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David meets Goliath

It was a fine day in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. Relatively speaking. Temperatures were hovering above zero. Within the posh confines of a hotel, sits a man who has his arms crossed over his chest. His name – Garry Kasparov. The year is 2004. He is the World number one in Chess at that time. He had been invited to attend a rapid knockout tournament at Reykjavik. Nothing he hasn’t done a hundred times before. He smiled slightly, thinking about his previous visits to the Smoky Bay. He had won the World Cup at Reykjavik in 1988. It had been a part of his 16 tournament winning streak. Good times.

He sits stiffly on his comfortable armchair, and closes his eyes. He replays moves he had made in previous games, and the mistakes he had made. He would never make them again. He casts his thoughts to the blitz tournament which was going on now, where his old rival  Anatoly Karpov would be playing. He looks forward to meeting Karpov in the main round.

He had also heard rumors of a new player in the horizon. A 13 year old boy who had already obtained two Grandmaster norms. Kasparov didn’t make much of it. People see a legend in every single player, he thought. Thoughts disturbed, he switches on the television, hoping to catch the evening news. There, he sees the news flash which was being broadcast in every news channel in the country – Former world champion Anatoly Karpov beaten by 13 year old boy. Kasparov squints to read the boy’s name. It was unremarkable. Kaprov’s getting old, he thought. He switches the TV off and resumes meditating. He forgets the name instantly.

The next day, Kasparov arrives late for the rapid knockout, only to hear that he would be facing the same 13 year old kid in his first round. He strides forward to his seat, almost cockily, and finds the boy already seated, an almost arrogant expression on his face, as if to say – Where were you, old man? Kasparov tries to remember the boy’s name, but he doesn’t get it.

The match begins as scheduled. Kasparov plays Black. He makes his moves lightning quick, as he probably wants to finish off the young man in front of him. He is mildly amused to find that the boy counters as fast, each move being blocked and cut down. Kasparov frowns, and takes a chance. He goes against the easy Botvinnik strategy, and chooses the Cambridge Springs. Mistake. The boy swoops down and sucker punches Kasparov, and goes one pawn up. The whispering crowd in Reykjavik is now dead silent. Kasparov can’t believe his eyes, and for the first time that day, his hard outer shell cracks just a bit. He tries to remember the boy’s name, but he doesn’t get it.

He hurriedly tries to capture the boy’s queen, and loses his own in the process. At that moment, the boy who is clearly bored of the march, proceeds to get up and take a walk around, leaving Kasparov to sweat it out in his seat. This shocks Kasparov, as he brings all his mettle and experience into play, and manages a bitterly-fought draw. The boy looks at the drawn game, grimaces, and shakes Kasparov’s hand. He then turns and walks swiftly away.

Kasparov is clearly shaken up. He manages to put on a brave face and walk past the crowd of reporters, heading to his quarters, where he would wait till the second round. At that point, Kasparov finally remembers the name of the boy who has nearly beaten him. It was an unremarkable name, really. Magnus Carlsen.

Magnus Carlsen is the reigning World Chess Champion, and the no. 1 ranked player in the world. He is supposed to have memorized more than 10,000 chess games, and can play 10 people at the same time – blindfolded.

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