"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


    Make the 3 GMs be Anand, Topalov and Kramnik ;)

    Then that Mag-Town will be taken to Ouch-Town

  • 6 years ago


    I think the game between Carlsen & th World was pretty entertaining. I'd sure like a rematch with the World taking the white pieces. Here are some of the changes, if possible, I would propose.

    1. when the 3 GMs make their moves ... don't show who made which move. Just show the moves and let the world decide on moves alone.

    I think there were some votes where people just voted for their preferred GM. I know for sure that even though I don't have any preferred GM on the team, I heavily picked moves depending on vote % and those cute little pics of the Grandmasters.

    If we take away those cute pics, then probably we could have got a different game. Probably.

    2. Take away the vote %. Don't show it. Hide it. Sometimes I voted because one vote was being the underdog. Yes, it had nothing to do with the game. But let's be real, I understood nothing about the game.

    3. And finally (I'm not sure if this is even possible from the technical aspect) it would be cool if we could let the world move whatever move they want to move. And only let the moves that coincide with one of the GM moves be taken into voting account. So it would practically feel like we were playing Carlsen even if I opened with h6.

    If we could do that, I seriously think we could take Mag-Town to Ouch-Town!

  • 6 years ago

    IM dpruess

    absolutely brilliant, jolly!

  • 6 years ago


    Have Magnus play a clock simul but do not tell him who his opponent is.   Have one be the world of amateurs, one be a group of strong masters, one be a strong GM, and one be a computer.     Strong computers may be too much for even Magnus in a simul, so maybe somehow cripple the computer or make a team of computers where they would be susceptible to the 'clash-of-plans' effect. This may add some psychological pressure and uncertainty since he wouldn't know who was sitting across the board from him.

    Then have Magnus guess his opponents.  

  • 6 years ago


    Great article...I participated in this event...it was fun and I learned a lot from the commentary and the game.

  • 6 years ago

    IM DanielRensch

    Webcam idea might work when the entire world has the infastructure (high-speed internet) to support such a platform. Otherwise, there would be too much lag, bog-down time, etc...

    In an ideal world though, would be very cool...

  • 6 years ago


    Great article! It made for an interesting read. I wish the chess world would get as much attention as popular sports do and that events like this would happen more often. It's really fascinating to watch these high level players battle each other.

  • 6 years ago


    I would like 2 play Magnus....

  • 6 years ago


    I like the qualification idea. I don't like the webcam idea.

  • 6 years ago


    Very nice event! These things helps to make chess even more hot !

    Thanks for cool broadcasting...

  • 6 years ago


    I like the qualification idea too. I for one would still be interested in the final. I would find it interesting to be beaten in a qualifier, and then see how even those high ranked players who beat most of chess.com would pale in comparison to magnus

  • 6 years ago

    IM dpruess

    yes, i've thought of this idea in the past as well jhb, and it's possible.

  • 6 years ago


    Webcam the qualification stage (or part of the qualification stage). 

    You will instantly see if someone is looking off camera or switching between windows and referencing an engine (unless of course they have a team of accomplices like in the movie '21').

    Most laptops have webcams, and you can sell Chess.com-branded M@gnus v the W3rld webcams to those who don't have one already.

  • 6 years ago

    IM DanielRensch

    Awesome, David! Thanks to you for leading us "down the road" to this event... Sounds like the experience in New York was really interesting...

    Great questions... I think a Simul of Magnus vs 3 GMs and World would be lots of fun and increase the chances of everyone (all 4 boards) against Mag-Town!

    I also think there HAS to be some way to limit Computer Cheating without the event needing to be live, if there was a qualification process setup. Perhaps in the earliest of rounds there will be some players "slipping through" but even as the games progress into rounds of 64-32-16-etc there will be enough moderators to ensure that anyone doing this, is automatically forfeited and their opponent moves on...

    I really like that idea, the more I think about it!!!

  • 6 years ago

    IM dpruess

    you can have the final stage be a live event, but that adds a lot to the budget.

  • 6 years ago


    Oh, absolutely dpruess! To see Carlsen, or other GMs playing simul against the best of chess.com's community would be great. And it would be fun to watch the battles during the qualification phase.

    On the practical side, it may be undoable, as it could be hard \ impossible to eliminate possibilities of engine usage during the qualification rounds (assuming they take place over the web).

  • 6 years ago

    IM dpruess

    that's a nice idea craig; i like having a qualification process. so you'd be interested to watch the simul even if you had no way to participate in it yourself?

  • 6 years ago


    I thought this event was a great idea - and really enjoyed it. Big kudos to all of these great GMs that particpated.

    I would love to see a match where Carlsen played simul against high rated amateur players on chess.com and other high volume internet chess sites. For example, Chess.com could have a few rounds of tournaments where the winner would get the right to particpate in the simul.

  • 6 years ago


    cool. i folowed you when the game was and paid attention  to your ideas/votes. thx for the experience and good article.

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