Play and prestige on the board

Magnus Carlsen, of Norway, smiles as he holds up his championship trophy during the award ceremony for the World Chess Championship. Photo / AP
Magnus Carlsen, of Norway, smiles as he holds up his championship trophy during the award ceremony for the World Chess Championship. Photo / AP

Two-time world chess champion Magnus Carlsen won his third title yesterday, defeating Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin after three weeks of gruelling play in a competition with international prestige on the board.

Fans greeted the Norwegian with a "happy birthday" chorus and huge cheers after his victory in the World Chess Championship. He turned 26 on the same day he beat the Russian, winning two of four tie-breaking "rapid games".

The grandmasters started yesterday's chessboard battle with a tie after 12 games, with each winning one game. The other 10 games were draws. They'll share a prize of US$1.1 million, the winner getting 60 per cent.

The New York championship did not escape the shadow of East-West rivalry reaching back to the Cold War days when American Bobby Fischer beat Russian Boris Spassky in 1972. This time, a key figure in chess was absent in New York: Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a Russian businessman and longtime president of the governing World Chess Federation who was accused by the US Government of collaborating with the Syrian regime and barred from visiting.

Chess is almost a matter of national pride in Russia, which is no surprise when you consider that Russians, except for a three-year period, held the title from 1958 to 2000.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union used its dominance of chess as a propaganda weapon to demonstrate communist superiority over the decadent West. But in 1972 when Fischer beat Spassky, the Soviet dream was metaphorically crushed. Later, when Fischer refused to defend his title, chess entered the eras of Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov.

But since 2007 the country has suffered a drought. No Russian has held the title of world champion since Vladimir Kramnik. Vladimir Putin was keen to get the title back. The chess-loving President's interest is well known and he avidly followed the match online.

- Telegraph Group Ltd, AP

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