"Mag-Town" Takes World To "Ouch-Town"!

  • IM DanielRensch
  • | Sep 14, 2010

by IM Daniel Rensch

To start this "post game review" off right, I would first like to say that I had a lot of fun broadcasting this match, G-Star Raw's World Chess Challenge, Magnus Carlsen vs the World, for all of you here on Chess.com/TV! Everyone was very enthusiastic, doing the best they could to "contribute" in some way, and although the participants blatantly ignored all of my suggestions (just kidding) we still had lots of fun. At one point I believe we had almost 800 viewers!

The bad news? We lost! My bold predictions, as usual, were alarmingly false -- and Mag-Town didn't need much to take us to Ouch-Town! It was that simple. Without throwing anyone under the bus (cough, cough) I do believe there was some dissention, slight disagreements, and therefore confusion amongst the "Big 3" in regards to the general direction they wanted the game to go. You will see more specific examples of where our leaders disagreed within the game review board, but I felt that there were a few critical moments where we, "Team World" simply weren't developing consistent (key word) plans...

Obviously most of the spectators, including myself, "questioned" Nakamura's decision to play 10...Bg4, and Polgar's post game comments with Ashley, also alluded to the fact that she didn't agree with this move (seemed awkward). However, if Naka's idea had indeed been followed up correctly, with 11...Qd7 -- maintaining the tension in the center --, was 10...Bg4 really that bad? 10...Bg4 may not have been the best move theoretically, but it was certainly an interesting idea (typical Nakamura, if you think about it). There is no doubt that 11...cxd5 was a positional blunder, and created a nightmare on the queenside.

After the transition from opening to middlegame was badly mistplayed by the world, I don't really think there was anything critical to talk about until Magnus made his only "mistake" of the game: Choosing to play 28. Nb6 instead of 28.g4 -- killing black's counterplay. If the world had played either 30...axb6 (Rybka's suggestion) or 30...Bf4 (Mag-Town) instead of the voted upon 30...Bc8? -- it seems we would have maintained some practical fighting chances (though white was still better).

However, regardless of his slight miscue on move 28, when Magnus explained the move by saying that he "wanted to finish the game off in style" in his post game interview -- all I could think was "that is why he is who he is." The kid gets it! The game was a show, and he entertained the masses as well as any chess player in the history of the game... Congrats to you Mag-Town, and I hope you had fun at Party-Town later that night Wink!

And from my partner, IM David Pruess, here is game analysis and his impressions from the site:
 Here are a few of the things that struck me during the event, or that I found interesting to think about afterwards:


Magnus was incredibly relaxed moments before the match. As everyone else had taken their places, and the last five minutes were counting down, Magnus posed for a few more pictures. Then he started chatting amiably with the arbiter... There was a countdown of 15...14...13...12 and I could feel tension rising in every one involved... except Magnus, who smiled, and strolled to his seat at the last second. But as soon as he was in the chair in front of the board, an instant and magical transformation occurred and he was more focused than anyone else there.

There was a computer screen turned outwards linked to one of my laptops. This was so the butler could see the world's moves and then move them on the board for Magnus. Magnus could very well have glanced at this screen at some point. To see the world's move 2 seconds earlier, or just out of nervousness or wandering mind. I am pretty sure I would have lost focus and glanced around a few times over the course of a 2.5 hour game. Waited for the opponent's move, rather than staying on task. But the arbiter who watched Magnus and his clock attentively the entire time said that Magnus did not *once* look up!


As Danny said, Magnus seemed to understand that this event was for show. when the world played Bh6, I was thinking this would be one of the moves where Magnus would speed things along by playing g4 instantly, with an almost certain win. Yet he thought, and thought. Then he reached for and used his second time-out card! I was stunned. And then finally he went for the wild Nb6. I could not believe it. For one thing, I would not want to complicate the game if I was winning and had the strange 1 minute per move time control. For another, I wouldn't want to use up my time out on an easy move. Finally, would I have the confidence in my calculation after 3 minutes to go for Nb6? I sincerely doubt it!

But Magnus wanted to win with style. Wow. And this decision definitely had the desired effect. Nakamura got all excited again (he had been clutching his head and shaking it despondently for a while). He tweeted that we had a chance. The voters probably got all excited again. And it lead to a more flashy finish with Nxd5, Rb8, Rxc5, a bunch of cool tactics. Rather than the grim grinding out of the extra b-pawn with little to no counterplay for black.

That confident showmanship is definitely good for promotional events like this. You (chess) have a huge audience, which you don't always have: you have to take advantage and make things exciting to catch the imagination of casual fans and people who are not even fans but happen to be paying attention at that moment.


