As Norwegian chess commentators worried this week about “what’s wrong” with chess star Magnus Carlsen, others contend he’s doing just fine. He may be playing with fire, as he seems to under-perform at the World Chess Championship in New York, but a Dutch chess expert finds no cause for concern.
“I think you can rely on Magnus, I think so,” Dirk Jan ten Geurzendam, editor of the magazine New in Chess, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after arriving in New York himself. “There’s no reason to be worried.”
The worry set in after just the first few games, because Carlsen didn’t win any of them. Then, on Monday, he actually lost to his Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin. He also refused to answer any questions about his suprise loss and abruptly left an obligatory press conference in an apparent fit of anger, leaving him to face a fine amounting to 10 percent of his earnings.
On Wednesday, though, he was photographed actually smiling by tournament organizers on his way to the ninth game, which ended in another draw. That put the score at 5-4 in challenger Karjakin’s favour. As worldchess.com noted in its account of the game (external link), Carlsen still trailed by a full point with only three games left to play in the best-of-12 match.
That adds to the drama and excitement of the championship action, which may actually help Carlsen. While he once again rebuffed reporters waiting to talk to him after Game 9, he did attend the press conference and admitted that “it’s not a very comfortable situation, of course,” but that he was “just happy” he survived.
“Now that Magnus has come out this,” his manager Espen Agdestein told NRK, “I think he can gain strength. I see for myself that he will do everything he can to win. He has all opportunity to surge ahead. Karjakin will probably feel some nerves after a while.”
Karjakin’s supporters have indicated that he has all along, with Carlsen’s surprising blunders earlier in the tournament giving Karjakin no reason to let down his guard. Both young men are keen to make chess appealing and exciting, and both are now succeeding at that.
NRK reported that Carlsen’s sister Ellen, his father Henrik, his second and trainer Peter Heine Nielsen and Agdestein all claimed Carlsen had a normal day off after Monday night’s loss. Norwegian fans, reporters and commentators weren’t likely to relax. The fact remains that Carlsen, with only 31 recorded mistakes in 20,000 moves according to Chess.com, has made some serious errors in nearly every game in this year’s championship. His bad behaviour also generated headlines and there’s been general agreement that Carlsen has not been playing well. “Something is wrong with Magnus,” grand master Judit Polgar told NRK on Tuesday. “This is not what we’re used to from him.”
Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam seemed relaxed. “It’s easy to lose faith when someone who has performed so well over so many years doesn’t live up to expectations,” he told NRK. “But Magnus Carlsen has not forgotten how to play chess in the past week.”