A Short Story (Inspired by Cyrus Lakdawala's New Book)

A Short Story (Inspired by Cyrus Lakdawala's New Book)

GM Illingworth

Hey chess fans!

Today I read the introduction to IM Cyrus Lakdawala's new book 'How To Beat Magnus Carlsen'...and man, is this fire! 

But before I share with you the introduction to this book, I'll share with you my own short story, inspired by the introduction.

Many decades later, in a bar, three chess players are discussing chess over drinks.

A: I want to start reading Cyrus Lakdawala's books, but I don't know which of his 150 books to start with. What do you suggest?

B: Don't waste your time man. I read Firouzja's 'How I Became World Champion' and it turned me into a tactical monster!

C: I love Cyrus's writing! His most controversial book was 'How To Beat Magnus Carlsen', who most consider the greatest chess player of all time. This book literally divided the chess world in half.

A: Yeah, Carlsen was the first player to ever break 2900 FIDE, before they stopped playing classical chess.

C: Actually, I think I have my old, signed hardcover copy in my bag, just a moment…

B: Firouzja is the greatest player ever. No one else even broke 3800 blitz yet on Chess.com.

C: Here you are. Read the introduction, and you will know by then whether you're in love with his work or not.

A: Thanks man! Can I read it now?

C: Sure!

B: I don't get you chess book readers. I just flip on the Youtube God of Chess, Agadmator, and watch him explain games. The dude has over 30 million subscribers, and they can't be wrong!

C: Man, if you want to actually improve at chess, watch Max Illingworth's videos. He's the Cyrus of chess video courses - last I checked, he had recorded over 500 of them

B: Isn't he the GM that became one of the thought leaders in peak performance and parenting?

A: Wow, this is incredible...I never realized there was so much depth in the way these old guys approached chess. Can I loan this book?

C: You know, whenever I loan a book, I never see them again…

A: Please?

C: I'll tell you what, you can have the book.

A: Thanks!

B: But you're buying tonight's round of drinks!

(B & C laugh)

(End Of Story)

Here is the full introduction for you to enjoy:

