Brow Beat

Faux Pawn

Woody Harrelson got the World Chess Championship off to a rocky start.

Woody Harrelson attends smiles, wearing a white shirt and black suit.
Woody Harrelson.
Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Imagine this: You’re about to face off against the world’s top ranked chess player. You could be the first American to win this tournament since Bobby Fischer’s victory at the height of the Cold War. You’ve spent $50,000 on chess coaching in the last year alone, and 1 million euro is at stake. Dozens of cameras flash around as you prepare for psychological warfare against the reigning Norwegian triple-champion who sits across from you with folded arms and a relaxed frown. Then Woody Harrelson shows up to “help.”

This was the situation Fabiano Caruana found himself in at the World Chess Championship on Friday when Harrelson, the celebrity “ceremonial starter,” stepped forward and knocked over his king. Harrelson immediately righted the chess piece but then in a second blunder moved the incorrect pawn. The American player had instructed him to move his king’s pawn forward, but Harrelson accidentally moved his queen’s pawn. Caruana was ready to accept the mistake and continue with the match before officials gave Harrelson a third chance and he finally moved the correct piece. After that bizarre start, the seven-hour game continued to an eventual draw. The players will continue to face off in a series of 11 more games throughout the next 2½ weeks.*

Toppling your own king traditionally signals concession in chess, presumably a joke that Harrelson thought would come off better than it did. To be fair though, if your weed supplier was Willie Nelson it might be hard to resist trying the room.

Correction, Nov. 9, 2018: This post originally misstated that Magnus Carlsen won the match; it ended in a draw. The post also misstated the length of the match. It lasted around seven hours, not four.

Correction, Nov. 10, 2018: This post originally misidentified the first 2018 World Chess Championship game as a “match.” A match is a series of games.