UPDATED: Norway’s chess champion Magnus Carlsen arrived at the major Norwegian tournament Norway Chess in Stavanger brimming with confidence, with media headlines bellowing that he was in “great form” and “better than ever.” He ended up losing his first match, though, over an “embarrassing” ignorance of some rules, and on Wednesday, he lost again.
The shocking defeats mean Carlsen is off to a very bad start at the tournament that has attracted the world’s top chess players to the West Coast of Norway. Carlsen hasn’t started a tournament with two losses since 2010, noted Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), and the former child chess prodigy was chastened. “It was a bad day against a very good player,” Carlsen told NRK after losing to Italian-Amerian Fabiano Caruana. And he admitted it was very tough to face Caruana after making a big mistake the day before.
Time simply ran out for Carlsen in his opening match against Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, a player who’s ranked fifth in the world but hadn’t beaten Carlsen in the last 21 times they’d met. But Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that after more than six hours of play, and right when Carlsen had made a breakthrough on the chessboard, a gasp went through the ranks of spectators. Carlsen lost on the basis of time because he’d misunderstood the rules. He thought he had more time for the 60th move, but he didn’t.
“Wow!” exclaimed former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who has worked closely with Carlsen over the years and is in Stavanger along with most of the world’s chess elite for the 10-day-long chessfest, as it’s called locally. And NRK reported how a discussion immediately ensued amongst Carlsen, his father Henrik, his manager Espen Agdestein and Norwegian Chess Federation President Jøran Aulin-Jansson over who was responsible.
Carlsen himself was quick to take the blame. “It was idiotic not to be aware of the rules, and there were also rules I hadn’t encountered before,” he told NRK in a taped interview (external link). “But it’s my fault, of course.”
‘Painful and difficult’
It was a seldom, grave error on the part of the chess world champion, and his manager Agdestein called it “a scandal for Magnus. He’d been working for seven hours and come into winning position, and so comes the shock that he has lost out on time. It’s indescribably painful and difficult.”
Ian Rogers, a chess grand master and journalist himself, put the blame squarely on Carlsen despite the discussion going on over who was responsible. “Magnus came too late to the board,” Rogers told NRK. “If he had come on time, he would have heard about the time control. It’s quite embarrassing for him.”
Carlsen later directed some criticism at tournament organizers, saying that even though he signed a contract where the rules were specified, “I think it’s a bit strange that I was not specifically informed about rules that are very unusual. They should have informed about that several times,” he told NRK. He was referring to a rule that players don’t get more time after the 60th move.
Rogers noted, however, that the organizers had announced the time control in advance and informed the players at the start of the match. “They did everything right,” Rogers said, noting that when the rules were read out loud, all the other players were present except Carlsen. “Carlsen is a professional, he should know that.” He didn’t think Carlsen’s team or manager could be blamed either. “It’s the player’s own responsibility,” he said, adding that he doubted Carlsen would ever make such a mistake again.