He may not always look like he’s enthusiastic or having fun, but Norwegian chess sensation Magnus Carlsen insists he really is. In just a few weeks, the young man from Lommedalen who’s the world’s top-rated chess player by a wide margin will start an important journey towards India, where he fully intends to win the World Chess Championship.
“I expect to win every tournament I play,” Carlsen matter-of-factly told foreign correspondents in his hometown of Oslo on Tuesday. “I’m very optimistic.”
Still just age 22, Carlsen started impressing the chess world as a child and just kept getting better and better. He’s won lots of other recognition both in and out of Norway, even landing this year on TIME magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people. Last winter he firmed up his status as having the world’s highest chess rating and won the right to challenge Viswanathan Anand of India for the World Championship title.
Carlsen has earlier chosen not to compete in the world championship because of disagreement over regulations, leading to a personal boycott of sorts that took some of the shine off the title simply because Carlsen is so good. Without him competing the winner can never really be sure of authentic championship status. Now, however, Carlsen is very keen to claim the title and he’s heavily favoured. His current numerical rating by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) is 2870, with the next highest rating held by Vladimir Kramnik at 2796. That’s a huge gap between first and second place, and current World Champion Anand is down in seventh place, at 2775.
Carlsen graciously noted, though, that he doesn’t think seventh place is “a fair reflection” of what Anand will do in the upcoming World Championship that will run from November 7-28 at the Hyatt Regency Chennai (formerly Madras) on India’s southern coast. Carlsen says he has more respect for his opponents now, and expects Anand to put up a fight to retain the title.
“I think he’ll need to be well-prepared in the opening and maintain concentration, if not he’ll be punished,” Carlsen said. “What I want to do is just try to impress him, keep him at the board for as long as possible.” Long enough, Carlsen said with a rare smile, that he’ll “just crack.”
Holiday break at home
His meeting with reporters in Oslo came, he said, amidst a week of holiday at home, “where I’m just trying to relax and have a little break before the final part of the preparation (for India) begins. It will be pretty intensive from mid-October through the tournament. I’ll be in the World Championship bubble, just trying to stay sharp.”
He wasn’t happy that the World Championship will be held in India, fearing the venue will give Anand a home-turf advantage. It still “annoys me a bit,” Carlsen allowed, but he and his team accepted the location and now he thinks it’s “hard to say” how much of an advantage it will be for Anand. He was in Chennai for a visit in August, and says “I’m pretty confident they (the organizers) will do what’s necessary to ensure fair conditions for me and my team.”
Despite media reports that Carlsen took his own food with him to India on that visit, the chess star said he did “experiment” with some of the local food and “I didn’t get sick.” He said his team will probably bring some of their own food again, but not all.
Mum on training techniques
He expects to leave Oslo around October 19, but travel first to an unspecified warm location to get acclimatized. Carlsen and his team have been given an entire floor of the hotel in Chennai when they get there, and that will be home base for the three weeks of the tournament.
He wouldn’t speculate on what result he expects or reveal who his sparring partners will be during the final training sessions, nor could he answer whether his rating or the title are more important to him now. “Both are, really,” he said. He’ll likely remain Number One even if he loses to Anand, and if he wins, his rating probably won’t increase very much because it’s weighted. A victory for Anand may give him more points than Carlsen would receive, again just because Carlsen already ranks so much higher.
Asked what still motivates him, Carlsen said he continues to seek “many ways to improve. I find I make mistakes after almost every game.” Mostly, though, he still thinks chess is fun and he seems able to separate the game from all the hype around it and around himself.
“It’s still just chess,” Carlsen said.