Magnus, You Are the ONE...

Magnus, You Are the ONE...

| 52 | Chess Players

When I was first made aware of the "G-Star" project (basically that we,, would be hosting a "Magnus Carlsen vs the World" match) I was pretty pumped. I wanted to find a way to contribue to the event in any way that I could.

As most of the development and technical stuff is obviously "beyond Danny's realm of expertise", I figured the best thing I could do would be to learn about Magnus, his games, his life, his sleeping habits and favorite places to eat, etc... (I only stalked him for a week people, chill out Wink)...

In deciding to do so (study his games of course), I came to the realization that I didn't know much about "our future king". As chess players, we should all consider it our duty -- to a certain extent -- to understand at least a little about why "the best, are the best". I felt ashamed, and I vowed not to rest again until I had reviewed enough Magnus games to either puke or start speaking with a "Norwegian" accent.

I started studying his games, convinved that I could find something... some kind of gem...some kind of information about Magnus Carlsen's incredible rise to the top of the chess world-- and now transcendence of chess to the entertainment/modeling world -- that other people had overlooked...

Here is one interesting game I found, sorry -- not mindblowing -- but the kid was 11 years old, and he already had the "aura of a guru"!



"Is there any opening theory that this kid doesn't have prepared deeper than his opponent?" ... "Does he ever blunder?" ... "Does he ever deviate from the main line before his opponent?" ... "Has anyone ever made chess look,"

Were just some of my thoughts I was having as I reviewed his games from a database I created. Then I realized I was only in 2004, which meant he couldn't have been more than 13 or 14 years old at the time... "Danny, you suck!" Was naturally my next conclusion...Yell


In all seriousness however, (as Magnus looks on from above) even at a young age, Carlsen rarely displayed "bad opening choices" or "sidelines". His philosophy seemed to be to learn everything from an unbiased, perfectionist perspective: "What is the best move in this position/opening line? OK, got it. Now let me learn it. I am not going to waste my time trying to trick opponents with something weird. After all, I have some billiards to play!"


At some point in their careers, most "talented-young-chess-monsters" will hit at least some kind of wall, or experience a few bumps in the road that inevitably pile up and cause a "dip" in their progress. However, this never really happened with Magnus. Why? I believe part of the reason for that is his mindset explained above: He wasn't trying to trick people!  No bad openings, that he just "loved" and was able to make up for because of his incredible talent. Nope, there were just no holes.

He didn't know everything experience was going to have to teach him of course, but no human can learn all things vicariously, right? Right? Right? Magnus, don't answer that... But still, his growth as a chess professional (which in all honesty, he probably was at the age of 14) was alarming. Here is one example game against the (at the time) equally rated Jan Smeets (only 3 years older I believe). Although it should be noted, their rating difference at this year's Amber Chess Festival was more than 150 points. Damn! Seriously, that is like a lifetime at that level...



So we know he is God, I mean good (freudian slip I guess Tongue out) but it is time to stop the obsession Danny! (Hey, this is an article to promote a match between the first ever "Chess-Pro turned model" -- so I am kind of supposed to make a big deal about it, OK?)!

How good is he? I really did spend a  lot of time reviewing his games. Maybe not enough to speak in "Euro-Tongues", but a lot. One of the most amazing things about Magnus is, like "Gary the Great" before him, no one ever seemed to tell him, "Hey Mag-Town, come here for a second so I can tell you something... You aren't supposed to win so much with the black pieces!!!" Magnus says, "what"?

As he progressed, it became clear that he wasn't playing chess with the regular tournament strategy of "win with white, draw with black". Magnus was playing to win every chess game he ever played. The competition was like, "wait, you aren't allowed to do that"! Although he doesn't win quite as much with black -- according to my database (which is about as up-to-date as they come) -- Magnus Carlsen has only won 1 less game with black than he has with white in 2010. Amazing when you think about it.

Right on cue, his most recent victory with black:



If there was one other thing that particularly stood out to me about Magnus Carlsen during my study, it would have to be just how rarely he blunders. Now, not many 2700+ FIDE players blunder too often, but it does happen (at least a few times a year). However, not so much with Magnus: His ONLY non rapid/blitz loss of 2010 came at the hands of Kramnik in Corus, Wijk aan Zee this year. Though Mag-Town didn't seem to be totally right in that game, he graciously recovered to win the tournament out-right. No big deal...

Unlike some of the past "crazy-talents" -- of which I won't name names -- Carlsen doesn't get rattled. I wouldn't go as far as to say he is completely "cold-blooded" in his approach, but he seems to find ways of removing himself from the emotional struggles and psychological "ups and downs" we all experience. At least when it comes to chess. This clear headed-approach allows him to be the recipient of many more opponent blunders then he makes himself.

Here is one example game, from the same Corus tournament mentioned above:


Are we witnessing the recipe for "chess perfection": Avoid building bad habits as a youngster so that your growing pains are minimal; play chess to win -- taking your experiences/losses in stride -- but not changing your play based on tournament situations; and find a way to approach the game without emotion?

Obviously no one can truly say just yet, but I think we can all agree (if nothing else, it is hard to argue with a 2820 FIDE rating) that Magnus is the most well-rounded, level-headed, and deep-thinking/calculator the chess world has seen since "the Boy From Baku's" younger years.

His classmate and buddy GM Jon "The Hammer" Ludvig, when I interviewed him to ask his predictions about the match, said: "Magnus plays to win. He is going to give it his all." He then backed up his words by predicting a "%65 chance Carlsen wins, and a %35 chance the game ends in a draw. Magnus won't lose..."


My summary? A couple weeks ago, during David Pruess's and my weekly TV-Show "Pardon Our Blunders", I made the bold prediction that there was no way Magnus wins this match Cry. Why in the name of all that is holy did my potty-mouth preach such foul "un-truthness"??? Setting aside my meds, I had a few good reasons:

  1. Even the legendary (and constantly compared to) Gary Kasparov was not able to win his match against the world cleanly--he needed a blunder in a drawn Queen ending to get the full point. Given it was an entirely different format (for the record, I do believe the rapid format favors Magnus. If anything, it prevents all those of you out there who will use Rybka and every other Engine known to man to help you vote in those 90-seconds. The faster control puts pressure on the world, and even the best engines will mis-evaluate positions and ideas in 90-seconds; note: I'm joking, that's totally against the rules of the match!). Still, if Kaspy could barely do it -- can any other man?!?!
  2. History suggests that the chances of one player, regardless of strength, beating the masses -- when the sheer numbers should prevent the world from blundering -- seemed highly unlikely.
  3. No matter what Magnus says, this match is for fun. So, unless there is some kind of bonus in his RAW/G-Star Contract for a win that I am not aware of, he won't be "quite as motivated" as he thinks he will be: He is going to be in a press room, likely surrounded by beautiful people, given every comfort he desires..

With all that said, Magnus is arguably the most hyped-up/media-driven chess player (especially who isn't even world champion yet) in the history of "the game of kings". In this "social networking" society we live in today, Magnus is getting about as much "pub" as any European athlete (he still can't challenge the real "King", ie Lebron "Le-Love-Thyself" James) -- but still, he is pretty popular.Yet, he has managed to stay hungry to this point! What does this mean for my prediction? Great, here comes Danny's retraction and total backdown...

Nope! No way Magnus wins... Come on team, let's take the kid down Cool!!!

IM Daniel Rensch

Chief Chess Officer, LLC.

International Master Danny Rensch is best known for his videos and shows - but also writes educational articles, publishes breaking chess news, and organizes the details for's biggest events, like the Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championships, Blitz Death Matches, the National Invitational Championship and more!

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