Magnus Carlsen interview: Fearless young players will make India the strongest chess country in the world

The Grenke Chess Classic came to a close on Monday evening with Magnus Carlsen dominating the field once again. Carlsen scored 7½ points out of his nine games and remained a point and a half ahead of his nearest rival. With this third straight super tournament win of the year, the reigning world champion has raised his Elo rating to a staggering 2875, just six points shy of his all-time high of 2881.

The rating leap Carlsen has made this year is a huge one. Compared to last year when Caruana was a heartbeat away from overtaking him, Carlsen’s 2875 has put him a full 56 points ahead. More importantly, now, he says he is also contemplating the possibility of breaching the legendary 2900 Elo mark, a feat no player in the history of the game has managed to achieve.

“Frankly, some people have asked me over the last few years whether I would ever get to 2900. And my answer has always been a resounding ‘no’. I still don’t particularly think so, but now it’s, at least, a half attainable goal. So, it’s something I will be looking at,” Carlsen told commentators Jan Gustafsson and Peter Leko in the post-game interview.

Going into the final round Carlsen had already won the tournament in every practical sense. He was a full point ahead of his nearest rival, Fabiano Caruana. In the only – unlikely – event of Carlsen losing his final round game could Caruana hold any chance of catching up. And even then, he would have needed to win himself.

As it turned out, the Italian American grandmaster didn’t even try. He went straight into a sharp but well-known line of the Marshall Gambit against Levon Aronian and agreed to a draw after about 90 minutes into the round. Meanwhile, Carlsen, despite having won the tournament, pushed for a win against Maxime Vachier Lagrave after the Frenchman played an incorrect pawn sacrifice. After 43 moves, Carlsen had gained an additional 4 rating points alongside the tournament title.

Carlsen will soon be heading to Ivory Coast where he is slated to play at the Cote D’Ivoire Rapid and Blitz, the latest addition to the Grand Chess Tour. This will be the first time that a reigning world champion will be seen playing in the continent of Africa. But before he headed there, Firstpost caught up with the world champ for a quick chat.

 Magnus Carlsen interview: Fearless young players will make India the strongest chess country in the world

Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier Lagrave, moments before their final round game. Image Courtesy: Georgios Souleidis

First of all, congratulations on your third straight super tournament win this year. Tell us your immediate thoughts on having won the Grenke Chess Classic.

I am delighted with the result. I had actually kind of dreamed of having such a result after having won the first three games. But after three draws (in the next three rounds), I thought it would be very tough and I never imagined that it would be this way in the end.

This year has been amazing for you with wins at Tata Steel and Shamkir Chess prior to this. Do you see this as your rise back to the Magnus of 2013?

I would say, I certainly haven’t had a run like this since 2013. I think the quality of my play is very good now. It was also good back then but now it’s a bit richer. But, in general, I don’t want to compare. I am just very, very happy to be playing well.

You’ve played some very long games in this tournament. And this comes just days after a full classical event in Shamkir. What’s the secret to your stamina?

I don’t know. I felt very tired here at the halfway point. There is no hiding that. I was really struggling in a lot of games. But I managed to pull through a bit at the end.

Today, I was a bit tired as well. But fortunately, he (Maxime Vachier-Lagrave) made a mistake early on. Somehow, I also simplified my decision making in the last few games. I didn’t think too much. I just played more on intuition and tried not to labour too long over decisions.

What sets you apart from the rest of the chess elite?

I leave that for them to worry about.

Some days ago, FIDE announced the first official Chess960 world championship. Are you excited to play there?

I am very happy that the Fischer Random (960) world championship is now official. I don’t think too much about it being a world championship. I just enjoy playing against the best in the world with a fresh position every time.

It’s no secret that you’ve single-handedly popularised chess in Norway. Do you see any similarity between how you have inspired your countrymen to what Viswanathan Anand has done in India?

I think there are similarities for sure. I just wish that my success would lead to more of what you have in India – with all of this amazing young talent. We still have a long way to go there. But I am excited about the enthusiasm for chess in Norway and I am also very happy to see how great the Indians are doing.

About that, apart from Anand, you have also played some other Indian players like Vidit, Nihal, etc. What do you think of the potential this new wave of young Indian players holds?

I’ve said already a few years ago but India is going to be the strongest chess country in the world and I see no reason to go back on that. There are just so many fearless young players. It just remains to be seen who will take the step up to the very highest level. But yeah, there is no doubt that India will have many, many top players in – at the very least – top ten, in a few years.

Many Indians fans considered Pentala Harikrishna’s play similar to yours, especially when he won four straight games from rounds 3-7. Did you get a chance to see any of his games?

Yeah, he definitely played brilliantly; the way he converted small advantages was extremely impressive. I can see the similarities there. He is somebody who has become a lot better in the last few years. We’ll see where he will be.

Anytime we can see you play in India?

Yes, I will be playing in Kolkata, at the Grand Chess Tour in November. So yeah, I will definitely play in India this year.

Updated Date: May 01, 2019 16:24:15 IST