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