This month, a stacked field of grandmasters is in the Netherlands for the Tata Steel Chess Tournament. Magnus Carlsen is in town, and he just fought to a pretty thrilling draw with defending champ and his former second Jorden van Foreest, while Vidit Gujrathi has been the talk of the tournament after beating Daniil Dubov with the black pieces in a spectacular game. More importantly, the tournament has brought about an unlikely intersection: chess and bank robbery.
Because of Carlsen’s recent Chess World Championship, Norwegian TV is covering this tournament closely, and doing so with the help of notorious bank robbery mastermind David Toska. Norwegian broadcaster TV2 (which, true to its name, is actually the second-largest channel in the country) brought Toska on to its chess coverage as an expert. He was a talented youth player and told TV2 he currently has an online rating around 2000. Toska says he got back into the game after Carlsen’s success, though his skills had atrophied due to a lengthy break away from chess.
That rust may have built when Toska was in Norwegian prison serving time for masterminding the NOKAS robbery, the biggest heist in the country’s history. On April 5, 2004, a bunch of guys with tactical gear and automatic weapons attacked a NOKAS cash handling center in Stavanger, Norway and took 57 million kroner (roughly $6.5 million) in cash. One policeman, Arne Sigve Klungland, was shot dead as Toska and his crew escaped. He was arrested one year later in Spain and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Somehow, 50 million of the kroner still has never been recovered. Toska was released in 2018 after serving 13 years of his sentence, and he got a job as a programmer.
“The overall feedback from the people we have been in touch with makes us convinced that this is a positive decision,” TV2 Sports Editor Vegar Jansen Hagen said. “We have in particular been concerned with the family of Klungland, and their opinion has been of great importance.” Klungland’s son did release a statement in support of Toska, saying, “Anything that can help him or the others convicted to return to society is positive.”
Not everyone is as accepting of Toska’s new gig. “I never stop being surprised at the media bending over for known criminals,” said Erik Håland, a policeman who took fire from Toska’s crew. “Another reason not to watch chess. The fact that his celebrity has come due to serious crimes is in my opinion senseless glorification.” Intrum, a large Norwegian credit management company, pulled its sponsorship from TV2’s chess broadcasts over Toska’s involvement.
Does TV2’s inclusion of Toska have more to do with his celebrity status than his chess knowledge? Probably, although he expected even before people started voicing their outrage that people would indeed be mad that Norway’s most notorious bank robber would be celebrated as a chess expert. “I think it will pass very quickly, and that people can focus on the chess,” he said to TV2. “What should be the focus is what happens in the game, and I hope my story won’t disturb that.”