"On Monday night, an invite-only crowd of about 75 blue-suited Wall Street workers and chess devotees hovered around a board on the second floor of the W Hotel in Midtown, awaiting two special guests.
"It’s not often you get to see Michael Jordan and LeBron James in the same room," grandmaster Maurice Ashley, the MC for the event, told the throng idling in anticipation of seeing their heroes in action.
In this case, the heroes were Magnus Carlsen, the 23-year-old world chess champion, who strolled in wearing faded jeans and a tan, and Garry Kasparov, the 51-year-old former world champion considered by many to be one of the greatest players of all time, who was 30 minutes late.
"The world waits for Kasparov," said Gaute Ulltveit-Moe of Arctic Securities, a sponsor of the event along with Nordic Semiconductor, both of which are based in Carlsen’s home country of Norway. The basis of the match, said Nordic Semiconductor CEO Svenn-Tore Larsen, was to find investors for the company. One of the other spectators, 13-year-old Tyrone Davis, a competitive chess player who attends Pelham Prep in the Bronx, called the event “life-fulfilling.”
When they sat down to the board, both champions were paired with a guest from the crowd who would serve as a playing partner and alternate making moves with the grandmaster—a way of skewing the match into a realm of chance rather than the deep rote of a face-off between two of the world’s greatest chess players.
About halfway through, Carlsen suddenly told his partner, Doug Hirsch, “Now we can win in one move.” It was Hirsch, a managing director and founding partner at Seneca Capital, who made the ideal move on his own—a knight attack—that appeared to seal the victory for Team Carlsen. Kasparov was visibly upset, suspecting, perhaps, that Hirsch had been tipped by Pascal Charbonneau, a nearby grandmaster. Hirsch called the entire experience “surreal.”
But as the clock wound down, Team Kasparov evened in material, and Ashley riled up the crowd with pronouncements like, “Now the G-pawn looks like food!” and, “Kasparov is about as giddy as a child right now.”
Soon it became clear, though, that Team Carlsen had secured the win. Kasparov—an outspoken opponent of Vladimir Putin who considered a run for the Russian presidency in 2008 and, more recently, lost a bid for the presidency of the World Chess Federation—was all smiles after the match, as he and Carlsen spent about 10 minutes rehashing and analyzing the in-game possibilities.
"It’s all fun," said Kasparov. "But naturally this is not a real game."