‘Magnus knows how to psyche his opponent out’


“Magnus has mastered the endgame like nobody else,” says Simen Agdestein, who played a key role in shaping the World champion’s chess career. By P.K. Ajith Kumar.

Simen Agdestein has some trouble while speaking. He has a bigger trouble chewing. “I need some food, maybe you could suggest something soft,” he says when Sportstar meets him at Hyatt Regency, a day after he arrives in Chennai; he had wanted to come earlier, but a nasty fall during the European team chess championship in Warsaw left him with a dislocated jaw.

“I am feeling much better and am glad I could make it at least now,” says Agdestein, the world’s only Grandmaster (GM) who has scored a goal in international football.

Agdestein, who has played a crucial role in shaping Magnus Carlsen as the World chess champion, arrived in time to see his former ward winning Game Nine, which settled the World Championship more or less. He believes Carlsen triumphed in Chennai because he was psychologically stronger than Viswanathan Anand.

“There wasn’t much difference in the chess between the two at the World Championship,” says the 46-year-old. “But Anand gave too much respect to Magnus. When you do that, you become unsure of yourself. And Magnus knew it, and took advantage. He knows how to psyche his opponent out. He uses psychology over the chessboard, much like former World champion Emmanuel Lasker.”

He is not surprised at all to see Carlsen winning the World Championship. “When I first began training Magnus at the Norwegian College of Elite Sport, I could sense that he was a special talent,” he says.

It was Agdestein who introduced chess at the institute, just in time for a nine-year-old Magnus to enroll. “There probably would have been no Magnus Carlsen,” says Lief Johannesen, another top Norwegian GM. “Norwegian chess owes a lot to Agdestein for his vision.”

Agdestein’s vision also reflects in Carlsen’s game. “I had told Magnus that the next World champion would have to be exceptional in the endgame,” he says. “I felt Garry Kasparov had achieved with computer analysis that no player could have surpassed. So I thought the future World champions will have to play chess more practically, much less with the aid of computers. Magnus has been doing that and yes, he has mastered the endgame like nobody else.”

He believes Carlsen could dominate world chess for a long time. “I think as a player he comes closest to Fischer,” he says. “But Fischer could not dominate world chess for a considerable time because he had problems controlling his mind. Magnus, on the other hand, is very level-headed. He has the talent and the will to dominate the sport for a very long time.”

He says he wasn’t, in a way, surprised to see Anand crumbling against Magnus. “I have always felt Anand is a bit nervous,” he says. “He was even more nervous than usual here against Magnus.”

Agdestein has watched from close quarters Anand’s ascendancy too. He was the top seed of the 1987 World junior chess championship in Baguio, Philippines. “I was the top seed and was the runner-up at the previous World juniors,” he says. “So I was confident of winning the title.”

But, Anand upset him and all his plans, as the Indian emerged the World junior champion and soon became one of the hottest names in international chess. If Carlsen’s life was a Hollywood movie, Agdestein would have plotted his revenge right after that shattering loss to Anand.

Maybe the Carlsen story would have worked better in Bollywood, because his manager is Espen Agdestein, brother of Simen.

Agdestein was already a Grandmaster when he played in that World junior championship. But he was even more passionate about football.

“Yes, it was quite a challenge to be of world class in both chess and football at the same time, but I managed to do that for a few years,” says Agdestein, who has scored a goal for Norway in an international match. “I also played for my country in the World Cup qualifiers. My club was Lyn, Oslo.”

A knee injury curtailed his football ambitions. He is still going strong in chess though. With an Elo rating of 2627, he is ranked second only to Carlsen in Norway. A couple of months ago, he won the Oslo International GM tournament.

He is also an author of chess books, including a biography of Carlsen. He plays the piano too and was a contestant in a dance competition on Norwegian television. And he is a teacher at Valler Upper Secondary School, Sandvika, Norway.

“I have to hurry a bit now, as I have to write a column,” says Agdestein. You are unlikely to meet too many men with talents in so many fields.