What Anand match means for brand Carlsen

Manager says Carlsen will get more chances and it won’t be a big deal if he doesn’t win this time


Magnus Carlsen’s manager Espen Agdestein. Photo: R. Ragu/The Hindu
Magnus Carlsen’s manager Espen Agdestein. Photo: R. Ragu/The Hindu

Chennai: It means little to brand Carlsen if the 22-year-old poster boy from Norway, Magnus Carlsen, who endorses six companies including a high street clothing line from the Netherlands, doesn’t win his world title match against reigning champion Viswanathan Anand.

That’s what his manager Espen Agdestein said in an interview two days ahead of the opening game of the 12-game match that is to be played at Chennai’s Hyatt Regency hotel. Agdestein said Carlsen will get more chances; so it does not matter if the world’s highest ranking chess player for more than two years didn’t win the world title with his first shot at it.

Estimated to earn at least $3.5 million in 2013 by the Norwegian media, Carlsen is the brand ambassador for G-Star Raw, an international clothing line, Arctic Securities ASA, an investment bank, chipmaker Nordic Semiconductor ASA and law firm Simonsen Vogtwiig, among others.

Having worked for Carlsen for four-and-a-half years, Agdestein, 48, said his own job was to manage for his boss “everything outside the chess board”, and “make his life as convenient as it could be”. Edited excerpts:

How important is this match for brand Carlsen?

It is surely going to be a huge thing for Carlsen if he wins, but at the same time, he is just 22. Whatever happens in this match, he is going to get more chances, and for brand Carlsen it won’t be a big deal if he doesn’t win this time.

He has been endorsing five companies, and will be the model for G-Star Raw for its spring/summer collection in 2014. These companies have been with him for a long time—nobody has ever left him. They have great confidence in him. G-Star Raw, for instance, hasn’t ever repeated a model. Carlsen will be the first to be their model twice. (He endorsed the brand in 2011.)

So, how this match goes doesn’t really matter for brand Carlsen at all. He, though, is extremely motivated to win—like he always is—but that has got nothing to do with this endorsement contracts and the money he makes out of them.

Is Carlsen stressed about this match? It is his first world title match after all.

He has been winning tournament after tournament, and like he said, he will win if he is able to play at peak strength. You see, playing a match isn’t very different from playing tournaments…you are moving around the same pieces on the same board after all.

But yes, this match is going to be more stressful (than routine tournaments). He will have to play 12 games spread over almost three weeks, whereas normally in tournaments you play only nine games.

Also, in a match of this order, you have to be prepared to deal with the expected and the unexpected (because the opponent will try to be innovative). There’s going to be a lot nerve-racking moments.

It will take its toll on health, and so you’d want to be fighting fit till the end. You don’t want to make mistakes out of fatigue…rather you would want to cash in on those that your opponent makes. Carlsen is prepared to face the endurance test that this match is going to be.

Not many chess players are as popular as brand ambassadors as Carlsen is. How is he different from the others?

It is his consistent performance at the highest level of chess that really makes the difference. In the past four years, he has been in the top league, and has a lot of achievements to show for himself. He drew attention with a tournament in Nanjing in 2009, which he won scoring 8 out of 10, and since then, he has been getting offers from various sponsors. Nanjing 2009, in my view, was the turning point.

Besides his performance, it must be his attitude that makes him special to his sponsors.

Chess is not a spectator sport: it gets very little TV coverage, which is a problem. But at the same time, chess being the highest form of cerebral sport lends itself for association with companies that want their brands to be identified with smartness.

How do these commitments affect Carlsen personally and as a chess player? Isn’t it a distraction at times?

I would say such association with large corporations expands a person’s horizon. It requires him to interact with people, with the media…which is good. Other players should walk the same path. For Carlsen, it brings about the right balance in life…the perfect distraction, I would say, when he is not playing chess. Carlsen is anyhow not focusing on chess all the time.

Isn’t it rather strange that Carlsen isn’t accompanied by any of his partners at chess for a match like this? Why did he sidestep the question on his so-called seconds in the press conference?

I think he is tired of being asked the same question (about his seconds) over and over again.

There are a lot of people who have come to Chennai with him. (They are staying at Chennai’s Hyatt Regency hotel—the venue of the match.) His parents and sisters are here, and so is a chef, a doctor and a personal security guard. Their only job is to make him feel at home.

But if you ask me if his seconds are here, I am not answering that question because that’s the way it should be. This isn’t the only hotel in Chennai…his seconds could be staying at any of them or not at all.

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