In the end, the game appears totally one-sided. The impression could easily be had that Magnus won easily. That impression was definitely shared by the participating GMs. Maxime told me under these conditions he could also easily have beaten the world. With black. I had the sense he thought most GMs could.

But I think Magnus' mastery was so seamless that it is partly being taken for granted. The 1 minute per move format is extremely trying for the GM. He needs to make all decisions so quickly, but it is both easy to mess up (miss something) and easy to hesitate about one's decisions. Personally I would not take any good move for granted under these conditions. Moves like a4 and a5 in the opening. I for one am not used to making moves like that after 40 seconds.

You have to be somewhat loose as well as focused to make all these decisions quickly. And not to worry about whether the game is getting complicated or simple or drawish or anything-- just to keep playing moves you think are good. And Magnus *was* loose. Loose and focused. On some moves he went down to 2-3 seconds, using the full measure of his time, without taking a wild card. On other moves, he was confident and played his move after 20-30 seconds, not needing to use every second he had to second-guess what seemed right to him. In fact, in conversation with his father, he told me that this was partly Magnus' approach: just to make some good moves.

Reflecting on it after the event, this looseness seems to be an indication that Magnus had played with this 1 minute time control before. And as soon as I consider that possibility, I feel almost certain that he had. This would certainly be the most effective preparation for this match-- and I think without it, one would necessarily feel uncomfortable playing at such a disorienting time control. I don't believe the three GMs representing the world had any experience with this, other than the test game we played the night before.

So rather than say that Magnus won easily because the game was not a challenge, we can say that Magnus prepared as he needed to, and was absolutely superb on the day of the challenge. Consider one of his tournament victories: would you say that winning Bazna Kings '10 or Shanghai '09 was easy? Well, he won by a comfortable margin, but I think the way to see it is that the tournament represented a serious challenge, but one which Magnus cleared easily. With preparation, focus, and skill.

Greater Challenge

Whether or not we think anyone else could have cleared this challenge, or that it was easy, what is clear is that Magnus is ready for a greater challenge. I can't help it, I'm quite curious about these questions, so I immediately started thinking about what a future challenge might be.

One idea was: a game with voting restricted to masters. How would that play out? Would a council of fifty 2300 fide players effectively play like a 2700? Or like a 2500? or a 2800? How about one hundred 2400 players? Just for the sake of my own scientific curiosity, I need to see some follow-up testing. And hey, chess.com spent so much time and effort building this mechanism, it would be a shame if we never took it for another ride. Perhaps first we should establish whether a council of masters actually is any better than the larger mass of club and casual players. In other words host a vote match between 50 masters and the world. If the masters seem strong, then perhaps organize some challenge matches between those masters and some GMs. If the council of masters can beat some GMs and play some good games, then perhaps they would be worthy to challenge Magnus in the future.

Another direction I am thinking is a simul. Remember how shocking it was to see Kasparov play clock simuls against olympiad teams (from Germany and Israel, I think)?? Don't you want to see Carlsen try that? I do!! I think that would definitely be a challenge where a lot of people would not be so confident that he would prevail (although I will always pick Carlsen to win until he's actually failed at something). Then there is the question how to get the world involved. Well, here are two possibilities, please give me your feedback as to whether you would find it fun to participate:

1. Magnus plays a clock simul against 4 grandmasters. As he does, viewers can try to predict his moves. The people who get the most moves correct over the course of *all* games would win prizes. We would have to design a mechanism to make sure that there was a warning when he was going to move, so people would have a sense of what time he was using on his moves. For example, any time Magnus moves, the board on which he has moved flashes for you a couple times. That means we will display his move in 10 more seconds, so you better enter your guess quickly.

2. Magnus plays a simul against 3 GMs *AND* The World. We can vote against him just like before, but since he's to strong for us, we have our three GMs play against him as a distraction, rather than coaching us.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about what would be an awesome challenge for Magnus. Since he's got such great skills, he can really do a lot to popularize our game. So let's think of a feat we could ask of him that would really wow the world!


RWCC 343.jpg
There is an entire photo album of terrific shots from the event taken by Lesley Weitjes here.
RWCC 575.jpg
I'd like to thank G-Star for sponsoring the event, GMs Carlsen, Nakamura, Polgar, and Vachier-Lagrave for putting in a tremendous effort and being very professional in making a great show of it. Frank and crew at Media Republic for being fun to work with. Same also goes for the guy's at G-Star who were lots of fun to meet at the event. And I'd like to thank my own buddies here at chess.com for working their behinds off to make the event possible. It's been a wild ride for all of us I think, but the result was an event enjoyed by hundreds of thousands, and that I imagine has helped popularize chess a bit more.


  • 6 years ago


    Brilliant ideas here - if anyone can make it happen David and Danny can.