How to Beat Magnus Carlsen
In the days of Morphy, there was a single dominant player who roamed as a wolf among sheep. But how could this be in our era? After all, there are too many gifted, highly trained players for one single player to dominate. Yet impossibly, there is one player who does just that. His name is Magnus Carlsen.
Finally, given your rise over the past few years, do you believe you can become world champion? Can you challenge Carlsen?
I think that maybe we have to wait for Magnus to get older! I cannot really challenge him. He is at the top, I think nobody can beat him. But if he is not in his best shape as he gets older, maybe we will have some chance. Chess.com interview with Ding Liren
Humility comes easily to the talentless. For Ding Liren, the world’s number three player at the time of his interview, his above statement is either a staggering level of humility, or perhaps he is a realist who views Magnus as currently untouchable in a classical time control world championship match.
This book is as odd as its title suggests. Actually, the only place I can beat Magnus is perhaps in an alternative universe. In this one I fall a wee bit short and fully expect a few “How-dare-you-write-a-book-on-Carlsen’s-losses-when-you-lack-the-skill-to- beat-him-yourself!” Facebook messages. If you are an exceedingly strong player, then people write books about your best games, which tend to be wins; if you are a chess god, then people may even write a book on your losses.
It's time to discuss a previously forbidden topic: Edward Winter relates that in the April 1994 Chess Life, Andy Soltis wrote of an apocryphal story, which may or may not be true: “Shortly after José Capablanca became world champion Znosko-Borovsky published a booklet of the Cuban’s losses called Capablanca’s Errors. Asked about it, Capa said he hoped to write a book called Znosko-Borovsky’s Good Moves but, he said, “Unfortunately, I didn’t succeed in finding material for it”.’
Edmar Mednis wrote a book on Fischer’s losses, called How to Beat Bobby Fischer and some critics ridiculed him for it, even though he had actually beaten Bobby in a tournament game.
The point of course is, how is a far weaker player (Znosko-Borovsky, Mednis, me) qualified to write a book about how to beat a sacrosanct chess god? In my case the subject is a player who is undoubtedly the strongest player of all time, and some say, maybe even the greatest player of all time? The answer is, Magnus’ games are so profound, that every loss – discounting games when he was just a kid – hits us as a shock, where something can be learned from it. A chess writer, unlike a novelist, is unable to type out a happy ending for the hero of his book—and Magnus is the hero of this book, despite the fact that the vast majority of the games within it are his losses. This book is an examination of where Magnus was in the past, not where he is today.
Being part of the world chess community gives us a sense of belonging to an entity greater than ourselves alone. Our CEO is always the reigning world champion. Magnus finished 2019 with the unprecedented triumph of winning the Rapid and Blitz World Championships, as well as holding the title of Classical World champion. Not since Kasparov’s reign have we seen such absolute dominance. Normally matters on the chess board go Carlsen’s way, the way the Red Sea parted for Moses. In this book we examine the opposite of the norm, that rare moment when a player as close to perfection as we have ever seen, loses.
The Player Who Never Loses: Carlsens’ Endless Non-Losing Streak.
When this book uses the words “…beat Magnus,” it really means Magnus of the past, since the one in the present doesn’t ever seem to lose a chess game. In the fourth round of the 2019 Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee in The Netherlands, Magnus drew with Dutch GM Jorden van Foreest. In doing so he shattered the record for the longest non-losing streak in chess history. Magnus previous loss was on July 31st 2018, against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.This record eclipsed the previous record of 110-games set by the Dutch/Russian GM Sergei Tiviakov in 2005. Carlsen’s new record is far more impressive, since the average rating of Tiviakov field was Fide 2476, while Magnus’ opposition was just over 2700! You would think that random chance would have struck Magnus down somewhere in his massive streak, yet no matter how unsoundly he played, no matter how busted he was, no matter how strong his opposition, one thing remained the same: Magnus never lost a classical time control chess game, over an astonishingly large number of games. What Carlsen’s opponents discovered to their horror, during his seemingly endless no-losing streak, was that he could be knocked down, yet he always got back up. They faced a player who just did not stay down for long, since deeply hidden counterplay always popped up, as if by magic, to save him. Just when they believe that his run of luck was at an end, then guess what?: he gets a new dose of luck, which of course, is not luck at all.
Carlsen’s Immense Power
The stories of legends tend to grow in their telling. We can debate the point if Magnus is the greatest player of all time, yet there is no disputing (at least to my mind) that he is the strongest player of all time. His mid 2018 to 2020 run of tournament and match victories easily rivaled Morphy’s European tour, Capablanca’s dominance in the early 1920’s, Fischer’s run up to his title match with Spassky, and Kasparov’s dominance in the 1990’s. Magnus Carlsen is a chess killing machine, young, athletic, psychologically cool under pressure, with a blood pressure reading of 10 over 6, which most doctors consider remarkably low. He reached the elite summit of untouchability in a chess game. Each generation tends to bring with it one player who push us into a great evolutionary leap forward in our understanding of the game. We are currently in the Magnus Carlsen generation. Magnus elicits the following emotions from his colleagues: respect, awe, fear and maybe a tinge of envy. He is no first among many equals, at least not yet. He is the unquestioned king. In the olden days in BM (before Magnus) time, who was king? Sometimes it was Kramnik, Sometimes Topalov and sometimes Anand. The chess world debated wildly and endlessly over who was the best player in the world. If we place Carlsen’s top 10 challengers next to him, only a fringe 10% will say one of them is stronger than Magnus. The other 90% are with King Magnus, the First of his Name. 90% of the electorate sounds close to a Saddam/Putin-like fake approval ratings, except that Magnus’ stats are actually real!
