Norwegian chess star Magnus Carlsen was being hailed once again this week, after a dramatic year that ended with new World Championship titles in both rapid and blitz chess. That leaves him with a total of 15 World Championships so far, adding to his already legendary status.
“He’s the greatest chess player of all time,” declared Torstein Bae, chess commentator for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It’s not possible to say anything else.”
Carlsen, a chess prodigy as a child from suburban Oslo who won his first classic World Championship in 2013, was characteristically playing down all the hype after his latest triumphs in Almaty, Kazakhstan. “It was nerve-wracking,” he told NRK, “but I’m satisfied.” He later added “extremely” satisfied.
Asked whether he thinks he’s the world’s greatest chess player, Carlsen smiled and told NRK “I don’t know,” while adding that making a case for such lofty status “hasn’t gotten any worse after these days here.” He now holds five world championship titles in classic chess, four in rapid chess and six in blitz chess.
It was a dramatic week as well, with Carlsen often appearing disheveled and repeatedly running his fingers through a bushy head of unusually long hair, while mumbling almost incoherently in brief statements to his homeland’s state broadcaster. On Thursday he also literally had to run into the opening game of the blitz tournament, arriving just 40 seconds before start time and clad in jogging pants and a hooded sweatshirt.
“It was my mistake, I got caught in traffic,” he told NRK after the match. “It took forever and it was frustrating, but it ended okay.” NRK later reported that Carlsen and fellow Norwegian chess player Benjamin Haldorsen had gone skiing in the mountains outside Almaty earlier in the day, and then ran in traffic trouble on the way back.
“It was a good ski trip but there wasn’t much time on the clock when we came in,” Haldorsen told NRK. He lost his first game and news bureau NTB reported that Carlsen was also reprimanded over his unprofessional clothing. Carlsen retained full control over his chess-playing, though, won his match and then kept winning, just days after also winning the world championship in rapid chess in Almaty.
Norwegian chess expert Atle Grønn is also convinced that Carlsen is now the best chess player of all time, even after voluntarily bowing out earlier this year of the World Championships in classic chess and thus not defending his title. He’s also been caught this year in a dramatic feud with American chess player Hans Niemann over alleged cheating by Niemann, who has since sued Carlsen and four others for alleged libel and slander.
Despite Carlsen’s withdrawals from the classic World Championship and, later, the Sinquefield Cup tournament that’s part of the Grand Chess Tour and was tied to the dispute with Niemann, he’s still widely viewed as the king of chess. “Magnus has brought something entirely new in chess,” Grønn told NRK. “He has made rapid and blitz chess serious World Championship disciplines. Not only has he given them legitimacy, he’s also won all these titles.
“He has revolutionized the sport of chess,” Grønn continued. “More than perhaps how he’s revolutionized the science of chess and the art of chess, he has revolutionized the sport of chess.” Winning both rapid- and blitz chess at the same time was also considered almost statistically impossible, but Carlsen has achieved that, too, also in 2014 and 2019.
He’s still only 32 and says he has no plans to step down from his place at the top. He currently holds the so-called “triple crown” as reigning world champion in all three categories of chess. He has also held the classic championship since 2013 but decided it was time to relinquish it after 10 years, in 2023. He also said he was glad he took the ski trip that almost spoiled his rapid chess title.
“I was just so glad to get up to the mountains,” he said. It was hard to gather energy down in the city, but he thinks it helped him to get out and ski. It certainly didn’t hurt.