On September 22nd, 11 players from around the world met at the Liberty Science Center in New York City to play the World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen in a simultaneous exhibition match. These 11 players were all selected from the top leaderboards of the Play Magnus app where they had played countless games over the course of a year, gathering as many points as they could to qualify for the Play Live Challenge 2016.
The Play Live Challenge 2016 contestants represented a wide range of countries and chess talent. With players ranging from beginner to expert, some possessed FIDE rankings, ELO ratings and tournament experience, while others were quite new to chess, and were set to play their first formal game against the World Chess Champion. The highest rated player of the chosen 11 was Gustav Gudbrandsen, a FIDE master from Norway. Among the representative countries were the United States, Canada, Germany, Austria, Norway, The Bahamas and Spain. From their respective cities and countries, each candidate flew in for three days to explore New York City, attend chess events and to ultimately play against and meet their chess hero.
Following a brunch before the simultaneous exhibition, the Play Live Challenge 2016 began at noon on September 22nd. The event took place at the Liberty Science Center, known for being an inspiring museum for young people to become engaged in science, a fitting venue for an international chess event, as the center often holds chess events of its own. In fact, the Liberty Science Center is a sponsor of US Chess Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, the current second highest rated player in the world, who attended and participated in the Play Live Challenge events.
VG, the Norwegian media company, broadcasted the match, and the livestream was featured on various social media channels and chess sites online. In the commentator’s booth, Jon Ludvig Hammer, a Norwegian chess grandmaster provided his insights throughout the simul with VG. Hammer was part of Team Norway with Carlsen and fought alongside the world chess champion to secure a historic fifth place for the team at the Baku Chess Olympiad just weeks earlier.
The Play Live Challenge 2016 was a particularly challenging simul compared to others, as the players were playing with time clocks. In some other simultaneous exhibition matches, the challenging players would wait for the featured player to arrive at their board before moving their next piece. In the Play Live Challenge 2016, clocks were introduced to bring a challenging aspect to the match. Each player, including Magnus Carlsen, would have 30 minutes on the board. This forced Magnus to make his moves extremely quickly in order to achieve victory, as his clock would be ticking on other boards while his attention would be at one.
The opening move of the simul was made on Vedic Panda’s board, a high school student and chess enthusiast from Georgia, USA. Magnus began each game as white, and chose the strategy to alternate his opening moves on each board to prevent any player from gaining an advantage by analyzing the board next to them. In the early stages of the game, some boards proved more challenging for the World Chess Champion than others. One interesting early position was with Vedic Panda, who chose to adopt an unorthodox strategy to make Magnus think harder rather than simply utilizing a standard opening.
The first player to be defeated was Emil Hartveit from Norway, who tried his best to hold on for as long as possible to aid his fellow challengers. One intriguing strategy by Magnus was using an extremely aggressive “caveman” attack, as described by Jon Ludvig Hammer, against Michael Dimitriadis from Austria, another expert class player in the simul. Passing the 20 minute mark, Magnus took a 2-0 lead with the victory over Ivet Sala Samarra from Spain using a Queen and Knight mate. Towards the middle of the match, one of the best positions held by a contestant was on board number 8 with Michael Dimitriadis. Jed Sloan, the youngest player at 8 years old also held his own for a significant duration against the world’s greatest player, but unfortunately faced overwhelming difficulties against Magnus’ superb pawn positioning.
Towards the end of the simul, Magnus became more and more comfortable with his remaining time as players were defeated one after another. By the final stages of the competition, the contestants lacked far more time than Magnus, who began with just a small fraction of the time the contestants had. The last player to survive against the World Chess Champion was Isaac Wiebe from Canada, who held a strong position until being overpowered at the very end.
After the match ended, Magnus went through a post-game analysis with each of his challengers. Magnus, as he is known for, was able to bring up the critical positions in each game and talk through them with each contestant. One interesting conversation occurred with Gustav Gudbrandsen, as they recalled playing each other in the Norwegian League 14 years earlier.
Overall, the Play Live Challenge 2016 turned out to be an extremely exciting event with strong international chess players representing a range of skill levels trying their best to make a stand against Magnus Carlsen. In the end, as many predicted, Magnus claimed victory against his challengers, however all contestants had bright smiles on their faces in the aftermath of the game.
From the Play Magnus team, we thank everyone who was involved in the organization of the event and who allowed the Play Live Challenge 2016 to become a possibility and success. We especially thank SAS for sponsoring the Play Live Challenge, the Liberty Science Center for hosting the event and VG for broadcasting the simul. Thank you to all of the participants who travelled long distances from around the world to attend this event and to all of the fans around the world who tuned in for the match. We hope to see more of you next year at the Play Live Challenge 2017!