    But now that Magnus has tested the software, David - surely it's your turn to take on the world!  (or at least chess.com).  Why not replace one of the tv shows during the week with a special match Pruess v chess.com using the same voting process and Danny can do his commentary (but without giving suggestions in advance).  Then a few weeks later David and Danny swap roles.

    Would make for some awesome chess.com tv shows!

  • 6 years ago


    The 3 GM's were very gracious to put themselves into a novelty setting where they were destined to lose, all for the sake of chess promotion. Repeats of this may not be so appetizing for the GM's involved, and by definition the novelty will diminish. This was a success but take care not to dilute it. By the way, my eyes popped wide open when Magnus moved Nb6, he made it exciting.

    The photo of Magnus at the board shows a pair of orange earplugs, did he use them?

    Are worn out jeans the next new look? And will Liv ever call me back? I've left dozens of messages . . .

  • 6 years ago


    i believe, a fair challenge would be to have world split into two parts, one voting for white, and one voting for black . Both sides get GMs proposing moves. I think any format 1 vs world will not work , as the one guy will always have a clear plan , while the rest will go wherever wind goes.

  • 6 years ago


    2. Magnus plays a simul against 3 GMs *AND* The World. We can vote against him just like before, but since he's to strong for us, we have our three GMs play against him as a distraction, rather than coaching us.

    hmm i like this idea.. maybe an addition to it: the 3 GMs act as a distraction to him, but maybe have other GMs (are there any others in chess.com?)(or WGM or IM.. Natalina Poganina could be a candidate.. :D) coach us (to avoid confusion like it did, have only 1 player, at most 2, to coach us).. and have Magnus play black..

  • 6 years ago


    "...for dynamic reasons that I have trouble grasping or explaining, but vaguely realize are present," write David Pruess, so describing well the feeling I have with almost every move I make, or observe, on the chess board:) 

  • 6 years ago


    I second The_Cretin's idea of having a team of the top chess players in the world face off against the best computer in the world. Adding a team element into Chess where the top players work together would really bring something new and exciting to Chess and attract people outside of the Chess community. If the top players in the world could collectively work and pool their knowledge together to take down the worlds best computer, imagine what that would mean in a larger sense (about Chess and life)!

    Make it happen, Pruess! :)

  • 6 years ago


    Could the world have had a better game if 33. Bxa6?

  • 6 years ago


    I like G-Star Raw!

  • 6 years ago


    it was a good game

  • 6 years ago


    How about a 3-GMs-and-world event with longer time controls (maybe 5 minutes per move), in which the 3 GMs must discuss amongst themselves and also must explain why they suggest the moves they do and what their long-term plans are?

    The problem with this game was that the GMs were playing against each other by not agreeing on a plan, and the world was playing against the GMs by not following any of their plans consistently.

    If the GMs communicated with each other more and had to explain every move, as well as made sure that the moves they offered to the world were consistent and part of a unified plan, then the game would be much higher quality as well as more fun for all involved.

  • 6 years ago


    Is it bad to say i would've liked a more aesthetically pleasing game? i felt he simply capitalized on the worlds' errors and maintained his world class level and even with 28.Nb6 he traded his pawn advantage for the advantage of stratifying one rook for what Magnus obviously felt was an easily resolveable endgame. I guess i just wanted one of the moves that make you say "wow."

  • 6 years ago

    IM dpruess

    i think taking a few punches to the head is a bad idea for someone who'd like to reach 2900 one day ;-)

  • 6 years ago


    Magnus looks like he is in pretty good shape. I was just wondering if he could try chess boxing. Ie. rounds of chess interrupted by rounds of boxing. He looks like a boxer in some of his pictures promoting this event. I think we can find a chess boxer his weight class.

  • 6 years ago


    I like the simul idea...but give Carlsen black on all boards...I strongly suspect that the voting format gives Carlsen a major advantage, even against computers playing different engines if you make them choose their move quickly enough. It will just be that much more sensational when he wins.

  • 6 years ago


    That idea of a simul is incredible, you could make an tournament to decide the ones that would play against him, It certainly would be very fun.

  • 6 years ago


    Great event! There should be some kind of follow up match before the momentum is lost. 

  • 6 years ago

    IM dpruess

    hmmm, another cool idea!

  • 6 years ago


    How about having a small group of the world's top players collaborate against the best computer in the world? Give the human players plenty of time to discuss together and even try out strategies on other boards amongst themselves. The world would not actually be participating but it might generate the high interest that Kasparov vs Deep Blue generated.

  • 6 years ago


    Great article. Thoroughly enjoyed the experience and look forward to further opportunities to bring the community together like this.

    Hopefully "Mag-Town" is up for delivering future beatings to "the world".

  • 6 years ago


    Excellent article, thanks :-)

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