One-Fifth Of Norwegians Tune In To Watch Rock Star Chess Champ

Norwegian chess player Magnus Carlsen is competing in the 2013 World Chess Championships. Melissa Block speaks with Joran Jansson, president of the Norwegian Chess Federation, for more on his rise to a number one ranking and what his popularity means for the game of chess.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

He's both the highest-rated chess player in history and one of 2013's sexiest men, according to Cosmopolitan magazine/UK. He is Magnus Carlsen, a 22-year-old Norwegian. He's electrified the chess world and posed shirtless. Magnus Carlsen is now vying for the crown of world chess champion at the 12-game championship match in Chennai, India, and that's huge news back home in Norway.

That's where we've reached Joran Aulin-Jansson. He's president of the Norwegian Chess Federation and he joins me from Oslo. Welcome to the program.

JORAN AULIN-JANSSON: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: And tell us just how big a star is Magnus Carlsen in Norway.

AULIN-JANSSON: Well, I think it's probably one of the most famous Norwegians ever, and in Norway, everyone knows who he is.

BLOCK: So it's not just among young people that he's a huge star.

AULIN-JANSSON: No, I think, well, chess popularity - thanks to Magnus - has grown considerably in the last few days actually here in Norway.

BLOCK: Really?

AULIN-JANSSON: Literally everybody in Norway, apart from those below two years old, knows his name now.

BLOCK: You're saying everybody in Norway, except for those who are too young to speak or understand...

AULIN-JANSSON: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: ...know his name.

AULIN-JANSSON: Yeah.

BLOCK: Well, how does that show itself in Norway? How does that popularity reveal itself?

AULIN-JANSSON: You can't open a newspaper without seeing his face. You can't turn on the television without seeing something from Magnus. He's everywhere now.

BLOCK: I gather also that it's not just that it's not just that he's popular. He's making chess more popular too. I mean, sales of chess boards and chess apps are going up in Norway.

AULIN-JANSSON: It's quite crazy, actually, but in our capital, Oslo, you're not able to get a chess board anymore. It's all sold out.

BLOCK: Are folks in Norway glued to the TV broadcast of this championship match in India?

AULIN-JANSSON: Actually, I just received some new figures from the national TV channel which is broadcasting this move-by-move. And on Saturday, we actually managed to beat both skating and (unintelligible) almost one million, which is 20 percent of the Norwegian population watching this.

BLOCK: So a fifth of the country is watching a chess match.

AULIN-JANSSON: Yeah. I don't know how Super Bowl figures are in the United States. But for us in Norway, that's a very big numbers.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk a bit about Magnus Carlsen's career. He was a grandmaster at 13. I think he was the youngest in the world at the time.

AULIN-JANSSON: Correct.

BLOCK: The youngest number one player at age 19. And now, the highest rated chess player ever in history. What's his style of play?

AULIN-JANSSON: He is a combination between previous world champions Anatoly Karpov and your own Bobby Fischer. Anatoly Karpov because he used to be they say the king of strategies and the positional play; and Bobby Fischer because he was thinking outside the box.

BLOCK: Well, if Magnus Carlsen becomes the world chess champion, what will happen back home in Norway? What's a celebration going to be like?

AULIN-JANSSON: I don't know if you have ever experienced our National Day, 17 May.

BLOCK: I'm afraid I haven't, no.

AULIN-JANSSON: We become crazy.

(LAUGHTER)

AULIN-JANSSON: But it will be a combination of that, Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, all of the great days in Norway will be come together as one.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Jansson, thanks so much for talking to us.

AULIN-JANSSON: By all means, pleasure was all mine.

BLOCK: That's Joran Aulin-Jansson, president of the Norwegian Chess Federation. We were talking about the 22-year-old chess phenom Magnus Carlsen vying for the title of world champion in Chennai, India.

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