Carlsen walks in like a deity, hints at being a mortal in a five-hour bout before he shows who is the boss

The 64-squared world gathered inside the cacophonous hall paused, took a deep collective gasp and stood frozen like statues in their pose. Just their eyes rolled, as Magnus Carlsen breezed past the crowded hallway, his half-quiff ruffled, and squeezed briskly into the hall. The moment was akin to pilgrims at a temple finally granted the holy vision, slipping them into a blissful trance. Not just the passive onlookers, even the gnarled pros in the hall, who have fought him countless times, stood enchanted by his aura.

The deity entered with no trappings of divinity—he did not lift his arms to applaud his devotees, or fold his hands in gratitude, or even smile back at them. He does not bask in his superstar aura.

An over-strung Kenyan player sought an autograph, he refused, and coldly shrugged his shoulders. Maybe the un-scattered attention suffocated him, like the drudgery of preparing for the World Championship.

He slipped into his chair—-rather throne—casually, smiled a half-smile at his adversary Georg Meier, a German Grandmaster relocated to Uruguay, a master in economics who spends his spare time reading Milton Keynes and Noam Chomsky. He has duelled Carlsen a few times, drawn him once and even pushed him to the brink of a defeat once. He is three years older than Carlsen, and a player with a tough-as-nuts to beat reputation, but even he sat genuinely awe-struck.

But as the clock began to tick, Meier removed the lens of admiration and glanced defiantly at the pieces. He was not there to be just another to concede the match on a platter to Carlsen, whose motives, apart from route-mapping Norway’s maiden gold medal, would be to manage a live rating of 2900 points, the Mount Everest in Chess, and peak he had fallen short twice by 20 points.

Perhaps, their past encounters weighing in his head, Carlsen went for a stable than enterprising opening, the French Defence, a relatively base-solidifying opening, after which he could tread a more aggressive line. Meier was not totally surprised and made defensive moves himself, fully wary of an odd slip up that Carlsen could ruthlessly punish. But then Carlsen himself blundered by his standards—a hasty pawn h3 jeopardising his movements. A sort of self strangulation that Meier latched onto, moving his queen to d6. Carlsen took two swigs of water, stroked his chin and shook his head in the realisation of his folly. He would then go for a stroll, where again he stopped the hall, and where again he would end up ignoring autograph hunters.He makes for great theatre, in a sport bored of impassive heroes.

He brooded an eternity for the next move, his face screaming that trapped feeling. One wrong move, and his opponent, playing with the black pieces, would have considerable positional advantage. But such fears won’t hold him. The sport’s smartest problem solver has a solution for every riddle. Ensued a cat and mouse game—he would tempt him with a clear shot of his house, before he would pull the shutters down. Meier, aware of his opponent’s abilities, would dither and withdraw into a shell. As is often the case, it’s Carlsen’s reputation that beats the opponent first. Meier captured Carlsen’s knight in the 21st move—attacking his knights is often a preferred strategy against him, though not always successful. But thereafter, he could not push the advantage further.

The match dragged on, with both seeing through each other’s ruses. Those wondering how long the match would last, how early Carlsen would wrap up the game, were now watching an intense tactical game. The match seemed to meander into a draw, and probably Meier thought as much. A draw, sometimes, is a victory against Carlsen. And Carlsen probably gauged that Meier was smelling safe shores. With shoulder twitches and head-shakes, Carlsen conveyed an impression that he was dejected, that he had frittered away the advantage. He indeed did a few times, especially when he blundered his pawn on b2, but he would never give until the last move.

He gradually clawed back into the game, ensured that he would not lose the game no matter what, and then stealthily attacked his queen. Meier flinched, He surveyed the outlets for a draw, but there was none, and when Carlsen’s Queen took out Meier’s pawn on b1, the match was as good as over, and Carlsen wrapped it up shortly, ending a five-hour bout.

By then, the hall was mostly empty. Carlsen peered at the boards of the few matches that remained. At the exit though, there was a mob of admirers waiting for him, chessboards and notebooks in tow. Every time the door was opened, they would begin to shout his name. But Carlsen rushed through another exit, though it did not prevent them from running frantically towards the doors. All for another slice of Carlsen—a memorabilia, a wave of the hands, or feel the light of chess-divinity.

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