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Shamkir Chess 2019: Magnus Carlsen's dominance over the past decade strengthens claim to 'greatest of all time' title

Going into the ninth and final round of Shamkir Chess 2019, World Champion Magnus Carlsen could have afforded to let his guard down and play for a draw against Alexander Grischuk. He had already won the super tournament with a round to spare. Instead, he made mincemeat of his Russian opponent in a game that didn’t even last 40 moves.

Carlsen doesn’t just win tournaments; he obliterates his opposition and lets them know who the big daddy of chess is. In this tournament alone, his seven points came from five wins and four draws! To put this into perspective, consider the fact that no other player was able to win more than two games in the same event. His complete dominance of the tournament becomes apparent when we take into account his incredible performance rating of 2988 and current live rating of 2860.8!

So far this year, Magnus has won both the tournaments he has participated in — Tata Steel Masters being the other one — and remains undefeated in 22 games since having to defend the world championship title in London in November.

While there are no doubts in most chess fans’ minds that Magnus is the strongest player in the world today, what with his defeat of Viswanathan Anand in 2014, Sergey Karjakin in 2016 and Fabiano Caruana in 2018 to remain world champion since he first became one in 2013, has he done enough to be considered the GOAT (greatest of all time)?

Let’s examine his achievements vis-à-vis those of his predecessors to try and answer this loaded question.

Highest Ever Rating

In January 2013, Magnus surpassed the highest rating of 2851 — achieved by Garry Kasparov in 1999 — after gaining 13 Elo points at the 2012 London Chess Classic to reach 2861. A month later, after a phenomenal performance at the Tata Steel tournament where he remained undefeated in 13 games, he increased that to 2872. He wasn’t done raising the bar, though. On the March 2014 FRL (FIDE Rating List), he took his personal best up a notch to 2881 after defeating Boris Gelfand, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana at the Zurich Chess Challenge. He reached his pinnacle, a rating of 2882, on the May 2014 list after a win over Vladimir Georgiev during the Norwegian Premiere League qualification tournament.

Since Magnus first achieved the number one rank in January 2010 with a rating of 2810, he has held that spot a whopping 94 times, being relegated to second place just thrice in nine years! In comparison, with the exception of Garry Kasparov, none of the other world champions from the past 50 years have come close to a rating of 2882. Viswanathan Anand’s highest of 2817 was achieved in March 2011 whereas Vladimir Kramnik’s 2817 came in October 2016. Anatoly Karpov achieved his highest of 2780 in July 1994 and Bobby Fischer’s 2785 came during his peak in April 1972.

Years as World Champion

Carlsen has now been world champion for five years since he defeated Anand in the latter’s own backyard of Chennai in November 2013. Since the world championship is held on a two-year cycle, it is safe to assume that Magnus will remain world champion till November 2020 when his next challenger will emerge from the candidates’ cycle. This means that he will have been world champion for seven years before anyone can dethrone him.

His immediate predecessor, Viswanathan Anand, held the title of World Champion for six years from September 2007 to November 2013. Garry Kasparov, on the other hand, was undisputed world champion for eight years from November 1985 to September 1993 before breaking away from FIDE with his own organisation called PCA (Professional Chess Association). Anatoly Karpov, who took over from Bobby Fischer after the latter’s brief three-year reign, ruled the chess world for an impressive ten-year period putting him firmly in the running for greatest of all time where the number of years as world champion are concerned.

Dominance of Contemporaries

Going just by his three most-recent events—the 2018 World Championship, Tata Steel Masters and the Gashimov Memorial—it is clear that his domination of contemporaries is unlike anything seen before. In fact, he has now gone undefeated in his last 50 games! How many other current players regularly facing opponents rated 2750+ can claim such a track record? Only Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer have had such enviable runs against the top Grand Masters of their time. Despite his eccentricities and theatrics, Bobby Fischer would come out on top in this category with his swashbuckling wins of several US Opens, US Championships, interzonal and international tournaments. His victory at US Championships 1963/64 with 11.0/11 and demolition of strong players like Taimanov and Larsen with a score of 6-0 leading up to the World Championship finals is something that can never be forgotten.

Conclusion

For Magnus to be considered the greatest of all time, he will have to retain the world championship for at least 10 years, i.e another 3 years and match Kasparov and Fischer’s tenacity over the board by winning more games and reducing the number of draws in tournaments and—especially—the world championship matches.

If things continue the way they are right now, it will be safe to say that the current 28-year-old Norwegian will become known as the greatest of all time by 2024.

Paras Gudka is an author for ChessBase India.

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Updated Date: Apr 10, 2019 17:00:48 IST