WITH MOST OF us knee-deep in end-of-year family traditions - the holidays, NFL football, divorce, buying guns and what not - many of you probably missed the fact that Norwegian Magnus Carlsen won the world championship of chess last month a week shy of his 23rd birthday.Stop right there, Mr. Big Shot Sports Columnist. Chess isn't even a sport.Of course it's not a sport; neither is poker. But they're both great games steeped in skill populated by a bevy of characters more fascinating than, say, Richie Incognito.And trust me, America, if the new world chess champion were American, he'd have his own cable channel by now.
So let me tell you a little something about Magnus Carlsen, who won the title against defending champion Viswanathan Anand.Of course, Norway already knows plenty about its native genius. Many Norwegians watched every moment of the world chess championship live - yes, live chess, on TV. Norway thrives on slow-moving television: Its national broadcaster once aired a 134-hour-long live telecast of an Arctic cruise ship.Then again, we had "Love Boat." Who's to judge?At age 2, Carlsen was already solving 50-piece jigsaw puzzles; for the record, at age 2 I could program a universal remote and microwave a jar of Gerber's strained peas at the same time.Introduced to the game at age 5, Carlsen was named a chess grandmaster at 13 and became the youngest chess player in history ranked No. 1 in the world at 19.But beyond his chess acumen, Carlsen sparkles because he cuts a different figure than most people in the game. Like Couch Slouch in his youth, Carlsen favors skinny jeans and stylish blazers; unlike Couch Slouch, Carlsen is good-looking - so good-looking that he's a fashion model working for international clothing brand G-Star.
(Column Intermission: Springbrook boys basketball, America's High School Team of Destiny, is 5-0, fueled by old-school coach Tom Crowell - Crowell's so old school, he once benched James Naismith - the sweet stroke of the sublime Robinson twins, Andrew and Aaron; and the all-around play of Couch Slouch stepson-in-training Isaiah Eisendorf.)Carlsen's got movie-star glamour. He loves to ski jump and play tennis. He's a big "Seinfeld" fan. He exudes so much cool, I put on a sweater just thinking of him.None of that might matter, though, if he wasn't the so-called "Mozart of chess."Last year "60 Minutes" filmed him playing 10 matches against 10 opponents simultaneously in which he wasn't allowed to look at any of the boards - he kept track of the positions of 320 pieces blind! He won every match. Are you kidding me? Kevin Gilbride can't even make the right play-call with a play chart in front of him.Carlsen is known for his positional mastery and endgame prowess, coupled with an almost casual arrogance - he's like a preening peacock trampling over chess's black-and-white board.
Yet he skipped the 2012 world championship - when he could've become the youngest champ ever - because he objected to the format; that would be like me not watching a Super Bowl because I didn't think Ed Hochuli should be refereeing.
Carlsen ended up advancing to the 2013 title match against Anand in Anand's hometown of Chennai, India. Talk about home-field advantage! Heck, that crowd got so loud, you couldn't distinguish your rook from your rear.But Anand, 44, couldn't keep up with the brilliance of his younger foe. In Game 9, a defensive blunder by Anand - I believe he played Tampa Cover 2 on Move 28, opening up the middle of the board - led to a critical Carlsen victory, en route to the wunderkind capturing the best-of-12 series, 61/2-31/2.There's another reason to celebrate Carlsen's ascension: The day after he won the world title, he went bowling. Bowling!!!Stop right there again, Mr. Big Shot Bowling Aficionado. The best in chess ain't going bowling.Why wouldn't he go bowling? You think chess has a beer frame?
Ask The Slouch(Special Holiday Easy-Money Edition)Q. North Korea's dictator just executed his uncle and second-in-command for behaving in a "dissolute and depraved" manner, being "extremely idle and easygoing" and "squandering" money at overseas casinos while being "wined and dined at back parlors of deluxe restaurants." In view of your experience and qualifications, have you considered applying for the position? (Graham Vink; Vienna, Va.)A. Pay the man, Shirley.Q. Nick Saban's new $7-million-a-year contract would cover tuition, room, board and books for more than 600 Alabama students. What would he be worth if he had recruited a kicker? (James McPherson; Spokane, Wash.)A. Pay the man, Shirley.Q. With football announcers forever referring to players "in space," why didn't I notice any in the movie "Gravity"? (P.J. Galloway; Centreville, Va.)A. Pay the man, Shirley.Q. If Mike Shanahan were still in Denver, would he be "resting" Peyton Manning so he could come to camp healthy? (Michael A. Becker; Clayton, Mo.)A. Pay the man, Shirley.You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail email@example.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!