UPDATED: Chess champ Magnus Carlsen, who performed poorly at home in the Norway Chess tournament last week, made a strong comeback at the Paris Grand Chess Tour this past week. That didn’t keep him from being irritated by a commentator’s criticism.
The 26-year-old Carlsen had just won the rapid chess portion of the Grand Tour running through the weekend. He led the tournament after four victories and two remis (ties) the first two days.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported how on Friday, Carlsen was due to face off against the two players lowest on the results list. It didn’t go as well as might expected, ending in remis against his former World Championship rival Sergej Karjakin and then against Fabiano Caruano.
Carlsen pulled it off, though with 14 out of a possible 18 points after three days of rapid chess. He grew irritated, though, when a commentator noted that Magnus “seemed to have some hiccups” earlier in the day and hadn’t appeared to be playing “smoothly” enough.
“What do you want me to do?” Carlsen shot back. “What do you want from me … do you want me to get a huge advantage from the opening, and then to push it, is that the only way you can win a smooth game? Is that your point?”
It was an awkward confrontation for commentator Maurice Ashley, who tried to smooth Carlsen’s ruffled feathers by saying, “no, not at all, Magnus” and attempting to get his thoughts on the rest of the tournament. Carlsen interruped again, though, and accused Ashley of “trying to belittle the whole thing.”
That prompted Ashley to assure a restless Carlsen, who all but refused to look Ashley in the eye, that “we all have respect for you as the World Champion” and urge him not to take offense. “We’re just trying to do commentary,” Ashley said and attempted to move on. He noted that now Carlsen had “got this out of the way, it’s time for blitz (the second portion of the tournament,” and asked for Carlsen’s thoughts on the rest of the action.
“It’s looking well,” Carlsen said, “I’m looking forward to win more not-so-smooth games.”
Espen Agdestein, Carlsen’s ever-present manager, tried to explain Carlsen’s irritation to NRK, claiming that he’d actually been in good humour after the disappointment of Norway Chess. Agdestein also said Carlsen had looked forward to the tournament in Paris, and simply thought Ashley had the “wrong focus” on his performance.
“Magnus was very satisfied that he had won and had managed to recover,” Agdestein told NRK. “So he felt it was wrong that the focus was on how smoothly he had played the last game.”
The tournament continued with blitz chess Saturday and Sunday, with potential winnings of up to USD 150,000. Carlsen won again after a dramatic near-collapse. His comeback was complete, and he reportedly could leave Paris with winnings estimated at NOK 260,000.