World chess champion Magnus Carlsen takes on 11 challengers at LSC

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Today, 11 chess enthusiasts were given the opportunity to do something they might’ve only ever imagined possible in their dreams: They played against Magnus Carlsen.

And they all lost. But going against Magnus, the 25-year-old from Norway – currently ranked as the number one chess player in the world, and often described as the “Mozart of chess” – well, that was to be expected.

Magnus Carlsen

The giant board

Staying true to its commitment for chess education across the NY/NJ area, Liberty Science Center hosted the Play Magnus Challenge in the JD Williams 3D Science Theater. Magnus played against 11 adversaries who came to LSC from all over the globe, including New York City, Germany, Canada, Austria, Spain and more. They were chosen after competing in the Play Magnus app on their phones, earning enough points to play against Magnus in the flesh.

Some of the competitors had been playing chess for decades. Others, like 8-year-old Jed Sloan, were fairly new to the game (but still a fair match for Magnus). One player, 24-year-old Ben Berkowitz from New York City – the winner of LSC’s NY/NJ online chess challenge – was thrilled to meet Magnus, because Magnus was partly responsible for his interest in chess.

The competitors

“I played chess in elementary school, but I never really got into it and it fell out of my brain for 15 years or so,” said Ben, who brought along his parents to cheer him on. “Then a few years ago I saw Magnus on The Colbert Report. I had always imagined the world chess champion would be someone who was, like, 70 years old. But then I see Magnus come onto the scene, who is friendly and close to my age and I think, ‘Wow, this is fantastic! Maybe I should start taking chess more seriously!'”

Before the game began, Magnus participated in a brunch and blitz alongside LSC’s Visiting Grandmaster and Chess Rules! Ambassador Fabiano Caruana – the leading chess player in America – fresh off Team USA’s historic win at the 42nd Chess Olympiad last week. Joining them were chess aficionados Donari Braxton, a filmmaker from New York, and Christopher Chabris, a writer for The Wall Street Journal.

Fabiano Caruana

Blitz with Fabiano Caruana and Wall Street Journal writer Christopher Chabris vs. Magnus Carlsen and filmmaker Donari Braxton

Fabiano took a moment to reflect on USA’s big victory: “It feels amazing,” he said. “This is the first time in four decades that the U.S. team has won a gold medal. We had a great team. Everyone was motivated, and I think the team will only get better in the future. I know it’s a big accomplishment, but I hope there will be more in the future as well.”

LSC CEO Paul Hoffman presented Fabiano with a proclamation signed by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, commending him on his contributions toward Team USA’s victory at the Chess Olympiad.

LSC CEO Paul Hoffman (right) presenting Fabiano Caruana (left) with the proclamation from the state

Following the brunch and blitz, the 11 competitors took on Magnus in a heart-racing game that was streamed live across the globe. With only 30 minutes on the clock, Magnus walked back and forth between each of the boards – and managed to beat them all within the timeframe. The last player standing was 22-year-old Isaac Wiebe from Canada.

After he crushed them, Magnus held a one-on-one session with each player and gave them advice for how they could improve their game.

Magnus offers advice to 8-year-old competitor Jed Sloan

Magnus Carlsen

Sure, they may have lost. But to lose against someone against Magnus Carlsen – and then receive advice from him afterward – sounds like success.

If you missed the live stream of the event, rewatch the action here.

You can also see more photos from the event on our Facebook page.

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