UPDATED: Magnus Carlsen’s home-turf advantage may have worked to his disadvantage, speculated chess experts after Norway’s home-grown champion was crushed by US challenger Wesley So during the weekend. Many were looking for answers as to why Carlsen lost to So in Saturday’s final.
“He was a master completely out of shape,” declared state broadcaster NRK’s chess analyst Torstein Bae when it was all over. Carlsen himself headed straight for his sport’s equivalent of a locker room at the Henie-Onstad Art Center in Bærum west of Oslo, where the first World Fischer Random Chess Championship played out last week. The art center was founded by another Norwegian sports champion, ice skater Sonja Henie, where many of her trophies have been on display for years. Bærum is also the community where Carlsen grew up.
Carlsen had little to say about his loss, but told NRK that he just wanted “to congratulate Wesley, he played much better than me. I played OK the first day. I’m deeply ashamed over the rest. I wish I could do it over again.”
There was no big trophy for Carlsen this time. “On behalf of my son, I feel for him in his disappointment,” Carlsen’s ever-present father Henrik Carlsen told reporters after the surprising defeat. “But he’s won so much earlier.”
Carlsen had indeed been on another winning streak, with strong results so far this year. He was the underdog, though, when meeting Wesley So in the final. So himself said it was difficult to clarify exactly how he beat Carlsen: “I like Fischer chess, I like to play it. That contributed to the victory.”
For more details on the actual play click here (external link to the Fischer Random Chess website).
The so-called home turf advantage clearly backfired, however, and can explain why Carlsen hasn’t wanted the World Championships to be held in Norway. NRK noted how the pressure around Carlsen was enormous during the tournament, with several hundred Norwegian fans showing up to take photos, ask for his autograph and ask him questions. The Norwegian press was also out in force, as were international medial outlets.
One analyst noted that it can be an advantage for players like Carlsen to be out traveling where it’s easier to focus only on the match instead of all the fuss around it. “When you play at home there’s a lot of stress and pressure you need to handle in a good manner,” Daniel Rensch, an American chess master and commentator, told NRK.
Shook off his disappointment
Carlsen clearly didn’t find his rhythm. Another commentator, Yasser Seirawan, thinks home turf usually is an advantage, but recalled how Carlsen avoided much of the attention at the first world championship he won in India. His Indian opponent Vishy Anand had to deal with many more interviews and appearances and lost, while Carlsen had more opportunity to take breaks, and relax. He won.
Later on Sunday, Carlsen seemed to have gotten over his loss. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that the young man who’s still the World Champion in classic chess was relaxed and smiling when he showed up to play with and coach members of his new chess club, Offerspill sjakklubb, in downtown Oslo. His goal is to turn it into one of Europe’s best clubs, and it was clearly inspiring for members as young as nine to have Carlsen watch them play and play himself, against 17-year-old Andreas Tryggestad who’s considered one of Norway’s emerging talents.
Wesley So won praise, meanwhile, for having played his best chess ever at the Fischer tournament. He didn’t make mistakes, commentator Seirawan noted, while Carlsen wasn’t as good and got frustrated. He did win silver, though, while Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia won the bronze.