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World championship chess to livestream from NYC in virtual reality

Thomas McAulay, senior producer at Livestream, sets up

Thomas McAulay, senior producer at Livestream, sets up cameras on Nov. 11, 2016 so chess fans using virtual reality goggles can watch the World Chess Championship. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Thousands of chess fans will get up close and personal when they slip on their virtual reality goggles to watch chess masters compete in a world championship match in New York Friday.

Reigning champ Magnus Carlsen, 25, and challenger Sergey Karjakin, 26, will face off at the World Chess Federation championship at the South Street Seaport, which is being broadcast online in virtual reality for the first time ever.

Organizers want online fans to watch beads of sweat well up on the foreheads and brows of the chess masters who will face off in a soundproof room with several 360-degree cameras, providing a panoramic view of the three-week contest.

“It will get people closer to the game. Fans will see into Magnus’ face and then they will be able to turn around and look into the face of his opponent Karjakin and see his emotion,” said Andrew Murray-Watson, director of communications with Agon Limited, organizers of the match.

Growing up, the challenger Karjakin has watched the champ Carlsen, of Norway, clinch titles, including grandmaster, at the age of 13. Karjakin on Wednesday tried to play down his competitor’s titles at the Fulton Street Market, where the match will begin Friday.

“We are from different chess schools. I just want to play my own chess. We have no problems, but I cannot say that we are best friends,” said Karjakin, who is from Ukraine but moved to Russia where he found the sponsorship he needed to keep playing.

“This is a major chess match coming-out party,” Ilya Merenzon, a match organizer and president of Agon Limited, said.

Even without the virtual goggles, Merenzon said fans who live stream on their electronic devices “will still feel the drama.”

Those lucky enough to pay $3,000 for a VIP ticket will be able to watch the match in person through a two-way mirror. Twelve matches are scheduled through Nov. 30.

“Today we have millions of people playing chess online,” said Israel Gelfer, vice president of the World Chess Federation. Gelfer said the $15 ticket to click into the live stream and virtual experience will “have people from not only here in New York watching, but a young kid in Zambia.”

In Manhattan, 15-year-old chess champ Janell Warner of Eastside Community High School said she will watch the live stream at the midtown offices of the Chess in the Schools program, a nonprofit educational group that teaches chess to public school children.

“Seeing the players in human form and feeling the energy like I am really there makes me really want to see this match,” said Warner, who credits the game “in helping me academically and opening my eyes to a world outside New York.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Ilya Merenzon, a match organizer and president of Agon Limited.

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