Wesley So wrote: "People like to say that I don't play my best against Carlsen. Don't think I hadn't noticed that, but it took my dad Renato to explain it to me: He told me it is like being a very young and talented soccer player and having pictures of Pele all over your room and knowing by heart every game he ever played. You think about him, dream about him, grow up wanting to be as good as him and when playing by yourself even pretend you are him. And then one day Pele suddenly appears on the field. You can’t move. You can't breathe. Everything is a blur. Which goal posts are yours? You feel like you might faint. Or die. You are overwhelmed because he is older, bigger and has years of experience on you. You see that you are a kid with an oversize dream.”
Let this sink in for a moment: this is a world’s top 5 ranked player and a potential challenger to Magnus saying this! Wesley speaks with honest, humble clarity of the massive burden of expectation when playing a game against Magnus in a classical chess game, which is an assault on the psyche, as much as a battle across the board.
Playing a chess game against Magnus Carlsen is akin to the sinner practicing for God’s wrath on Judgement Day. As you may have guessed, there are virtually endless array of spells in the magician’s supernatural arsenal. How does he stay on top in a game where his opposition are some of the most brilliant human beings on the planet, and what are the reigning disciplines required to play chess at a dominant world champion’s level? Let’s breakdown the sources of Carlsen’s mysterious and uncanny power:
1. An impossibly high concentration/awareness level, the result of which is that Magnus is easily the most blunder-free player in the world.
2. Endless calculation ability. In my opinion, only Fabiano Caruana and Maxime Vachier Lagrave can hang with him in this phase. In pure calculation battles, most of Carlsen’s opponents are pretty much always one or two or three or four beats behind the orchestra’s conductor.
3. Supernaturally perfect assessment power. Kasparov once said that the source of Magnus’ true power is his astonishing ability to accurately assess even the most confusing positions.
4. Magnus in my opinion, along with Capablanca and Fischer before him, is in the top three endgame players of all time. As all puritans declare: We were not put on this Earth to chase after pleasures. Magnus is relentless in technical endings, where he routinely beats strong GMs and even world class players in drawn endings. He just never gives up and with infinite patience, he waits for opportunity. When his opponent omits the most insignificant detail, Magnus pounces and converts positions other top GMs fail to win. No other player in the world can claim to be his equal in this phase.
5. A wide and creative opening repertoire, filled with theoretical surprises for his opponent. Magnus may play White and grind his opponent down in a London System, and then in the very next round play the Black side of an antipodal opposite, Najdorf Sicilian. If you are a chess player, then a sizable portion of your life is spent classifying and sub-classifying your openings. Magnus, with his either photographic, or near-photographic memory, plays a bewildering array of openings, in totally opposing styles. He can go from the Black side of a Dragon Sicilian, to a dull grind on the white side of a London System the very next game. This makes him next-to-impossible to prepare against.
6. “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” Mark Twain
Emanuel Lasker, Mikhail Tal, Alpha Zero and Magnus Carlsen all understand: a threat doesn’t need to be real, for the opponent to fear it. Magnus, channeling Emanuel Lasker, once said: “I am trying to beat the guy sitting across from me and trying to choose the moves that are most unpleasant for him and his style.” Magnus is the most fearless chess player in the world, mainly since he is uniquely equipped with a Lasker/Tal/Alpha-Zero-like element/ability to confuse the opponent. Each great player is responsible for a new leap forward, on how we perceive the game. What Magnus taught us is: a human can indeed play like a computer. It was the great Mikhail Tal who proved that a player can reach the greatest of heights with unlimited optimism and zero shame! Sound and unsound are only valid when computers are used. Play a human and a supreme confuser can get away with murder. One wonders if Tal valued his own life, since he never took care of his health and over the board and he smilingly took appalling risks, the rest of us would shrink from. The only difference between Tal and Carlsen is that Magnus is in superb physical conditioning. Chess wise, the pairs’ risk taking is on an equal scale.
The word pedomorphosis means a person who retains some characteristic of childhood, into adulthood. Children, who have trouble distinguishing present risky actions to future potential pain, are often reckless with material sacrifices at the board. Magnus, like Tal before him, carries this child-like trait where he often gambles wildly and in the great majority of his transgressions, gets away with his crimes. He is both scholar/mystic combined, with the ability to play a dry technical ending, and then in the very next game, unsoundly sacrifice a pawn and win anyway, against a 2800 rated opponent, sucking him into a vortex of confusion. Magnus is the premier player in the world in irrational positions, where even masters of confusion like Mamedyarov and Nakamura still lag behind. Of course this is just my personal opinion and you are free to either agree or disagree. The nature of most sacrifices is that they are either unsound garbage, or the inspiration of genius, with nothing in-between. It’s egotistical to believe that our chess games are a creation of our own mind, since this belief fails to factor into the equation our opponent’s responses. Magnus is acutely aware of this factor. He is perfectly aware that some of his sacrifices – either materially or structurally – are semi-sound at best. Yet he factors in his clear superiority in unclear positions and believes he will get away with the transgression. From my observations of Magnus’ sacrifices in late 2018, all of 2019 and early 2020 up to the point of writing this book, is the following:
