Magnus Carlsen's exhibition in NYC, NY, August 23, 2012
In any series of Candidates tournaments for the world championship of chess, you can count on your fingers and toes the realistic contenders for the crown - about 20 people - out of over 7 billion people in the world. Magnus Carlsen is one of those players, at the age of 21 currently the highest rated player recognized by the FIDE, officially at 2837 (http://ratings.fide.com/top.phtml). Although the chess board is only 64 squares with 32 pieces, there are virtually an infinite number of possible games, and it can be realistically said that no two master games are ever the same.
Magnus Carlsen can keep track of 10 games simultaneously in his head while playing them "blindfolded", that is, without seeing the physical board. That's 640 total squares starting with 320 pieces. It amazed Europe in 1783 when noteworthy chess player and groundbreaking chess author and theorist Andre Danican Philidor played 3 people "blindfolded" simultaneously. Magnus Carlsen can do 10. The current world record was set in November 2011 by the German Marc Lang in Sontheim, Germany, when he played 46 opponents simultaneously and blindfolded, with a record of 25 wins, 19 draws and just two losses.
I attended Magnus' chess exhibition at the Marshall Chess Club yesterday, and overall I enjoyed it. As Magnus casually walked into the Marshall Chess Club yesterday, shirt untucked, about 20 minutes late due to a chess camp for kids running late earlier in the day, seeing Magnus playing blindfolded was on the list of things I was expecting at the event. However, in the simultaneous games (probably I later found out due to time constraints - an event was scheduled at the club right after the exhibition) he did not play blindfolded. It was still really thrilling and worth the expense of the trip-- I spent more time yesterday driving to and from Pennsylvania, than I did actually in New York City.
Regardless, Magnus' true feat of genius is his ability to outmaneuver his opponents on that 8 by 8 square board, consistently, and dominantly. And although he has not yet attained the crown of the world championship, he is yet young, not even 22, and according to scientists who understand the power of the brain, given ideal circumstances, has not yet peaked in his intellectual abilities. The mad genius of Bobby Fischer did not win the world championship until age 29. Vishy Anand recently, but quite narrowly, defended his world champion title at age 43. Carlsen revealed in the question and answer session after his game study/teaching session that he intends to participate in the next Candidates tournament cycle, even if the FIDE does not significantly change the rules.
The game he showed us for study was a master game in a tournament he played; Magnus played black. According to the chess teacher Glenn Budzinski (ID "gambiteer1" on chess.com) who befriended me there, he thought it was a game vs. an Israeli master but the name escaped him. Glenn and I played a speed game before Magnus got there (I brought my clock of course) with 5 minutes on each side, and he beat me - I resigned when he had two minor pieces - a bishop and a knight, up on me. With his superior skill level, and my lack of time, I knew it was over. We knew at that time that Magnus was running late, so I figured why not? Glenn is a very nice guy, and gave some analysis of the simultaneous games for me while I was taking pictures - look him up if you so desire!
Magnus went though move by move for each side on which hypothetical moves were best, asking us peons what we would have done, and then once the realistic options were exhausted, he then revealed the actual move played in the tournament. At no time did he consult any notes or a computer - he did it all from memory. (Magnus also revealed in the question and answer session that he was not big on using computers to do chess analysis for his studying.) So the blindfold ability is probably still there; I think the gentleman Michael Propper from Chess NYC arranged so Magnus would not do it due to time. Still, I was disappointed, and that was not the description of the event for which I had originally paid.
In the question and answer session, I asked Magnus in that master game that he showed us, given that he had piece advantage (he was up a rook) but slight positional disadvantage (more open king - his opponent as white had pawns protecting his king), why did he not press to trade queens with his opponent? He answered (paraphrase) "that I was just thinking about survival, and maybe after 20 moves I could have traded queens, but I was just going moment by moment then." When asked about who was his favorite player out there now, he responded that he didn't have a favorite player, but he complimented various strengths of some other masters, and went into more detail about Vishy Anand. He later said that Anand's powers were fading as many other world champions who get older have as well; he implied it had much to do with getting older and physical limitations of concentration, etc.
What did he learn the most from Kasparov? Magnus answered and I quote, "Dynamic positions", "I would shy away from them because I didn't quite follow what was going on. He [Kasparov] understood them well."
Another person asked Magnus why in his earlier games as a young master he seemed like more of an attacking player and that his style changed. Magnus answered that it was easier back then, he had "weaker opponents" and got "more chances to win".
Other talents outside of chess? Magnus semi-dodged it. "Maybe if I hadn't played chess, maybe it would have been something else."
As other players faded away before retiring, did Magnus have any thought of when he would retire? Magnus called the question, "highly hypothetical", but he said he would continue to play as long as he was "motivated" and the game was "still fun" for him.
In all the simul games Magnus played white, opening each one with e4.
I managed to get pictures of 3 out of 10 of the games' scoresheets from those gracious enough to let me. One was from one of the Panda Pawns (Darren Jung), an elementary school team from PS 124 in NYC that took 2nd place in the national high school chess championships. Yes, public elementary school students from a middle class neighborhood whooped on kids much older and often with richer parents than them. Go determination, discipline, and the awesome parents who supported them through all of it (see this video on the BBC News website about them: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18636078 )!
The other two games are of opponents Tyler Schwartz, a chess instructor, and young man Raven Sturt, who Glenn said had the best position against Carlsen of all the games for a while there - Raven was up a knight, and according to my observations Magnus seemed to take longer on average studying the board with Raven than versus the other opponents. Raven did not seem proud when I asked him about the game having a knight up on Carlsen, as he was overwhelmed by Magnus' superior play later on in the game. Unfortunately, due to time, I did not get to ask too many questions of the players. I wanted to make sure I got my board signed by Magnus! (I'm still debating whether to put it up on my wall at work or not - I'm afraid one of my shadier clients will steal it.)
That's Tyler Schwartz and his scoresheet.
That's Raven Sturt and his scoresheet.
And that's Darren Jung's (one of the Panda Pawns) scoresheet.
As for the analysis of the games, I'll leave it to the masters.
Thanks for reading! It was an honor and a privilege to cover the event for Chess.com.
-Ashley Ian Doyle, chess fan and hobby player, and mental health professional, in successful recovery from bipolar disorder one. (Chess is part of my Personal Medicine-- activities that help one in ones recovery!)