The World’s Best Chess Player Is A 19 Year Old G-Star Model


I am a ruthless filleter of newspapers. When I get Saturday’s Guardian home I invariably segment it into two piles: the main section, the Review, the magazine and the Guide (which I will read), and everything else (Money, Family, Work, Travel, Sport etc.) (which I won’t). Topping that second pile, and placed there automatically and without any regard whatsoever, are the pamphlets, special offers and sponsored bonus segments – I understand that it has become an unfortunate financial necessity of the newspaper industry to include these cheaply printed, poorly designed wastes of time, but I retain my right to pay them absolutely no mind.

However, to every rule an exception, and whilst gutting this Sunday’s Observer I came across an oversized advertising pamphlet for the clothing brand G-Star Raw. Printed on cheaper-feeling stock than the rest of the paper, and inexpertly bound, it was headed straight for the ‘not interested’ pile, when something about the cover photo caught my eye. The model was pulling a facial expression that was probably intended to be ‘intense’ but actually fell somewhere between ‘confused’ and ‘constipated.’ His eyes were just a little crossed, and his brow a touch furrowed, and then there was the most dominant facial feature: a flat, boxer’s nose with a prominent divot at its bridge. That was enough to get me to read the by-line, from which I learned that the model wasn’t a model, and not quite a boxer, but the world’s best chess player.

Magnus Carlsen is a name I was familiar with from The Guardian’s weekly Chess column; he’s a prodigy, one of the youngest Grandmasters ever (at age 13), a former student of Kasparov’s, and since January 2010 has been the highest ranked chess player in the world (at age 19). It turns out that he’s also one half of G-Star’s latest advertising campaign, which pairs him up, in a collection of moody-looking shots by Anton Corbijn, with actor Liv Tyler.

It also turns out that on September 10, during New York’s Fashion Week, Carlsen played an exhibition game billed as the G-Star RAW World Chess Challenge. This entailed Carlsen, Liv Tyler, and a bunch of G-Star reps, hanging out in a New York loft with three other (sort of) young, (kind of) hip Grandmasters (Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura, and Judit Polgár) all dressed in G-Star product. Carlsen played white and “The World” played black – “The World” in this instance denoting Lagrave, Nakamura and Polgár suggesting moves, which were then voted on by everyone watching live via the web at Carlsen won out in 44 moves, and if you head to that website now you can see video of him collecting his trophy from Liv Tyler. Whilst you’re there you can watch G-Star reps explain how they discovered Carlsen; Liv Tyler explain why she likes chess so much; Carlsen posing for Corbijn in various outfits… it’s a different universe where Gary Kasparov is a clothing company shill, and chess matters to the same people to whom fashion matters, and vice versa. It paves the way for the UniQlo Mathletics World Cup, and that can’t be a bad thing.

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