a) His sacrifices are increasing in frequency.
b) They tend to fall into that hazy “in-between” of sound and unsound, worthy and unworthy, where even the most robust chess minds can be stumped by Carlsen’s pointless/brilliant sacrifices.
c) In the coming complications, Magnus either confuses the opponent and wins.
d) In the coming complications it turns out Magnus sacrifice was either slightly unsound, or that the opponent defended well and now has possession of the advantage. Then Magnus’ super-human defensive ability saves the game, which others would have lost.
7. An Alekhine/Fischer-like monomaniacal will to win. It’s difficult to gauge a player’s level of will, yet Magnus is willing to push for the win, more than his colleagues. Of course this can be viewed as a negative and there is an entire chapter in the book which covers Magnus pushing too hard and going over the cliff.
8. “Of course analysis can sometimes give more accurate results than intuition but usually it’s just a lot of work. I normally do what my intuition tells me to do. Most of the time thinking is just to double-check,” said Magnus, who possess a Capablanca/Tal/Fischer-like, near-perfect intuition. Why did I add Tal to the list?: because Magnus is that incredibly rare player who is gifted with both strategic and tactical intuition. Kasparov once said of Tal, that unlike others who merely calculate, Tal magically “sees through” the complications. Magnus is the only other player I know of in chess history, who is gifted with this kind of intuition. We have all seen countless examples of Magnus’ strategic wizardry. His tactical intuition is equally acute.
9. A Capablanca/Botvinnik/Fischer-like planning ability. Only Fabiano Caruana can hang with him in this aspect.
10. Magnus, unlike many other top players, has said he engaged in a deep study of great players of the past. So this man/machine hybrid called Magnus Carlsen you see today, is nothing but a condensed distillate of the great players of the past, to the present moment.
This comes under the category of no-brainer, but anyone who goes nearly two years without losing a chess game is a master of defensive evasion. Karl Schlecter, Tigran Petrosian and Viktor Korchnoi can only dream about reaching Carlsen’s defensive stature. Even when he receives a wicked and unexpected blow to the gizzard, by some miraculous power, he manages to remain upright, avoiding defeat, time after time.
11. Magnus more than any other world champion in chess history, is a player of constantly shifting stylistic identities. Like Spassky before him, Carlsen is the epitome of stylistic universality, where he seems to play every possible stage of the game in equally deadly fashion. He is a stylistic agnostic who refuses to embrace and worship a single style of play. One game he will go berserk, a la Tal, confuse his opponent and win with a dubious double pawn sacrifice, then next game he provokes his opponent by goading his opponent on in Laskerian fashion, then next game he grinds out a less-than += technical ending, winning in 80 moves. His style is in reality a collection of styles.
What Benefits do we Derive from the Study of a Great Player’s Losses?
Your writer, a noted chess theologian, believes there is no more holy and noble deed a chess player can perform than to engage in a deep study of a great player’s games, whose every move is placed under the microscope of our prying eyes. But normally we only study the great player’s greatest games--not their failures and reversals. When a player becomes so strong that they stop losing, it is of great value to look at this player’s earlier incarnations, where he did lose games. Carlsen and his opponents in this book interpret chess very differently than we do. Our job is to identify the difference. Playing over such incredibly high-level games can frustrate us, since the players’ comprehension level of head-spinning complications, towers over ours. But just remember that studying that which we fail to completely understand, presages a completely new level of awareness in our otherwise normal internal pattern recognition database. The decisions Magnus and his exalted opponents make may appear mistakenly inhuman, yet they were created by human minds. At the beginning we don’t understand many of their motivations. Then as we play through more games, our recognition shifts and it almost feels as if the patterns find us, and not the other way around. By studying the games of the great Magnus Carlsen – even his losses! – our mind is essentially awakened from a life-long sleep, into full awareness. We learn far more though our failures than through our successes. There is not a doubt that Magnus Carlsen has examined all his losses under a microscope. If he benefits from this process, then so will we.
The Chapters in the book are:
1. Witchcraft: Magnus miraculously escapes death from objectively awful or practically difficult positions.
2. Quicksand: Magnus gets outplayed, mostly strategically, Sometimes he is outplayed tactically, dynamically, or gets out-calculated.
3. Planning your own Funeral: In a chess game we face the following opponents:
a) Our opponent’s powerful play.
b) Our low clock.
c) Our mind of fevered ambition.
In this chapter we examine c) on the list. The mind of ambition is always hard at work, trying to outsmart everyone, sometimes including our own position. This is the chapter where Magnus over-presses and goes off the cliff’s edge. So this chapter is the situation where the patriarch of a rich and powerful family brings poverty, scandal and disgrace to the family, via gambling away the family fortune and influence.
4. Tales of the Lost Tribe: In this chapter we examine games where Magnus loses, via an inability to find the position’s correct plan, or by not asking the correct questions.
5. Out-booked: Magnus emerges from the opening in a poor position, to the point where he is unable to recover. Sometimes he is outprepped, and sometimes the damage is self-inflicted.


So, whose side are you on? Let us know in the comments below!