New York Times on cool young grandmasters

12/13/2014 – In the days of Fischer and Spassky chess stars had national celebrity. In the years since it has flourished in schools and clubs, but interest has languished at the highest levels. It is just a tough sell as a spectator sport, and champions are perceived as esoteric talents without much relevance in the real world. But that may be changing, because of two young GMs. Interesting read.

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The reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen, is blond and square-jawed, has modeled for a clothing label abd has 85,000 Twitter followers. And, now, in Fabiano Caruana, he has the kind of foil that chess fans think could make their sport electric again. The Miami-born, Brooklyn-raised Caruana has, according to the NYT, become an overnight sensation online. Caruana is young, like Mr. Carlsen. He is immensely talented. He projects a certain image – bookish rather than fashionable, though his adherents say that doesn’t pose a problem.

On the surface, a rivalry between Mr. Caruana and Mr. Carlsen, the Norwegian, seems to set up perfectly. They have opposed styles: Mr. Caruana is affable and approachable, while Mr. Carlsen affects a certain coolness. It makes sense on the board, too. Mr. Caruana has a reputation for establishing himself early in a game; the chess writer Leonard Barden has referred to his openings as “Caruana bombs.” Mr. Carlsen is renowned for his end game, his ability to extract victories from situations that look like certain draws. And while Mr. Carlsen employs a highly complex positional style, Mr. Caruana is a master of simplicity.

With chess thriving in the classroom but failing to capture the attention of the American public on the professional level, do the players themselves think a sustained Carlsen-Caruana rivalry would help? Caruana thinks it would, and Carlsen admits that Caruana has established himself as the world No. 2 now. He represents an exciting group of new, promising players.

Chart of the rating development of Carlsen and Caruana from an article on fivethirtyeight.com, which
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Some chess observers feel that while social media can help to increase Mr. Caruana’s visibility, the prospect of a rivalry depends on whether or not Caruana returns to play for America. “I think chess needs that, in the sense that chess needs America,” Harvard economics professor and grandmaster Kenneth Rogoff said to the NYT. “It would certainly help professional chess if it became more visible in the States, if there were clearly defined personalities.”

Read the full very interesting article in the New York Times here.