June 4, 2023

Tor Go Devil

No game no life

Covid has given a boost to faster chess games, online events: Magnus Carlsen

As Norwegian chess superstar Magnus Carlsen completes a decade as the World No 1 in...

As Norwegian chess superstar Magnus Carlsen completes a decade as the World No 1 in classical format, he chats with Sunday Times about who he views as worthy rivals, and the internet’s influence on the sport.
You became the World No 1 in seniors for the first time in January 2010 and since July 2011, you haven’t gone below the top rank in classical format even once. What does this numero uno status mean to you?
I don’t spend much time thinking about past achievements as the focus is always to improve and to perform well in the next event. But indeed, if you had asked me about my aspirations 10 years ago, I would have thought of 10 continuous years as No 1 as quite significant.
What would you attribute your longevity to?
As a 30-year-old, it feels awkward to talk about longevity. Many chess players stay quite close to their peak for up to two decades or more. Chance also plays a role, as (Fabiano) Caruana has been one or two games away from overtaking me on a few occasions. In general, I’ve had valuable support from people around me, such as my family, my coach Peter Heine and other seconds as well as from dedicated long-time sponsors. I guess I’ve also been fortunate to avoid any really large setbacks.
Who among the younger lot do you feel has the ability to be the No. 1 player if you had to pick one?
There are a number of very promising teenagers in international chess led by 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, and several might have the potential to reach the top. But, for the time being I consider my main rivals in classical chess to be Caruana, as well as (Ian) Nepomniachtchi based on his ascent to World Championship match challenger this year, and Ding (Liren) is also close.
Have you given a thought on how the next decade will be for you and your game?
Making long-term plans doesn’t make a lot of sense as significant changes can be triggered by both outside events and developments in your own life. Partly because of the Covid epidemic, the shift towards online chess has been significant over the last one-and-a-half years, and I expect this trend to continue.
You’ve also forayed into the digital arena by launching Play Magnus. How has the internet changed chess?
My impression is that chess has grown both in terms of physical chess tournaments and online. In fact, I think the internet has made chess more democratic for more than two decades already. It played an important role for me growing up in Norway. Through online chess, I had the chance to practise against good opponents every day. Elite chess has changed dramatically during Covid with online events like the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. Play Magnus Group’s aim is to attract new audiences to chess and with initiatives like the Tour (with $1m in prize money), we are doing that.
Do you think the Covid-19 situation has permanently changed the status of rapid and blitz events which are much faster than classical chess?
I’ve been very clear for a long time about how important I believe rapid and blitz are and Covid has indeed accelerated the development.
The last 12 months has seen you foray into the Champions Chess Tour. How do you assess its success and its future?
The Champions Chess Tour has been an exciting project to be a part of, and my impression is that it is appreciated by the audience. All the elite players have taken part and it hasn’t been easy for anyone to qualify for the cup stage or to advance through the quarterfinals, semis and the final. Personally I’ve had many ups and downs and nerve-wrecking moments. I lost some, and recently won some. The idea from the start was to make it a fixture on the chess calendar, so I expect it to return after the finals next year.
With the World Championship final scheduled this year, will classical chess be your top priority in the coming months?
So far this year my only classical chess tournament has been the Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee (often called the chess Wimbledon) in January. I will be playing both the World Cup in Sochi in July and Norway Chess in September prior to the match. I do think online rapid chess tournaments are valuable training as well, and my first event will be the Goldmoney Asian Rapid starting on June 26. The Tour finals in September will also be very important of course.
Among the pantheon of the greatest, where would you rate yourself?
I gave myself ratings on the topics of “genius”, “entertainment”, “influence” as well as “sanity” in a chess24 video series on YouTube, but you shouldn’t take it too seriously. I leave it to others to assess my legacy. It is anyhow reasonable to wait until I’ve retired.

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