Luke McShane

Birthday surprise

The Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour is back. This time, the series of online events is rebranded as the Champions Chess Tour with a total $1.5 million prize fund. It marks an ambitious step forward for the Play Magnus group, which floated on the Oslo Stock Exchange in October and is currently valued in the ballpark of $100 million. Norwegian companies NRK and TV2 have purchased domestic broadcasting rights for the tour, while a separate deal with Eurosport looks set to attract a fresh audience. Games will be played on the chess24 platform, and the tenth and final event in the series will finish on Sunday 3 October, 2021.

It’s a mundane observation that chess tournaments usually end on a Sunday. Usually, participants and organisers have jobs to return to on Monday. Classical over-the-board events often see nine games in nine days, which for keen amateur players can slot neatly between two weekends which sandwich a week off work. And for high-profile events, it’s easy to attract spectators to a climax which falls on a Sunday afternoon. All the events in the Champions Chess Tour are scheduled to follow this familiar nine-day pattern. All that is except the first one, the Skilling Open, which took place last month, and ended on Monday 30 November — the same day as Magnus Carlsen’s 30th birthday. It’s hard to imagine this was an accident.

Despite not showing his best form in earlier rounds, fate duly delivered Carlsen into the final, where he faced the American Wesley So. Carlsen played from an exotic location, and Instagrammed himself in a pool with a birthday breakfast fit for Henry VIII.

The gods, it seems, took exception to this swagger. Carlsen’s applecart was upended when Wesley So tied the match and made off with victory in the blitz playoff.

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