Magnus Carlsen: I try to land the first punch

In Kolkata for the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid and Blitz tournament, the Norwegian world champion picked Viswanathan Anand as his biggest rival in a match.

Magnus Carlsen and BCCI president Sourav Ganguly during the draw of lots for the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid and Blitz tournament Kolkata on Thursday.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Magnus Carlsen has changed the entire dynamics of modern chess. World champion since 2013, the Norwegian has truly played like one almost throughout his continuing reign as the best in the game.

In 190 days beginning December last year, Carlsen won a record eight successive elite tournaments and matched his career-high ELO rating of 2882 on August 1.

In doing so, Carlsen also made the chess world revise the perception that he was grinding his rivals before emerging stronger.

In Kolkata to play in the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid and Blitz tournament, Carlsen took time off to set the record straight.

“I would say I try to land the first punch. My attitude is more like, if the game drags on, then at some point, you have to be patient. I think that perception of mine (outlasting the rival) is slightly mistaken since I also win lots of games faster. I don’t think you get to be a world-class player by being a one-dimensional player by only winning in one way.”

Asked whom he considered his biggest rival in a match, Carlsen named Viswanathan Anand.

“Obviously Anand. He was the world champion before me and though there are other players better than Anand today, in the historical context, nobody can be compared to him. He is such an iconic figure in the history of chess. He still is an extremely strong player,” he said.

Carlsen is known not to name any favourite chess player. “I don’t have any favourite players. I try to learn from what they do instead of idolising the people,” he said.

Reflecting on his approach, Carlsen said, “I try to do what I do best – play chess. Everything else is kind of secondary. Whenever I play a game, usually I try to focus more on what I do wrong and try to improve. So I just try to focus, to get better.

“I have no particular ambitions outside of chess. I would say I try to lead a normal life. I leave it to others to judge whether my contributions are making any impact or not.”

For those seeking his single biggest piece of advice, Carlsen said, “I would say never give up hope. Confidence and belief in self are very important in chess. When I was little, I had setbacks at times. There was a year when I was 13-14, not only did I not make progress, but I also regressed a bit in terms of rating and results. But I never gave up hope.

“I thought the next game, the next tournament is always going to turn around. And as a matter of fact, if you don’t give up hope, eventually you are going to get there. There is always another game, there is always another tournament, and there are always more chances.”c