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Publisher's Summary

A firsthand account of the dramatic 2016 World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Sergey Karjakin, which mirrored the world's geopolitical unrest and rekindled a global fascination with the sport.

The first week of November 2016, as a crowd of people swarmed outside of Manhattan’s Trump Tower to rail against the election of Donald Trump, hundreds more descended on the city’s South Street Seaport. But they weren’t there to protest. They were there to watch the World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Sergey Karjakin - what by the time it was over would be front-page news and thought by many the greatest finish in chess history.

The story lines were riveting. The championship hadn’t been hosted in New York City, the de facto world capital of the sport, in more than two decades. With both Carlsen and Karjakin just 25 years old, the tournament organizers were billing it as a battle of the millennials - the first time the championship had been waged among the generation that grew up playing chess primarily against computers. And perhaps most intriguing were all the geopolitical connections to the match. Originally from Crimea, Karjakin had recently repatriated to Russia under the direct assistance of Putin. Carlsen, meanwhile, had expressed admiration for Donald Trump, and his first move of the tournament he played with a smirk what's called a Trompowsky Attack. Then there was the Russian leader of the World Chess Federation being barred from attending due to US sanctions, and chess fanatic and Trump adviser Peter Thiel being called on to make the honorary first move in sudden death.

That the tournament required sudden death was a shock. Oddsmakers had given Carlsen, the defending champion, an 80 percent chance of winning. It would take everything he had to retain his title. In doing so, he would firmly make his case to be considered the greatest player chess has ever seen.

Author Brin-Jonathan Butler was granted unique access to the two-and-half-week tournament and watched every move. In The Grandmaster, he aims to do for Magnus Carlsen what Norman Mailer did for Muhammed Ali in The Fight, John McPhee did for Arthur Ashe in Levels of the Game, and David Foster Wallace did for Roger Federer in his famous New York Times Magazine profile. Butler captures one of the world’s greatest sportsmen at the height of his powers and attempts to decipher the secret to that greatness. 

©2018 Brin-Jonathan Butler (P)2018 Simon & Schuster

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Profile Image for Steve T
  • Steve T
  • 29-11-2018

Random sketches-Zero Greatness-Very Little Magnus

This book does not deliver on its title, "The Grandmaster: Magnus Carlsen and the Match That Made Chess Great Again" (written by Brin-Jonathan Butler, read by Jacques Roy).

It provides no direct information about Magnus Carlsen; no interviews or personal information, no insight into his training, nothing that uniquely identifies him as one of the world's greatest ever chess players. Less than 10% of the book even mentions Magnus; when it does it supplies innuendo, opinion, and hearsay and confuses this with meaningful insight. The author even suggests that Magnus c-o-u-l-d very likely be afflicted by the same bizarre behavior patterns of prior chess champions, without any direct evidence. Sensational, irresponsible, and unfounded.

The book does nothing to increase one's understanding of the game. There is nothing about how the game is played. There is no discussion of strategy or tactics. There is nothing to help the reader understand what makes an individual game great. There is no explanation of what makes a "!!" brilliant move any different from a normal move. It does not define how greatness is quantified in individual players. It does not define how to measure the "greatness" of Chess as a game historically or currently. There are only a few paragraphs on the 2016 world chess championship (the "match" of the title, between Carlsen and Sergei Karjakin); it therefore does not and cannot inform us how chess has been restored to any greatness or how it can be compared to any prior greatness.

The book at best is a random walk through chess history searching for a common thread. It reads like a lengthy response to an essay question which makes it clear that the writer has little or no knowledge of the question asked but mistakenly believes that if he just keeps filling up space with random material then the teacher will grade based on exhaustion rather than on mastery.

The book does provide snippets of value: interviews with famous personages; moments of insightful reporting (e.g., the impact of the book and movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer" on the life of the chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin and his changing relationship with his father, Fred, who wrote the book). These snippets might make an interesting magazine article, but do not meet the challenge of the book's title.

The narrator does a creditable job of voicing the author and bringing to life his journey to write the book.

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  • Evandro L. S. Pires
  • 17-12-2019

Few magnus, lots of Trump

Very few magnus. Lots of author biography and libels against Trump. There are some ideas about current chess scene here and there. I have to concede that he writes well though. Overall, book brings almost nothing for a chess fan who was not under a rock the last twenty years, but may be of interest for a layperson. It is a pity, cause there exists not many chess books that would translate well to an audio book version, and we need more

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  • Thomas
  • 15-07-2019

Where is Carlsen in this book?

Narrator was pleasant listening to. That is the best part of the book. This book fails on all other levels.

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 12-02-2021

A Beautiful Diversion

This book is about the 2016 World chess championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin. It attempts to do this from a variety of perspectives by delving into the lives of the participants as well as other child prodigies like Judit Polgar and Josh Waitzken as well as Former World Champions like Garry Kasparov, Bobby Fischer and José Raúl Capablanca. There are also accounts from journalists, friends, et cetera. The Author also draws parallels from other sports like boxing, deep sea diving and bull fighting to beautifully and poignantly describe the intensity of these long over-the-board battles. The book presents many significant aspects of chess history like: women in chess, the world chess championship itself, and little known enigmas like Peter Winston. One feels like rapidly visiting various strange countries under the auspices of an animated but informed tour guide. It is a beautiful diversion, much like chess itself.

The deliverance was very good with great inflection, tone and volume. The only thing that made me wince was 'irrevocable' with the emphasis on the 3rd syllable rather than the 2nd, but that pronunciation is also acceptable and may just be a personal idiosyncrasy.

The book can be enjoyed by people who know nothing of chess as well as the obsessed aficionado. I thank the author for this great work and plan on listening to it again soon.

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  • michael o'connor
  • 13-12-2018

Great book!!!!

From start to finish, it was just great!!! Along with the hardcover version. And the words jump off the page!!!!

1 person found this helpful

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