Carlsen starring in Biel (and The New Yorker)

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Carlsen starring in Biel (and The New Yorker)Apparently it's the season of tournament announcements, and especially the second half of 2011 is becoming more and more promising. Today the organizers of the annual Biel Chess Festival proudly announced the participation of Magnus Carlsen (who was recently profiled in The New Yorker). We give the Sigeman line-up as well.

The headline of the press release says it all. 'Magnus Carlsen, the Chess Dominator in Biel!' The Biel organizers are proud to have contracted the famous Norwegian, and rightly so. The 20-year-old chess player is welcome in just about any chess event these days, and basically can pick whatever tournament he likes to play.

However, it's no surprise that Carlsen picked Biel again, as he will have good memories. There, in 2005, at 14 years old, he played his first ever GM tournament and in 2007, at 16, he won the 40th anniversary edition.

The organizers reveal that 'support of a private sponsor' was needed to get Carlsen back to Switzerland. And we'll forgive them for, in all their Swiss enthusiasm, twisting history a bit. They write 'The prodigy from Norway became the youngest world's number one in chess history in January 2010 (until March 2011)', forgetting that Vishy Anand led the world rankings in November and December 2010.

The tournament will consist of six players. Only two other players are known at the moment: Vugar Gashimov and Yannick Pelletier. Taking into account the dates that are mentioned (July 16-21), unfortunately it looks like the top group is going to be only a single round-robin...

[Update: Pelletier has confirmed to Mark Crowther that it's going to be a double round-robin.]

...just like the Sigeman & Co tournament. This tournament runs 9-13 June with Alexei Shirov, Anish Giri, Wesley So, Jonny Hector, Nils Grandelius and Hans Tikkanen.

Update: as Thomas points out below, the Bazna tournament has updated its website with photos of this year's participants. We learnt about the participation of Magnus Carlsen, Vassily Ivanchuk, Sergey Karjakin, Hikaru Nakamura, Teimour Radjabov and Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, but decided not to mention it yet because nothing official has been communicated so far.

Returning to Carlsen, we realize that we hadn't mentioned yet that the Norwegian recently starred in the famous The New Yorker magazine. It's a 7000 word piece of excellent prose by D.T. Max about different subjects like computer chess, the Soviet chess school, and, mostly, about Carlsen.

Carlsen in The New Yorker

The full text is only available to subscribers, but here are a few quotes:

When he is not travelling, he lives with his family in a house in Baerum, an affluent suburb of Oslo. He rents the basement from his parents. For this trip, some friends from the chess club at his high school had come with him to play in the open part of the tournament. Carlsen, who left school two years ago without formally graduating, had gone out with his old friends for pizza and bowling, but at most tournaments he is either alone or with his father, Henrik, who helps manage his career and, to an extent, his life. If Carlsen plays in a tournament in less than clean clothes, chances are that Henrik did not come with him.

Carlsen spends evenings in his hotel room, streaming TV shows on his laptop—“The A-Team” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” are favorites—and going on Skype and Facebook. Sometimes, he works out at the gym to relieve the tension of a match. When he is at home, he plays Wii Sports Resort and Mario Kart, and with his family he plays SingStar, a karaoke game; he also likes to tease his three sisters. I asked Carlsen if he wanted to go to college. “I have no interest,” he said.


He liked to go online to find human opponents, but he resisted playing against the programs themselves. Computer chess struck him as mechanical—the machine always won, and he did not like being told that there was one “best” move. “It’s like playing someone who is extremely stupid but who beats you anyway,” he said.


In 2009, Carlsen hired Kasparov to train him. Kasparov had long had his eye on Carlsen and was eager to take on the job. The Web site Chessvibes declared that it was a “dream team.” Kasparov was an expensive coach—his annual fee was set at several hundred thousand dollars—but Carlsen and his family thought that the tutelage was worth it.


In the lead-up to tournaments, when other players are testing out strategies on their computers, Carlsen is often staying up late playing video games or online poker. Before tournament days, he likes to get plenty of sleep—optimally, ten or eleven hours—waking up an hour or two before the start. “It’s no secret that the best players’ opening preparation is much deeper than mine,” Carlsen told me. In London, he went into some games with only the first move chosen; most players typically map out their first dozen or so moves. He believes that things even out because, as he put it, “I’m younger and have more energy, and it’s easier to adapt.”


In the days after Fashion Week, he had contacted Wesley So, a rising seventeen-year-old Philippine grandmaster, and offered to pay his way to Europe if he would train with him. In London, Carlsen had described So to me as his stylistic opposite. “I think his entire training has been with a computer,” he had noted with amazement. When I last spoke to Carlsen, he was in Majorca with So, and they had been working together. Carlsen once told me that if chess ever stopped being fun for him he’d “have to do something else.” He added, “If you have that feeling all the time, what’s the point of playing?” But, for now, he was appreciating the new training: “We’ll see if something good comes of it.”


The article mentions a few games, for example, Carlsen-Ernst, Wijk aan Zee 2004, which is often given as one of Carlsen's best games. However, the Norwegian himself prefers games like Carlsen-Kotronias, Calvia OL 2004, in which he plays a possibly unique combination, or Carlsen-Anand, Nanjing 2010, in which he shows superb positional chess. All three are given below.

Game viewer by ChessTempo


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