General Nov 8, 2018 | 6:15 PMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen & Caruana true to form in press opener

“Women hate me, I repel them!” was something you never expected to hear from World Champion Magnus Carlsen, but that was his reply when asked if he had “female support” for the match. He came up with more memorable one-liners, but while Sergey Karjakin had looked something of a bunny in headlights at the New York opening press conference, Fabiano Caruana was utterly composed as he answered in his own relaxed, straightforward manner. We didn’t learn much that was new, but both players seem ready for the battle that starts tomorrow! UPDATE: Caruana will have the white pieces in Game 1.

Magnus and Fabiano faced the media for a final time before the match begins | screenshot: VG.TV 

Those behind the opening press conference of the London 2018 FIDE World Chess Championship had clearly learned from the New York experience, and this time the “official speeches” from FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, Agon CEO Ilya Merenzon and sponsor PhosAgro's CEO Andrey Guryev were kept to the bare minimum, as the focus turned straight to questions for the players. Danny King presided, and you can rewatch the answers below:

The contrast between the players was apparent in one of the first questions, on whether their ages and the excitement around the match was, “making chess cool.” Magnus was instantly quotable:

Personally I’ve found chess the coolest thing in the world since I was 8 years old, so I think it’s always been that way!

Fabiano didn’t compete to provide anything as succinct, but gave a calm, relaxed reply:

I think that chess is definitely becoming cooler and there are a lot of people in the celebrity world, movies and music, who have an interest in chess, so I think it’s definitely gaining more exposure and I also think that chess is a great thing and definitely can be very beautiful and can also be cool and accessible to the larger audience.

Let’s take a look at the players in turn:

Magnus Carlsen

The current Chess World Champion has been known to brush off “softball” questions at times, but if he did that in the opening press conference it was always with charm and wit. His ritual on a game day?

I think nothing too exciting, unfortunately, just try to eat well, sleep well, prepare well, play well!

Does he feel different before this match compared to earlier matches?

You always feel a bit differently. I’m a bit older, so I feel a bit older, and it’s a colder place so I feel colder, but apart from that it’s always a lot of the same – it’s much anticipation and excitement to get this thing started. I know that I’m facing a formidable opponent, but I’ll do my very best to win again.

How much is a match about psychological warfare?

I think most of all it matters what moves you play and what you do on the board, but there is an element of psychology, an element of bluff in chess. It’s not as prevalent as it is in other games or sports but I think people are aware of it, but it’s not going to be the main story I think this time. I think we’re just both pretty much focused on making the best moves and take it from there.

Does he have “female support” for the match?

I don’t think so. Women hate me, I repel them! (smiles)

We also got to see another side of Magnus that has become more prevalent in recent years, a willingness to be disarmingly honest about his own potential weaknesses. Spanish journalist Leontxo García noted that Magnus had identified controlling his emotions as his biggest problem after the Karjakin match was over. Had he overcome that?

Well, I mean your question is very upsetting to me, so apparently not! (smiles)

After the joke, though, we got a revealing quote:

No, I think I’m a bit calmer than I was back then, but the question remains to see if I play any better. Recently I haven’t, but I’m confident that I’m capable of more. Probably recently I’ve been almost apathetic, sometimes, so it’s taken a turn in the other direction, so I need to find some middle ground, I suppose.

When he was asked if he considered himself the favourite or the underdog for the match, he took it as well as he could… 

It’s been a while since I’ve considered myself an underdog, to be honest! If you’ve been the number one ranked player in the world for 7 years and you’ve won 3 World Championships in a row, and you consider yourself an underdog, then there’s something seriously wrong with your psyche, I think. Having said that, obviously Fabiano is a tremendous player, his results this year speak for themselves and I know that if I continue to play in the same vein that I have been recently then I will probably not win, so I need to step it up, but I have great confidence in my powers to do exactly that.

Once again, that theme that Magnus hasn’t been at the top of his game and will need to improve for the match if he’s going to win.

Fabiano Caruana

Of course looked at from Fabi’s perspective, playing his first title match against a player who’s been as dominant for so long as Magnus is a daunting experience. He was asked what the World Champion’s weaknesses were:

I don’t think that Magnus has any clear weaknesses. Usually the mistakes he makes are very individual and they don’t have a clear pattern to them, and I think this also goes for most of the players at the very, very top, but that being said, he still makes mistakes, we all do, and the only challenge is to be ready to take them when they come.

That quiet determination was evident in the other answers, where Fabi again and again fielded questions relating to his nationality and a certain great predecessor. He must have heard it all countless times recently...

 ...but he patiently replied. Was he playing for America?

I mainly try to approach tournaments as an individual. Of course if I have a success I also would like to share it with the United States, but at the board chess players are on their own. But of course, yes, I’m proud to be representing the US in basically the highest honour in chess.

Why had he “changed” nationalities back and forth from the US to Italy?

I never changed nationalities. I had dual nationality from birth and I changed federations when I was 13. I was a kid and I was living in Europe and this was mainly to get back to my roots - my mother’s Italian - and when I changed back to the United States when I was in my 20s this was a personal decision. I do feel connected to both countries. I would like to represent them both, but only one is possible, and I live in the United States and represent the US now, and I feel very much an American, but I do also cherish my Italian roots.

Is he the new Bobby Fischer?

I think that the comparison is still early. If I become World Champion then the comparison will be more apt, but in terms of chess style and the course of our lives, I hope, I don’t think that the comparison is quite true, but of course it’s very flattering to be compared to such a great player.

One bizarre snippet from a recent interview was sadly debunked - Fabi is not an "aspiring filmmaker from Brooklyn":

And finally, to the question on female support? Again, there was no attempt to compete with Magnus in providing a witty response. Just yet another composed, straightforward response:

The main female support I have is from my mother, which is I think the most helpful. I also have a lot of friends, including female friends!

If Fabi can maintain the same composure on the board at the start of the match we may get the “too close to call” match most neutrals have been hoping for!

At a short opening ceremony that wasn't broadcast live Magnus Carlsen picked Black, so Fabiano Caruana will have the white pieces in Game 1:

All that's left is to check out our Special World Championship page for the full schedule...


...then watch the live show on our broadcast page, with Peter Svidler, Sopiko Guramishvili and Alexander Grischuk all set to commentate live on Friday, starting at 16:00 CET here on chess24!

See also:


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