Interviews Dec 12, 2018 | 10:04 PMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen on the World Championship format & more

Magnus Carlsen commentated live for 40 minutes with Jan Gustafsson during Day 2 of the Grand Chess Tour finals in London. The World Chess Champion went into detail on the recent match against Fabiano Caruana and shared his own views on how the World Championship system might be changed (spoiler alert: he'd increase the role of rapid chess!). He talked about his potential challengers, whether he’ll play a match at all, and even revealed that he’s soon going to make a debut as a Norwegian rap artist!

Magnus Carlsen was revealed as our special commentary guest - while Jan Gustafsson was revealed as one of Magnus' not-so-secret seconds during the World Championship match

Day 2 of the London Chess Classic final stage of the Grand Chess Tour wasn’t a thriller, with Hikaru Nakamura fine with nothing more than an easy draw against Fabiano Caruana’s Petroff Defence, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was slowly tortured for 58 moves by Levon Aronian, but eventually escaped for a second game in a row.

Luckily, we had something to liven up the day, as World Champion and still world no. 1 in all forms of chess Magnus Carlsen joined Jan Gustafsson for a 40-minute commentary cameo. You can replay it all below:

For those who’d prefer to read Carlsen’s comments, we’ve transcribed most of the highlights below. If you listen to the whole conversation there are bonuses such as a discussion of Fantasy Football and the NBA. Note the first question refers to the fact that Magnus Carlsen’s next event will be the World Rapid and Blitz Championship taking place in St. Petersburg, Russia from 26-30 December:

On spending the winter in cold places - London, Norway, St. Petersburg

I’m going to have a little break before St. Petersburg, just to recharge those batteries, but apart from that I’m just going to spend the days where there is no sun, no joy!


On rooting against Caruana (and to keep his world no. 1 spot) on Tuesday

As a matter of fact, after the match I was very satisfied with everything, so I kind of thought I was not going to be petty and just wish him well, in general, for the London Chess Classic. As soon as the game started, though, that all disappeared, so I was rooting pretty heavily for Hikaru yesterday!


On that game

I didn’t really understand what Hikaru was doing in the opening, because it seems like such a pleasant position for White, and he has all these sorts of possibilities or chances. At some point Nh4, threatening some Nf5, and also dxe5 followed by f4 looked very, very interesting to me, and what he chose as well was very promising. I didn’t check with the computer, but it looked like Hikaru had some resources at least.

Nakamura's survival in Game 1 prolonged Carlsen's stay as world no. 1 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

On Levon’s 9.d4 vs. MVL

That is major stuff! You’re not supposed to just go d4 - Black’s supposed to prevent that, but…  it’s a good thing that not everybody plays 5.e3!


After 9.d4 MVL sank into a 24-minute think before heading for a miserable ending

On reasons for hope for Maxime

If there’s one person who’s good at this stuff, it’s Maxime. He loves defending sh*tty positions… Unless he has some pretty nice solution coming up pretty soon, then I don’t really see how he can escape prolonged torture.

Maxime ready to do what he loves best? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

On who is the favourite for the Grand Chess Tour finals

Normally I’d think that Fabiano is the strongest player, and so I’d consider him a slight favourite, if anyone, but now he didn’t manage to get anywhere in the classical games and he’s going to be playing on Hikaru’s home turf. On the other hand, he has won a match against Hikaru in rapid before.


On Fabiano’s strength in rapid and blitz

He’s clearly weaker relative to the others than he is at classical. He has a very, very demanding style, which doesn’t translate that well, but I do feel that when the stakes are high enough then he can raise his level a bit. Obviously he didn’t prove that now in London, but I feel like the gap is not as huge as people think, and I think in some of these Grand Chess Tour hybrid events he just doesn’t care. I wouldn’t consider him too big of a favourite now. I would say now it’s pretty even…

Fabiano also won this match against Grischuk last year in St. Louis, where he was just way down at the start and at some point it seemed that he just figured it out. Obviously Grischuk got tired, but it seemed at some point he couldn’t win games anymore, and Fabi was just dominating. So I don’t know. Certainly Hikaru has the match where he wants it, but I don’t think it’s so clear.


On the current World Championship format

I think that the format is not ideal, for sure. Again, it depends on what you want. What is the goal of the World Championship? Is it to showcase the best in the world, and the general thought is that the one who wins the World Championship is the best player in the world? I think that’s supposed to be the idea, but for that the format is far from ideal, in my opinion. But I think my opinion of what constitutes the best player in the world is also a bit different from others. I think you have to be able to play all kinds of formats to do well. Rapid chess, especially, and to some extent also blitz, is just as much of a valid form of chess as classical, and to some extent I think it’s a better form.

On the format he prefers

My current favourite, which it has been for a while, is to keep the same format as now, except that each day you play 4 rapid games instead – relatively short rapid games, let’s say 15+10, as you play in the World Rapid – and you get one point for each day.

If you want to see who the best player is make them play as many games as possible, and if you keep the rapid format then there’s still room for opening ideas, preparation and everything, but the time allowed to conceal your weaknesses and everything is not there. You just up the stakes, you increase the chances for errors and everything, and I think it makes it more exciting and it gives a more real picture of the best players.


On whether he’ll play in 2 years

I don’t know. I’ve always got a running joke with the team… so you were part of the team, you didn’t know whether I was going to play the match, did you? ...It was never a sure thing. It was a good experience this time in London. I didn’t feel as many nerves as I did last time in New York, it was a better experience, but I don’t know. It’s still not my favourite event.


On how he felt for the London tiebreaks

The day of the tiebreaks I was really tired on the rest day, but I had a good rest day, played some football and had a massage, ate well, relaxed, and then on the tiebreak I just felt wonderful, to be honest, as fresh as I’d ever felt in the match.


