World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen begins match with black against Anish Giri in UN-backed campaign targeting racial discrimination

Reigning World Chess Champion GM Magnus Carlsen of Norway broke a cardinal rule of chess on Thursday when he began a game, played in Oslo against Anish Giri, with the black pieces instead of the white. This symbolic gesture was meant to challenge the notion that because white moves first, pieces of that colour have an advantage over the black pieces.

Played on 21 March, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, this game was part of a new UN-backed campaign called Move For Equality wherein both grandmasters made it clear that nobody should have an advantage or disadvantage because of colour.

The campaign was launched via Magnus’ social media channels, which command some of the largest followings of any chess player currently active, to mixed reactions.

Comments ranged from expressing disappointment, such as this one: “And now a favorite hobby gets political by thinking chess pieces denote race somehow. Sad day for the game.” to outrage, such as this: “Do not destroy chess. We are all the same, no matter how much melanin the skin! I leave one question: What will be the next "Loot" taking the King?  I remember that in chess, the most powerful piece is a woman (Lady).”

But most of them were supportive, like this one: “Chess has always been political. No one is changing the rules, they are just using their status to raise awareness on a topic they care about. I applaud them.” and this one: “People who object are being childish, and missing the point. In the game of Go, black goes first, so clearly, it was a random choice with the result being 50/50. Magnus Carlsen is using his voice to show that we need to transcend labels, and see color as meaningless without context. Getting hung up on which color starts first is silly, like insisting on which side of the road to drive.”

Firstpost was able to catch up with Magnus’s opponent, Dutch grandmaster Giri, who explained why he got involved: ‘It is an initiative supported by UNESCO, to fight racism discrimination. When I was approached to join Magnus in this great campaign, I was obviously honoured to take part. I fully share the vision and it was a great opportunity for me as a chess player, to contribute to this good cause.’

When asked about the result of the game, he added, ‘Part of the campaign was that it was not about the result, so we didn't finish the game. But it was quite fun to see that with colours reversed openings look very different. You can see the Trompowsky in the video. With colours reversed black's position felt much more attractive than the theoretical one. In general, we tried out some well-known lines, and it was refreshing to see them with colours reversed.’

Though this publicity stunt has garnered a lot of attention from members of the chess community, it remains to be seen whether it will lead to a more equal world for people of different colours.

About the Author – Paras Gudka is an author for ChessBase India

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Updated Date: Mar 22, 2019 22:45:57 IST

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