With less than two months to go before the 2018 World Championship match begins in London, Magnus Carlsen spoke to Norwegian media at his training camp in the Kragerø Resort southwest of Oslo. He was hoping the pressure of playing a match for the first time will tell on Fabiano Caruana, but had no illusions it was going to be easy, describing Fabi as a player he’s long felt had “the strength to be almost at my level”.
It’s a tradition for Magnus Carlsen to train in Kragerø before his matches, with the Norwegian having gone there five years ago as he prepared for his first World Championship against Vishy Anand:
This year he’s back again, with seconds Peter Heine-Nielsen and Laurent Fressinet and – why not? - former Norwegian beach volleyball star Jan Kvalheim. When the VG.no video cameras were rolling the sport was the little known “football golf”, which seems to work much as you might imagine! Dan has very helpfully subtitled the video for non-Norwegian speaking chess fans, though something may have been lost in translation
While this will already be Magnus Carlsen’s fourth World Championship match, it’s the first shot at the title for Fabiano Caruana, and Magnus hopes that will work in his favour:
I hope Caruana is feeling the pressure! That way I’ll have an advantage at the start of the match.
He pointed out that nothing, not even two nerve-wracking Candidates Tournaments, compares to the experience of a match for the highest title:
You can prepare yourself mentally as much as you like, but when you get there and sit at the board there is something extra, an additional pressure.
Magnus felt that himself in Chennai in 2013, confessing he’d played badly in the first three games and might have been in trouble if Vishy Anand had been on top of his game.
This time round it’s Magnus who’s hoping to exploit an inexperienced challenger:
If I can get in a few blows at the start, not necessarily in terms of winning games, but putting Caruana under pressure, then the pressure on him will be even worse.
Magnus describes Fabiano Caruana as, “on paper the absolute worst World Championship opponent”, meaning the one most likely to pose him problems. He comments:
I’ve long felt that Caruana has the strength to be almost at my level, but he hasn’t been stable enough. This year he’s been very stable, and it’s meant that he’s approached my rating and qualified for a battle that’s going to be very tough.
Caruana typifies what Magnus sees as a trend:
I feel opponents have less and less respect for me. It’s also a good thing, because maybe I get more chances because they play a bit more aggressively against me.
Fabiano has reason for optimism:
He’s outplayed me quite often over the years. I’ve had good results, but I’ve really had to fight tooth and claw, and also lost some games.
Tarjei J. Svensen, who also pointed out the Norwegian interviews, has looked at some of the statistics (click on the time of the tweet to see the whole thread):
Magnus also sees Caruana as a different prospect from Vishy Anand and Sergey Karjakin, who he feels “were very theory-based, preparation-based”, while Caruana is less dependent on the opening.
So what will Magnus do other than attempt to get off to a fast start? Well, understandably he wasn’t going into any details, but he did give an indication of what he wasn’t planning to do. When asked if he would adapt his game to his opponent’s style, he commented:
It’s difficult to do and also not so wise. I think I should be able to dictate the game rather than focusing too much on him. I know a little about what he’s good and bad at, but I don’t want to adjust too much, because then I won’t be playing to my own strengths.
Magnus is one of the few top players skipping the Olympiad, but he’s expected to play in the European Club Cup in October, while he’s also planning a trip to London to check out the venue and decide where to stay. Before the match he'll have one more training camp, “somewhere warmer than Kragerø”. That narrows things down!
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