His smiles earlier in the week turned to fury, but now a duly regretful Magnus Carlsen admits he acted like “an idiot.” He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he understands how his angry reaction to losing one of his three chess world championship titles on Wednesday evening “looked stupid.”
Carlsen, usually a master of cool in addition to chess, had been all smiles on Monday after successfully defending his title as world champion in rapid chess. He was eagerly looking forward to also defending his world champion title in blitz chess, and the first rounds of competition began well on Tuesday.
After several impressive victories, though, things began to go wrong for Carlsen. He lost against Sergej Karjakin in the 11th round. When play began again on Wednesday, things got much worse. Drama and nerves rose to the bursting point, and after losing against Alexander Grisjtsjuk, who won the championship away from Carlsen, the 24-year-old Norwegian stood up, angrily stabbed at the air and uttered the worst swear word a Norwegian can use: fæn, literally “the devil.” The outburst came after he’d also thrown his pen on the table and used body language on Tuesday that made it crystal clear he was one unhappy young man.
Chess commentators muttered that this was behavior they hadn’t seen from Carlsen before. His performance was characterized as a “total collapse,” and clearly showed how quickly things can change, also for world champions believed to be unbeatable.
“Things happen in the blink of an eye, and this wasn’t something I’m very proud of,” Carlsen told NRK after he’d calmed down. “Maybe it can be explained that there was so little time and lots of nerves, and it’s hard to control both your body language and your actual language.” He admitted he was embarrassed by his own reaction, attributing it to “disgust over my own play and over my own behaviour.”
While some criticized his behaviour, especially the swearing, others said Carlsen simply showed that he’s human, too. Arne Horvei, who represented Team Carlsen at the chess tournament in Berlin, noted that Carlsen himself said he “hadn’t recognized himself” in the emotional outburst.
“I can understand that it looks stupid to lose again and again and then throw up my hands and storm out like an idiot,” Carlsen told NRK. “I didn’t manage to keep my cool.”
He ended up in sixth place. Gristsjuk won the championship, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won silver and Vladimir Kramnik took the bronze.