The Carlsen Question

The Carlsen Question

IM Fins0905
Jan 31, 2013, 9:59 PM |

The February 2013 FIDE rating list is out, and Magnus Carlsen - the "Mozart of Chess" - once again reigns supreme among the world elite with an otherwordly, record-smashing (his own!) ELO of 2872:

Carlsen is so dominant that he could hand the next five players on the rating list 10 FIDE points each and STILL be the highest-rated player! By the way, those next five guys? Yeah, there's two World Champions in that group: the current one, Vishy Anand, and the former champ, Vladimir Kramnik.

Fresh off a stunning 10/13, 1.5 point victory (2930 perf) at the annual Tata Steel tournament in the Netherlands, there's only one question on the tip of our collective chess tongue:

How much better can Magnus get?

Empirical evidence says "the sky's the limit", rating-wise, at least. At this point I don't think anyone can say that Magnus isn't capable of crossing the 2900 threshold (a benchmark that would surely set the chess world abuzz), and he may even do it before the Norwegian summer thaw sets in. He certainly has his work cut out for him beyond that in reaching 2950 or 3000, though. I mean, at present (according to the FIDE rating calculator) he only gains 1.7 points for a win against your average Grandmaster (2550), and loses 2.3 points(!) for a draw against your "run-of-the-mill" 2700. Talk about tough!

Ratings aside, I think what Magnus really needs in 2013 and beyond is someone to push him. Somebody who can give him a run for his money in EVERY super-tournament and really spur him to new heights. Right now I'd say Kramnik is the only guy who can do that, and as much as I love Big Vlad, he's not getting any younger. Aronian is the next most logical candidate, but he's been extremely inconsistent of late and is also about eight years older than Magnus. Anand is certainly not better than Magnus now, despite holding the title belt. Thus, we're left with a crop of young but not yet 2800-caliber challengers: Radjabov (why doesn't he play more super tournaments, by the way?), Karjakin, Nakamura, Caruana, Giri, and, perhaps most tantalizingly, another unproven talent who can scale chess's Mount Olympus within the next few years.

One thing's for sure, though: Carlsen is breathing new life into the game. His will to win is unparalleled, and he possesses every quality one would look for in a prototypical world-crusher: fantastic instincts, computer-like calculation, an extremely wide opening repertoire, superb endgame technique, and the nerves to push anybody in the world to bare kings. It's thrilling to watch, and he's almost single-handedly pushing our game to new heights. As I posted on Facebook the other day:

(shout-out to Ben and Danny)

A few games from the past year or so that I feel are representative of Magnus version 2012-13. No notes; just play through and enjoy.

Allow me to close with a final thought. Every great player had teachers, mentors, and role models along the way. Each generation grows up with heros whom we aspire to be - even wunderkinds like Fischer and Carlsen. Not so long ago, this man was the standard for chess excellence:

In chess we really do stand on the shoulders of giants. In creating his own legacy, I think Carlsen realizes that more than anyone else.