Chess is everywhere in Norway, a country that is thoroughly enchanted with the achievements of world champion Magnus Carlsen.
For a country of five million, its estimated that more than half a million people play chess regularly online. There are chess bars, department store displays and clubs everywhere.
Its all part of the so-called Magnus Effect. Carlsen is one of Norways most prized possessions, and everyone is eager to bask in his success.
That includes Norways television networks, which have seen significant ratings numbers for coverage of chess events, especially when they include Carlsen. A tradition has been created of pairing broadcasters with chess experts and celebrities on large panels to comment on the events.
But one Norwegian stations decision to include a convicted bank robber on its broadcast team created controversy last week. TV2 thought it would be a good idea to invite David Toska to its studios.
Toska is the purported mastermind behind Norways biggest-ever bank robbery in 2004, when robbers stole 56 million Norwegian kroner and killed a policeman in the process. He served 13 years in jail and was released in 2018. Most of the money was never recovered.
The robbers used a sledgehammer and battering ram to smash the bullet-proof glass windows and then showered them with shots from automatic weapons. In 2010 a Norwegian director produced a feature film about the event.
Toskas only chess credentials came when he was a young teenager and played in a few tournaments. He took up the game again in prison.
In explaining the decision, TV2s sports editor Verga Jansen Hagen said Toska was knowledgeable, curious and committed, and someone who can add something to our broadcasts. We have a large rights portfolio with hundreds of hours of chess during 2022 and are keen to have a variety of guests in addition to our regular experts, he said.
The blowback was predictable. Criticism came from just about every direction, and one of the networks sponsors pulled out. One news outlet found one of the police officers who had been shot at during the robbery, and he expressed his disgust at the decision.
In response, supporters of the decision noted that Toska had pleaded guilty to the robbery but not the killing of the policeman. The network also had reached out to the dead officers family, who reportedly expressed no objection to Toskas appearance.
Hagen, the sports editor, told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten that he acknowledged the criticism, but I think it is massive and judgmental. I think it is a story of hope that is not unimportant and not insignificant.
Still, Hagen was forced to say that Toskas career as a commentator was limited to two guest appearances and he would not become a regular.
The Chess24 website, which is part of the Play Magnus group, provided coverage of the controversy, but then couldnt help but append the following to its report: Our own commentators Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler are somewhat less controversial, and you can follow our Tata Steel Chess broadcast in English.
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This weeks problem: Mate in two (Rice). Solution to last problem: 1.Rg8.