The Carlsen Question

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.


  • 2 years ago


    Because of the tendency of great people in any subject to start as child prodigies, I am really looking forward to seeing more competition between Carlsen and Wesley So.  If that (or a similar) rivalry comes to fruition, we could see amazing progress even from someone as enigmatic as Carlsen.

  • 3 years ago


    You Kasparov and Carlsen, but Kasparov is old now. Kramnik or Arnoian

  • 3 years ago


    Carlsen is now going to play against Anand. We will see what happens, but i personally belive that Magnus is going to rock Smile

  • 3 years ago


    tnx IM

  • 3 years ago


    Magnus Carlsen is really amazing. His games are very interesting for me to view.

  • 3 years ago


    Congratulations to Magnus Carlsen ,the chessplayers' world champion and my real world champion.

  • 3 years ago

    IM Fins0905

    Some great perspective from GM Jonathan Rowson in his January 26th column for "The Herald" in Scotland (via ChessVibes):

    "I believe the core of Magnus’s strength is his capacity to out-last his opponents, and that this quality depends upon several other skills and dispositions coalescing in a way that is hard to match. First, and perhaps most important, he doesn’t really blunder. Second, he enjoys the competitive tension of being at the board and is in no rush to get away. Third, he manages to be deeply self-confident while retaining both objectivity and a good feeling for the fallibility and vulnerability of the opponent. Fourth, he is extremely versatile- there are no positions that he doesn’t like. Fifth, he has an excellent sense of timing, of knowing when to change the nature of the position to pose practical problems. Sixth, he has the energy of youth, and makes the most of it by carefully managing his diet and lifestyle. This energy allows him to stay alert in the final moments of the game while others begin to fade."

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    First there was Morphy "the mozart of chess" then came Capa another "Mozart of chess" then now Carlsen "the mozart of chess". When will there ever be a true Mozart of chess or who is the true mozart of chess anyway?. I think its time for a Leonardo da vinci of chess. Enough with the mozart thing there is already 3 of them not including the the original Mozart himself.

  • 3 years ago


    My point before about Carlsen's skill in the late-middlegame and early endgame was to highlight that all recent World Champs have brought fresh perspective to the game, besides being great all-around players. If Carlsen becomes WC his perspective will be to show that chess is not dead simply because we've been underestimating the lethality of precise play in the late-middlegame / early-endgame, how he can take an +0.25 advantage at move 35 and turn it into +2 by move 55, all against 2700-rated players. Kasparov proved lethal in the opening, with dynamic play, etc.; the "modern" champions like Kramnik and Anand were part of the "no rules" era, etc. Carlsen has absorbed all that has come before him and has added his own, personal lethality to his play. (Just look at Nakamura. I love Nakamura's play. He's my favorite player. But does Naka have the same insight into the endgame at move 40 that Carlsen has?) It is likely that the next 20 years of chess will focus more on the endgame and late-middlegame possiblities.

    Of course, the tablebases will be solving the game from the other direction ... at some point chess must die, but not yet!

    Let's not forget that Carlsen is still in his early 20s. He has known only chess his whole life. Who knows what lurks for him in the future?

  • 3 years ago


    +1 @OneArrow.

    Anyone who has been following his progress as of late will probably reckon that this is where he has been doing most of his studies; some of his games have seen him coming out of the opening really unhealthily and by the end of the game he has still managed to win.

    Magnus Carlsen is capitalising greatly in an area of chess that the human psychology towards the game does its very best to avoid. ie: The late middle-game, transition to endgame. Notoriously, because at this point, the creativity has left the game, and the need for cold hard calculation is absolute. Ironically, this is probably the most important point of the game, as it determines the outcome. You can make a series of inaccuracies in the opening and the middle game which can prove to be inconsequential, yet during the endgame, a single inaccuracy can often be fatal. Magnus has picked up a profound understanding of the endgame to the point that he can enter the endgame knowing he's winning, or an end game that is deep enough to recognise that he has a distinct advantage, to which his competitive experience knows his opponents will struggle to find a series of accurate moves.

    In regards to the comments on the World Championship Cycle and a possible match with Anand. Garry Kasparov truly was a doubled edged sword for Magnus, wasn't he? The real question we need to ask ourselves is whether the rest of us truly know and understand what Magnus himself wants to get out of chess. (It's the metaphor of the question for the rest of us; what do we truly want to get out of life?) I mean, does any of us really know if a "legacy" is what he wants? To want something superfluous past what we can actually control can lead to a very debilitating existence. Look at Bobby Fischer.

