A revolutionary called Magnus

Magnus Carlsen... playing like a machine.-R. RAGU

“If you want to win a World Championship match, you need to play well not only for one or two hours, but four or five or six…,” says the World champion, Magnus Carlsen. Rakesh Rao listens in.

Chess has found a new World champion — young, appealing, irrepressibly fun loving and supremely outgoing. Magnus Carlsen promises to rekindle the interest in chess, much like the maverick Bobby Fischer, who won the World Championship in 1972, did.

In contrast to the stereotype image of chess champions, the 23-year-old Norwegian seems keen on getting away from the chessboard. Going by his expressions, he almost looks bored with the process of pushing wood to win.

Carlsen is capable of consistently making moves of optimum strength like no other. Without doubt, he is changing the way many of his predecessors approached the game.

He is not known to be obsessed with preparing the opening lines. His strength lies in getting simple, and what he calls “playable” positions on the board. Carlsen is not the one to offer or accept short draws; he plays to win. His high percentage of victories in tournaments in the past two years has seen him remain World No. 1. In contrast to what his expressions might suggest, he loves to play long games. His uncanny knack of converting even miniscule advantages into victories is becoming a subject of fear among the elite players.

A smart product of a generation that learnt chess more with the help of a ‘mouse’ than manuals listed as ‘chess classics’, Carlsen is hailed as the one who plays like a machine. He is able to judge the positions better than his rivals and find the best available moves, much to the frustration of his unsuspecting rivals.

The king of 64 squares has modelled for fashion major G-Star Raw, was named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential persons in 2013 before Cosmopolitan placed him among the ‘sexiest men of 2013’. Carlsen plays football and basketball at every available opportunity. He remains a staunch Real Madrid fan. Recently, he bought a new house but is not in a hurry to get his driving licence.

Minutes after his coronation, the champion took time off to speak exclusively to Sportstar on a variety of subjects.

Excerpts:

Question: In the days following the World Championship, usually, the winner spends time talking about the triumphs. Why did you stay away from the media?

Answer: A little bit tired, a little bit exhausted from all the events of the last few days. If you found me uncooperative, that’s probably the reason.

Coming to your triumph, was it easier than you expected?

It was certainly easier than what I had expected at the start. I thought, if I manage to play at my highest level, Anand would not manage to win a game. And I thought that usually I should be able to press him in a number of games and in one or two of them, he should crack. And he did.

How did you take it when many thought that Anand’s experience could negate your energy in the match?

I think, perhaps, at the start, it could have mattered since the first two-three games, I was nervous. Perhaps, not ready for the big occasion. And I think, after three games, I had already matured (laughs). I had the ‘feel’ for the championship. I think, match-experience is also a bit over-rated as a factor, because every match has a life of its own. Anand might have played many matches like this before. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be anything similar to this one.

Did you plan to target Anand in any specific area of his game?

Nothing special apart from playing 40 to 50 good moves in every game. That was my main goal. I had to keep playing because I think you’ve worked so hard before the match. You’ve worked so hard to get there. So, I think you need to work very hard on the board. If the position is not a draw, you should not agree for a draw. You should play it out. If you want to win a World Championship match, you need to play well not only for one or two hours, but four or five or six…

Do you first play with the computer and then check the position over the board or the other way round?

Ideally, during training sessions, that is what I do. I look at the board before I can solve the computer.

Talking of your pre-match preparations, it was said that you used a super computer. Is it true?

Well, it’s not only about me who has been working on a super computer. It’s been my ‘seconds’. As for me, it’s been more important to check the lines, to guide them, to sometimes play on the board what they have been doing.

Is your approach any different from Anand’s?

I think my approach is a little bit different from Anand’s. I think, as for now, I’m the better player. So he needs to find an advantage with the help of the computer while I just need to equalise his advantage there and not fall too far behind.

How much time did you spend ahead of each game during the championship?

I would spend anything from two hours to 10-15 minutes before any game each day. Looking through some lines and just double-checking the stuff. Apart from that, I would spend time in the evening sometime if it was unclear what I was going to play the next day. Basically, I did not do too much during the match apart from playing the games.

What was the thought behind not revealing the identity of your ‘seconds’ even after the match? Was it your decision or a collective one?

It’s mainly my decision. That’s the way I’ve understood it. It’s nice that I am going to play another World Championship match (in 2014). It doesn’t mean that I’m not very grateful for their hard work. They have done a wonderful job. I think it is nice for the future matches not to reveal too much.

You once said the format that allows a champion to play only against the challenger was not a fair one. What would you say now?

I thought about it. I’ll need some time to enjoy the title and then think what I am going to do next.

Garry Kasparov stayed at the top for over a decade and a half, showing motivation in abundance despite marriage and other family responsibilities. What do you think can keep you going?

I don’t know what will happen. I think, as long as I stay motivated, I will continue to do very well. I don’t know what it will take for me to stay motivated — whether I will have to forego other things. Leading up to the World Championship, I haven’t done much else than chess. So, I am looking forward to relaxing now and having a more balanced life.

Considering your style of play, which is very different from your great predecessors, do you see yourself as a ‘revolutionary’ in this era?

Yes, may be a little bit. But I think, it’s also been the trend in recent times that people are trying to gain some playable positions from the opening (phase) rather than (looking for) too much of an advantage. Obviously, I play the middle-game and the endgame better than most people, so I can afford to take such an approach.

Knowing the respect and admiration you share with Anand, what would you be telling him, if asked, in this hour of disappointment?

I don’t know what I would be telling him. Difficult to give people advice. My only advice to Anand will be to have some rest. Take some time to figure things out and then decide what he wants. If he decides to come back, it’s wonderful. If he doesn’t, he has every reason to be very happy with what he’s got.

Do you realise that the world crown comes with certain responsibilities, like promoting the sport as its best-known ambassador?

Yes. Already for sometime now, I’m involved with chess in schools. I think, it’s wonderful to develop children as good chess players but most of all, for all the benefits that chess has in school and in life for kids. I think it is a wonderful game.