Norwegian chess star Magnus Carlsen, who claimed the World Chess Championship at the age of 22 on Friday, was being hailed for putting on what even the country’s Olympic gold medalists were calling the greatest competitive performance by a Norwegian ever. Carlsen, calm and controlled as always, merely allowed himself a few big grins and said he now looked forward to “relax a bit.”
“It was a bit of a longer day than we thought it would be,” Carlsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as a master of understatement as well on Friday. It had been widely predicted that the match would be short and end in a draw after around an hour. Instead it turned into a thriller that ran for five hours, after Carlsen decided to play to win instead of ending early in a draw. As one commentator told NRK, Carlsen has “an amazing will to win every game he plays.” That was clearly evident on Friday.
“As the game went on, he (his opponent, defending world champion Vishy Anand) started to drift a bit,” Carlsen told reporters when the championship match in Chennai, India was all over. “Then I thought since there was no risk, I decided to go ahead and win.”
The game ended up in a draw after all, but Carlsen won the championship with 6.5 points after 10 games, compared to Anand’s 3.5. “I think it was a nice fight,” Carlsen added, “and a worthy ending to the match.”
Anand admitted to having had “a lot of problems with mistakes creeping into my play” that Carlsen “clearly managed to provoke.” Carlsen didn’t deny that, noting that “I would like to take some responsibility for his mistakes, that’s for sure.” He said that “people crack under pressure,” and the “blunders” Anand made were unusual.
“I mean, he’s been world champion for so long,” Carlsen said. “I’m honoured to have played against him. I really hope he’ll be back” as a candidate for the next world championships.
Carlsen also thanked the organizers of the match in India and said he’d been “very happy with how I’ve been treated here. My every wish has been attended to, so thank you very much.”
‘Only fair to congratulate Magnus’
Anand, who also admitted to being “really disappointed” and sorry he’d let his Indian fans down, was equally gracious, saying that it was “only fair to congratulate Magnus.” Meanwhile, back home in Norway, sports stars, national leaders and celebrities were outdoing themselves in heaping the superlatives on their country’s newest world champion.
“I think this is the greatest presentation by a Norwegian in a competition ever,” said veteran downhill skier Kjetil André Aamodt, no small praise from a man who won a record number of gold medals in the Winter Olympics. “Such a decisive victory with the enormous scope that chess has is enormous.”
Vebjørn Rodal, who previously claimed the unofficial title of Norway’s greatest athletic performance for winning Olympic gold in the 800-meter race in Atlanta in 1996, was also full of praise for Carlsen. “Chess is so enormous all over the world, and Magnus has topped everyone,” Rodal told NRK. “He has a chess competence that no one else has.”
Prime Minister Erna Solberg congratulated Carlsen on behalf of the country and told him to “go have a good party.” Carlsen himself was vague about how he intended to celebrate and his sister Ingrid, back home in Norway, said on national TV that he wasn’t the type to hit the nightclubs or drown himself in champagne. Members of his “Team Carlsen” did manage to throw him in a hotel swimming pool after all the press chaos, though, and he came up from the water with his fingers pointed, to show he’s “Number One.”
“I think I’ll use a little time to relax a bit,” Carlsen told NRK. “It was incredibly fun, it’s great to be finished and I look forward to come home.”