NEW YORK – Ethan Litman, an 11-year-old from Golden Valley, flew to New York City to watch two guys sit across a table from each other and think — just think, without saying a word — for nearly four hours.
And he found it exciting.
Ethan and his dad, Dana, were in the front row as the World Chess Championship match began Friday, featuring the Norwegian world champion, who may be the best player ever to push a pawn, and his challenger from Russia.
As soon as Ethan heard that the world championship would be held in the United States — for the first time in 21 years — he began lobbying to attend it, said his dad.
The 12-game match between current champion Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin is being conducted in a glass-partitioned, soundproofed room that's the size of a typical living room and that in some ways resembles a dry fish tank.
Hundreds of spectators looked on from the other side of glass walls, able to discuss and debate the decisions being made by the two grandmasters 20 feet away.
This being a world championship and this being New York City, VIPs were in attendance, and the ceremonial first move was made by actor Woody Harrelson, himself an avid, if amateur, chess player.
The event, at the South Street Seaport complex at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, drew more than 100 journalists from all over the world, mostly from Russia and other eastern European countries where chess is extremely popular, and from Norway, where chess became suddenly popular when Carlsen, 25, emerged as the world's No. 1 player.
Watching the chess game between two players often meant watching just one player. When Carlsen or Karjakin made his move, the other often stood up and walked out of the fish tank into a room accessible only to the two players. There, by turns, they could relax on a couch — or, more likely, nervously pace — grab some drinks and snacks and watch on a TV screen whether his opponent had made a move.
For spectators — both those in attendance and those following via livestreaming on the internet — expert commentary was provided by Judit Polgar, a Hungarian grandmaster who once was one of the top 10 players in the world.
Ethan and Dana Litman split their time at the match between two viewing areas. Sometimes they stood at the glass partition where they were able to see the players up close, which required some stamina because it was a standing-room-only area with no seating. Other times they retreated to a lounge area where they could sit and monitor the game on big-screen TVs.
Ethan, a fifth-grader at Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion, has been playing chess for four years, and Dana coaches the school's chess club. Ethan said he pressed his father to get tickets to the event — $100 each for the opening round — because he was eager to see "supposedly the two best players on the planet, and hopefully learn from them."
The Litmans will attend the first three games of the match — Friday, Saturday and Monday — but on Monday night they will scoot from the chess venue to watch a different kind of game — the Monday Night Football contest at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey between the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Bengals.
But on Friday, the Litmans' focus was strictly on the chess board, where Carlsen appeared to surprise Karjakin with an opening rarely used at the championship level. It's called the Trompowsky Attack, which led to all sorts of jokes about it being the Trumpowsky Attack.
Karjakin sank into long, deep thinks, using up precious time on his clock early in the game. But he found the right responses and after 42 moves, and three hours and 51 minutes, he and Carlsen settled on a draw. (The game can be seen on worldchess.com.)
Asked what he thought of witnessing his first world championship game, Ethan was enthusiastic: "I think I'm ready to see more!"