Malta and Gibraltar with offices in Stockholm, has offered the federation a sponsorship agreement worth about five million euros. The deal is controversial and the association wants to vote on the matter on July 7th. Magnus Carlsen is in favour of the deal and has now set up a chess club to gain direct influence on the vote.

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Carlsen founds his own chess club

In Norway, discussions around potential sponsorship from bookmaker Kindred Group have been going on for some time and could now be finalized with the approval of members of the Norges Sjakkforbund (NSF — the Norwegian Chess Federation) at their annual congress on July 7th, in Larvik, a coastal town southwest of Oslo. The deal would bring in roughly 5 million euros, spread over five years. 

But there is disagreement with the federation as to whether it is kosher to accept this offer, given that it comes with strings attached. Namely, it would be incumbent upon Norwegian chess body to lobby for the repeal of the gambling monopoly in Norway currently enjoyed by Norsk Tipping and Rikstoto, which would open the market to other bookmakers. The Norwegian supervisory board governing lotteries warned the chess federation against signing a contract.

The deal has unusually strong backing from World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who argues that the money would boost chess in Norway. Stavanger and Oslo had been considered possible venues for the next World Championship title bout, but recently dropped out.

The financial burden for a World Championship match is estimated at about 5 million euros. In the aftermath of the renegotiation of FIDE's agreement with Worldchess (Agon) the costs of the organization and the prize fund is open once again to a bidding process. The Austrian Chess Federation, which would have liked to see the next World Championship match in Vienna on the occasion of the federation's 100th anniversary, but previously dropped out in the face of expectations for the Norwegian bid.

Prior World Championship matches organized by World Chess only guaranteed the minimum sum of 1 million euros for the players, far lower than matches in the past. The backing of Kindred, whose stable of brands includes Unibet, a minor sponsor of the 2018 London match, could have helped to raise the players' take the next time around. But, citing opposition from Carlsen towards playing the match in his home country, the Norway Chess organisers in Stavanger announced yesterday they are no longer considering bidding.

2018 match

Carlsen shakes hands with Caruana in front of Unibet logos | Photo: World Chess

Nevertheless, in a strategic move, Carlsen now has set up his own chess club and attracted 1000 members by offering free membership. That makes the World Champion's club not only by far the largest chess club in Norway, but would also yield 40 votes at the congress on July 7th. The whole Norwegian Federation has a total of only 4000 members. This move is not without costs — the new chess club because it still has to pay the annual fees to the NSF (about €50 crowns) for each of the 1000 members. But Carlsen evidently considers that a small price to pay. It's not clear whether the chess club will hold any activities following the congress or if it is merely intended to exist on paper and conceived for political purposes.

On the website of the "Offerspill Sjakklub established 2019" Carlsen makes his pitch in a video (in Norwegian):

Translation from German and additional reporting: Macauley Peterson

Update 17:48: This story has been updated to indicate Norway's World Championship bid is in doubt.

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.