Share story

NEW DELHI — The world of chess has a new king, and it’s a 22-year-old who is as much at home posing for fashion shoots as he is pushing pawns.

Magnus Carlsen of Norway won the chess world championship Friday, becoming the first Western player since Bobby Fischer to hold the title.

Carlsen, a former child prodigy who has been on a list of the world’s sexiest men and has moonlighted as a model, defeated defending champion Viswanathan Anand, 43, the titleholder since 2007.

Carlsen did not lose a game in the best-of-12 series
held in Anand’s hometown of Chennai, India. Carlsen so dominated the match, which began Nov. 9, that it lasted only 10 games. A draw in Game 10 gave Carlsen the necessary 6½ points to clinch his victory, having won three of the previous games, with no losses.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

The victory fulfilled the lofty expectations that have been placed on Carlsen since he became a grandmaster at 13, the second-youngest in history at the time.

What remains to be seen is whether the Norwegian — who has been referred to as “the Justin Bieber of chess” — can fulfill an even bigger hope among fans: to bring the cerebral game back into the mainstream.

“I really hope that this can have some positive effect for chess, both in Norway and worldwide,” Carlsen said after clinching the title. “The match was shown on television and I know a lot of people who don’t play chess found it very interesting to follow. And that’s absolutely wonderful.”

Since the days of Fischer’s title match against Boris Spassky during the height of the Cold War in 1972, chess has lost much of its appeal to a general audience, especially in the era of video games.

Carlsen’s looks and personality make him the game’s best opportunity to reverse that trend. He has modeled for major clothing brand G-Star Raw — with actress Liv Tyler — and was named one of the sexiest men of 2013 by Cosmopolitan magazine in Britain.

Carlsen becomes the youngest world champion since Garry Kasparov, who was also 22 when he won the title in 1985. Kasparov trained Carlsen for most of 2009 and has long touted the Norwegian as the future of chess.

“He continues to shatter the highest expectations with his skill and tenacity,” Kasparov said on Twitter after the match ended.

The match in Chennai was shown live on TV in both Norway and India, with millions more watching online.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg called Carlsen on Skype to congratulate him on the victory and thank him for “a fantastic experience.”

“You’ve brought an incredible amount of young people to chess in the last few weeks,” Solberg said. “But that also means you’ll have an incredible amount of competitors from now on, because everyone wants to play chess.”

In India, organizers said up to 100 million people a day watched the games on TV and online — and the official website for the match estimated an additional 100 million unique viewers around the world had tuned in at some point.

Since Fischer refused to defend his title against Anatoly Karpov and retired from the game, the chess world has been dominated by the former Soviet bloc, although Anand became the first Asian world champion in 2007.

Anand failed to seriously test the challenger, making several big mistakes that led to his three losses.

“It’s clear he dominated,” Anand said. “My mistakes didn’t happen by themselves; clearly he provoked them, and all credit to him.”

With the title, Carlsen gets about $800,000 in prize money, while Anand receives about $540,000.

Carlsen said he realized he had a chance to grab the title from Anand during Game 3 on Nov. 12.

Anand had built up a considerable advantage, but Carlsen fought his way back, and the game ended in a draw.

“What I realized during the game was that he was also nervous and vulnerable,” Carlsen said in a Skype interview Friday after he won the title. “He was no Superman.”

Material from The New York Times is included in this report.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.