World chess champion Magnus Carlsen is the subject of the new documentary, “Magnus,” screened at the Palace Theatre in Danbury as part of the Hearst Movie & A Martini series. A new documentary about the Norwegian world chess champion Magnus Carlsen was a hit at a recent screening in Danbury.
“Magnus” traces the quick rise of Magnus Carlsen from a child chess prodigy to his world championship victory in 2013 at the age of 22. Carlsen has held onto that title in subsequent contests.
“I don’t know anything about chess, but I found it incredibly fascinating,” Penelope Forman, of Ridgfield, said of director Benjamin Ree’s personal approach, which includes lots of family videos showing Magnus in the years before he became an international celebrity.
The screening drew about 30 people, including the chess coach at Danbury High School, Gary Budzinski, who said he met Carlsen at the world championship match in New York City last November.
When I asked Budzinski how Carlsen compares with American chess legend Bobby Fisher, he said, “That’s a really tough question. Fisher was the greatest player of all time, but you’re talking about the years from 1970 to 1972. Their styles of play are very different and I don’t think you can compare champions from different eras. You’d have to have Fisher at his peak play Carlsen at his peak. … I don’t think there is any doubt that Magnus will be in the top 10 of all time.”
Nine-year-old Andre Lladri, of Danbury, came to the movie with his mother, Christina, who said her son was just starting to get into the game. She thinks the concentration and strategy involved in chess will help him in his other classes. Andre said that so far he is having lots of fun playing chess.
Although “Magnus” shows how the chess prodigy was shunned by his classmates when he was a schoolboy, it also makes it clear that his father and mother and two sisters were a great support system.
“He had so much love from them,” one woman in the audience said in the discussion after the documentary. “You can see that in the home movies of him playing chess as a boy.”
One of the audience members raised a question that resulted in some lively discussion: Why aren’t there women chess champions?
In all of the movie’s matches we never see a woman competing. An audience member speculated that it’s a matter of the different spatial senses of men and women, but others felt it might simply be a matter of parents and schools not encouraging girls to get into a game so dominated by men.
Budzinski said the game is more popular in the United States than sports like golf and tennis, with recent studies showing 35 million regular chess players, as opposed to 24 million golfers and 17 million people who play tennis.
Chess develops memory, concentration, focus and logical thinking, Budzinski pointed out.
“I think it can help you become a better mathematician,” he said of the way it sharpens the minds of the high school students he coaches.