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World

Norwegian Magnus Carlsen Defends His Title As World Chess Champion

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

There has never been anything like it in the 132-year history of the World Chess Championship. All 12 games ended in a draw.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

So today, to break this dramatic tie, the world's two best chess players entered a soundproof studio in London, and they faced off for the title by playing in a series of rapid-fire matches.

BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: The tension was building over the whole time we were waiting for that breakthrough. We almost had it Monday with Game 12.

KELLY: Bryan Armen Graham - he writes for The Guardian and has followed the match between the reigning champion - that would be 27-year-old Magnus Carlsen from Norway - and the world's No. 2, a 26-year-old American, Fabiano Caruana, who was vying to become the first American World Chess Champion since Bobby Fischer won way back in 1972.

GRAHAM: Fabby has a legendary poker face. He really betrayed no signs of tension.

If anything over the past three weeks, the person that was showing more psychological weakness was Carlsen. One journalist threw up, who is your most favorite chess player in history? And Carlsen said, you know, it was probably myself three or four years ago. And this is a player who is sort of a bit past his peak.

CHANG: Wait. He's about to turn 28, and he's past his peak? Really? In chess?

GRAHAM: It's a young man's game. I've always - there's a huge physical element to it. Just the endurance - I mean, look; they sat in that soundproof room for 49 hours over the past 19 days.

CHANG: The brutal match finally ended a few minutes before 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time. It was a quieter finish than you might have expected after all the global hullabaloo.

GRAHAM: It was knight to e6 which really opened the game up.

KELLY: And with that, Caruana would yield to his opponent, and Magnus Carlsen retained his crown in a sport The Guardian writer, Graham, says has gained a huge new following.

GRAHAM: Chess has very interestingly become, like, a very popular esport. If you go on the online video game streaming site Twitch, very often, it was the most streamed thing on that website. When you're talking about going up against Fortnite in the year 2018, that's a really big deal. You know, the people are streaming on that site round-the-clock.

There's been this very interesting, unpredictable community that's been built up around chess. This game is 2,500 years old, yet, in many ways, it's sort of carving out its own sort of new-school niche for itself as a very popular esport.

CHANG: That was Bryan Armen Graham of The Guardian speaking to us over Skype about this year's World Chess Championship. The winner is 27-year-old Magnus Carlsen of Norway.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.