On the football injury

It wasn’t a big deal. Just there on the pitch I played on, and it wasn’t much of an injury to speak of. I was lucky, and I think the other guy was a bit luckier as well. It could have been worse. I didn’t play that great during the match, but I didn’t think there were any clear signs of concussion or anything!

The match is heating up

A post shared by Magnus Carlsen (@magnus_carlsen) on

On the course of the match

I think Game 6 was a bit of a turning point. I had some suspicion that I’d missed a huge chance in Game 1 and that might be the best chance I would get in the match, but I still felt that I was clearly the better player and I was going to get there, but when I almost lost Game 6 and I didn’t get anything from Game 7, then I was a little less optimistic. Obviously surviving Game 8 was huge, and then going into Game 9 I was so optimistic, and I managed to actually get some prep on the board, for the only time with White in the match… Then this whole opposite-coloured bishop thing was a little more solid than I’d thought during the game. I made one impatient move and after that, frankly, I’d more or less given up winning the match in regulation [time].

I was going to try in Game 11, but it was extremely half-hearted, as everybody could see. One small surprise and just…


On whether he was worried by Caruana’s Nd5 Sicilians

I still very much felt that these positions are so difficult to play for White. I’m going for mate, and it felt like playing a very good King’s Indian. I haven’t played too much King’s Indian, but when I do play it, it’s a great feeling, because you know often that – I’m knocking on open doors here, because everyone’s said that – but it’s a very good feeling that you know you’re lost on one side of the board, so you have to give mate. It’s kind of refreshing because you feel like you have very little to lose. Especially in Game 10 I felt that clearly he has prepared this, and he’s probably better, but I felt like after 18.Bb6 Qe8 I have a target that is mate, and it’s not so clear what his is.


The position after Carlsen's 18...Qe8 in Game 10

I understood later that was a little bit superficial, and he had much more resources than I thought maybe at the game, but as you saw he went wrong pretty quickly, and after that I had most of the chances.

To make a long story short, that’s the reason why I wasn’t very worried about these black games, because I felt that the positions were easier to play for Black, and for my whole career I’ve felt that in complicated positions I’ve always done well against Fabi.


On any tiebreaks nerves

First of all I was extremely happy to get there, because I was bored of classical chess and I just wanted to play more on instinct and just have fun, so that was a relief in itself, and I was pretty sure that if I woke up and had a good day I was going to win. There were some thoughts creeping in like, “I’m probably going to win, but what if I don’t? I could wake up the next day and lose the match”, but the confident thoughts were clearly the dominating ones on that day. I was especially happy to get White in the first game, because I knew I had a very good chance to strike early, and then I kind of felt that if I won the first game then I’d probably win the match ahead of schedule.

Magnus after finally grabbing a win in the 1st game of the tiebreaks | photo: Niki Riga

On whether not winning the match in classical chess diminishes his title

A little bit, obviously, but I’ve played so poorly in classical chess for so long now that I cannot be too greedy at this point. I’ll take whatever World Championship I get! I’m not a dominating player in classical anymore, by any means.


On still being the no. 1

Barely, the amount of luck I’ve had to have to stay no. 1 is just incredible. Don’t get me wrong, I still consider myself the best player – it’s just that when you’re just more or less equal to the others, or a little bit better, to always be no. 1 in the rankings you have to be pretty lucky.

The 2nd draw for Caruana against Nakamura increased the gap to 5.4 points | source: 2700chess

On the most likely challenger in 2020

It’s hard to say. It’s very hard to qualify twice – not many people have done that, but I don’t know. I don’t know what the format’s going to be, I don’t know if I’m going to play, I don’t know who’s going to play the Candidates. Qualifying for the Candidates is pretty tough unless you consistently are so highly rated that you know you’re going to get in. It’s just so open at this point, but since Fabi’s probably a slightly better player than the others he’s the favourite, but I wouldn’t put any money on it.


On Ding Liren

I like Ding, he’s a great player, but then on the other hand I had some fun in our little match in St. Louis, and his streak and his results recently speak for themselves, he’s doing great, but I think he himself would admit that he hasn’t really proven it in the very top tournaments yet. I think he’s eager to get the chance and prove his worth. In the last Candidates he showed that he could fight on equal terms with everybody, but he didn’t really show anything more, and I think he’s certainly eager to do that. Whether he will – I remain sceptical until I’m proven otherwise.


On any newcomers who could challenge him

A lot could happen in two years, but I think most likely the ones who fight out the Candidates in 2020 are going to be a lot of the same guys who have been in 2018, 16, 14. It isn’t that easy to break in, but I would love to be proven wrong. It’s always fun with new people.


On an upcoming rap career

There are leaks? There is one coming out, I think this week. I’m not going to say any more. It’s in Norwegian, so if you’re going to learn Norwegian it would be for that? It’s going to be fun - keep looking out for that!

Magnus is rapping from 6:20 onwards

On learning Anish Giri will play the World Rapid and Blitz

Wow! I’m looking forward to that. That’s going to be great fun! He’s going to regret it. He’s never going to play again after this one. He’s going to lose to Artemiev, Bocharov, all of the Russian guys!

On whether Artemiev is the real deal

Yeah, he’s good. He has a very good natural feel for the game, which is great in blitz. I think he’s legit.


On becoming the champ in classical, rapid and blitz chess

I’m going to take back the triple throne. No usurpers are going to be left alive!

We'll get to see if that prophecy comes true from 26-30 December, while meanwhile in London the Caruana-Nakamura and MVL-Aronian matches must finally produce a winner on Thursday as the players compete in rapid, blitz and potentially Armageddon chess to decide the finalists. Follow all the action here on chess24 from 14:00 London time (15:00 CET)!

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