    The real subject of study following Magnus' recent success might be Kasparov himself; if rumours about Magnus' lack of attendance at the last cycle was due to his influence. Kasparov has gained notoriety for being extremely selfish. There was a lot of speculation about whether such rumours would be a means to meet his own ends and about what those ends were; whether it was to truly affect change within the politics of FIDE (and whether or not Magnus himself wanted those changes or whether he was merely indifferent about them; and was following course so he could continue to get mentoring from Kasparov).

    Most of us are probably aware of Kasparov's desire to affect political change in Russia. Being able to say that a spearhead of that movement is the world's greatest chess player has some sort of influence and clout. I'm inclined to believe that Kasparov wanted to keep Magnus out of the cycle to cling on to that prestige for as long as possible (which is what would truly be pathetic about the whole affair) as I don't think most people doubt that, if he wants it, Magnus is capable of achieving greater things.

    What we're all obsessing over, is whether or not he can achieve all these things at once, or in relative sucession. A 2900 rating, world champion, a long reign (which might be the deal breaker). A lot of people are expecting Magnus to dedicate his life to chess, and those that are, might be disappointed. (Although a good number of us would liken chess to being some sort of unbreakable addiction.)

    To all those who want to see Magnus' success likened to the blitzkrieg; take a good look at what actually happened there. The Nazi movement was triumphed over because Hitler spread his forces too wide too fast. As much as we like to believe in the great victory, it was only achieved because of this egregious error. That is to say, maybe Magnus should focus on one goal at a time if he wants to achieve greatness. People are quite rightly saying that the championship setting is a completely different environment. Anand is far from dead in terms of actual chess; take his sublime victory over Aronian at the Tata tournament this year.

    The World Championship setting in itself requires some strategy, which might hinder his other goal for a 2900 rating (if that goal exists). For example, we know that Anand can struggle following a defeat. It may be in Carlsen's best interest to play solid chess up until about round 9 or 10 in the match, then fight for a win, where it would be too late for Anand to consolidate over his defeat before trying to pull back a win. (I'm far more excited over the prospect that Magnus has had so much recent success with e4, and Anand has proved a recent mastery with d4 - I'm convinced it would definitely be considered one of the best matches for a very long time, if not all-time, if it happened sooner rather than later.)

  • 3 years ago


    Carlsen is the best thing that happened to chess in some time. It would be great to see him play a world championship match one day.

    By the way, those FIDE ratings are a bit inflated aren't they? Giri's 2722 rating is good for 25th place, but would have made him No8 in 2000.

  • 3 years ago

    IM Fins0905

    Carlsen already has quite an impressive chess resume. Third youngest GM in history, winner of virtually every major super tournament, youngest to reach number one on the rating list, etc. The only thing he's missing is the World Championship title and a long reign thereafter. Should he fail to make it through the Candidates or lose to Anand it would be a major blow to him, as all signs point to 2013 being "his" cycle.

    It's high risk, high reward. If he qualifies and defeats Anand in November you won't see anybody questioning whether he's one of the best of all time. If not, well...

    Unforgiving business, the World Championship. A 12-game match for all the marbles at age 22. Win and you've fulfilled your destiny and cemented your legacy. Lose and you're a big question mark in spite of everything you've accomplished. Can you imagine?

  • 3 years ago


    Well Carlsen might be 2872 elo but I searched why he didn't participate to the World Championship event. When they asked him o participate he said ..."I don't want to lose elo". And lets face it...His games are not that special yet to say he is the motzart of chess (a title that belongs to Capablanca). So as long as he is not the world champion yet...he does not worth to be named as the "best chess playerof all times"

  • 3 years ago

    FM gauranga

  • 3 years ago

    IM Keaton87

    The guy knows his opposite colored bishop endings, I'll give him that ;)

  • 3 years ago


    Capablanca was also 'the Mozart of chess'. They should call Magnus something different than some name already given. The Picasso of chess? The Brahms of chess?The Magnus of chess?

  • 3 years ago


    Given that Carlsen is not known for his opening prep., his run also shows that it's not all about openings, another example of why chess is not dead. Carlsen has rejuvinated the importance of late middlegame and endgame positions in top level chess.

  • 3 years ago


    Magnus Carlsen is a Rolls Royce Car without HEADLIGHTS; ie the World Championship Title!  Hope he gets it soon. Good Luck to him to get it soon.

  • 3 years ago

    IM Fins0905

    @takokak - Good point. Kramnik is an especially difficult opponent for him (or anyone, for that matter) as evidenced in London in December. Bear in mind though that Carlsen hasn't lost to either Kramnik or Anand since 2011, and he's pretty much dominated everyone else in the interim. In pure chess skill I think Carlsen edges both of them right now, but as you said match play is a different animal entirely.

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