Interview: Jan Berglund, Chess Olympiad ambassador

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Jan Sigmund Berglund, head event coordinator of the Chess Olympiad 2014, held in Norway.
11:34 CEST+02:00
In August the Chess Olympiad comes to Tromsø. 181 countries take part, crowning it the third biggest sporting event in the world. The Local makes its move to meet Jan Sigmund Berglund, head event coordinator of the event and a key ambassador of the sport in the Arctic Circle.

Jan, what is your background as a chess ambassador?
I learned chess at age of 13 while also playing other more physical sports, such as ice-hockey and football. I really liked that chess was a mindful sport and also very competitive. In 1986, I came to Tromsø, met my wife here, and decided to stay. My interest in chess grew and led me to join and eventually become head of the Tromsø Chess Club.

What’s been achieved by the club during your 30 years in charge?
Clearly landing the Olympiad in Tromsø is a massive achievement for us. Part of the reason for this is the work started by the Chess Club fifteen years ago to encourage young people to take part and foster chess as an active part of community life. Today, we have a tremendous youth chess scene in Tromsø. We also created a chess school in the city where children can progress through 10 grades of chess coaching and excellence.

What are some Olympiad highlights coming up?
All the big names in chess will be here. This will be fantastic for local players and chess enthusiasts visiting Tromsø. You will be able to get up close to the action and the atmosphere will be fantastic. Because Tromsø is a small city, there will be chess players and games going on everywhere. Every day at 11 o’clock, blitz tournaments take place for amateurs to participate before we head to the main arena to watch the Chess Masters compete. We also have special events linked to the Olympiad every day. There are shows, concerts, art exhibitions, and day-trips in and around the city from now until mid-August.

What makes Tromsø the ideal host city?
The Arctic Chess Challenge was held in Tromsø in 2006 and 2010. I was the organizer of these tournaments. They were a success from a chess competition perspective, but also we encouraged participants to visit the nature and attractions in and around Tromsø. People really enjoyed to go up mountains, fish and go camping. This tournament was very successful. Magnus Carlsen was there and maybe this helped Tromsø win its bid to host the Olympiad.

Which teams are you tipping for tournament success in 2014?
Of course, Magnus is the one to watch. The Norway team has never ranked higher, partly due to Magnus’s status and two of the team also having strong world rankings. The Norway team is tipped as the 15th seed this year. Top teams likely to triumph are Russia, Armenia and Ukraine. Israel also has a strong team.

What makes Magnus Carlsen so good?
Magnus became famous very young, at about 12 or 13-years-old. He was Western Europe’s hope to compete with the East’s dominance after so many years. The media was and still is an important factor in Magnus’s success. But faster than the media’s reaction to the rising star, was Magnus’s own dedication to develop his game. His style is less serious than many of his rivals in the East; he has fantastic technical play; and is one of the best endgame players ever. His mind can calculate long variations of moves and his will to win should never be underestimated. The world number one is so eager to win and to keep on winning!

Magnus Carlsen: Norway's top chess player. Photo: Carina Johansen / NTB Scanpix

What is the secret to being a good chess-player?
I think you need many qualities. Obviously, a good memory will help you a lot both in calculation, reading the game, and learning from past mistakes. Also concentration is important. Girls tend to be more easily distracted as the chess player must concentrate on one thing at a time. You can sit for many hours during a long game.  Finally, I think the will to force a victory over an opponent is valuable.

How is the internet helping chess grow globally?
The internet has opened the game up on a truly global scale. There exist many online chess communities where you can find challenging opponents and better your skills. However, the internet has sadly taken people away from cafes and clubs. I've always found the sport of chess a great way to meet friends and enjoy the social side of life.

And what do you say to those who say chess is still ‘boring’?
It’s only boring if you don’t know anything about the game; some wooden pieces moving around a board of squares. Yet the history, the strategy and the uniqueness of the game are fascinating. We as chess ambassadors have to open the game to the mainstream and bring them into the game by showing them the sport’s fun and potential.

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The Chess Olympiad 2014 runs from 1st until 14th August.

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