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Interviews May 20, 2016 | 6:03 PMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen: "I think I'll enjoy chess to the day I'll die"

This Friday Magnus Carlsen streamed a live Q&A session on Facebook, during which he answered fan questions read out by Play Magnus CEO Kate Murphy. The 28-minute interview saw Magnus talk about his rivalry with Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri, the impact of computers, how books influenced him while he was growing up and much more. Watch the video and read a themed transcript of the answers.

It’s testimony to the Chess World Champion's appeal that his fairly impromptu Facebook live broadcast had over 2,000 viewers and was beaten only by the CrossFit Games for the numbers watching. You can rewatch the show below:

If you don’t have time to watch or would prefer to read, we’ve transcribed most of his answers below and arranged them into themes. Enjoy!

Carlsen’s current rivals

Who is your toughest rival in all formats of chess?

I don’t know. I really find playing Play Magnus at any age is too hard for me! When I played Kasparov in blitz both when I was little and also later when I was training with him – that was intimidating, although after a while I could hold my own, and more.

Why do you think you do so well against Hikaru Nakamura?

Magnus welcomed the question about his score against Nakamura!

Thanks a lot for asking that question! (laughs) First of all, it’s very interesting to play Hikaru because he’s a very good player and he poses you difficult questions, but I always enjoy playing the best and most aggressive players, and always feel up to the challenge of taking them on. I guess after a while it’s become psychological as well, since I do consider myself a better player than Hikaru, but still, maybe in some of the games if our mutual score had been different the games might have been a little bit different.

What is it about Giri that makes it difficult for you to win consistently against him?

I don’t know why he’s asking about consistently because I’ve never won a game from him! No, he’s a good player – he’s very good tactically, so it’s hard to trick him. Just recently all our games seem to be heading for a draw pretty early on, but still, once he starts winning tournaments that will become more of an issue for me! For now I can sleep well at night even with my minus score against him.

Giri didn't take long to respond!

Learning from the old masters

Do old books have value?

Old books definitely still have value. You can learn a lot from old games because they are instructive. In modern games it’s harder to play these kind of instructive games because people realise what you are going to do and so it’s not really a case of you follow a plan and then win. In the old days often you could see games even at the highest level when people lay out a good plan and they win. It’s still important to learn these plans and these ideas and for that old books are very good. For me I enjoyed very much reading about old games, both about players and strategy and so on – and I still do. I think it’s very good for your general chess education.

Which World Champion’s games did you learn the most from, and can you briefly describe how you study classic games?

The way that I study classic games is that I go through games on a database, or more often read a book about them, and I’m really not looking for anything. I just enjoy the games, I enjoy the chess and then hopefully I can learn something from them. I wouldn’t say there’s one particular player that I learned the most from – probably one of the older World Champions like Botvinnik. His games were often instructive and powerful.

Which players are underrated or unrecognised?

I think there are players from the era when the Soviets were champions like Keres, Stein, Korchnoi and so on, but there has been so much talk about them being underappreciated that they’re actually becoming overappreciated! I don’t know. Of the current best players maybe Boris Gelfand doesn’t always get the credit he deserves.

Carlsen's admiration for Gelfand saw him bring the former World Championship challenger in for a Norwegian training camp last year | photo: Tarjei J. Svensen, sjakkbloggen

Tips for beginners

What should beginners do?

I think most of all just practicing playing games, learning a few basic things about mating patterns and what sort of squares the pieces should usually go to, but a lot of these things come with training. For immediate results always look for whether you can capture your opponent’s pieces or your opponent can capture one of yours. It’s amazing how far that can take you!

If you were giving advice to a casual player, say an Elo around 1600, what are the best openings to ensure a positional game?

I think for White the easiest way is to go Nf3, then g3, Bg2 and then castle, because then you can get so many different pawn structures in the centre. You can go for d4 c4, you can go for c4 d3, you can go for d3 e4, you can even just go b3 Bb2 and develop from that. I think that’s a good opening just to be able to play different pawn structures with a relatively quiet game. And with Black there’s e4 e5, playing a closed Ruy Lopez. I think that’s a good way for anyone who wants to get better at positional chess – to try and understand these positions.

How to improve

How can I improve my endgames?

The German authors are Karsten Müller and Frank Lamprecht | image: Gambit Books

I think endgame play mostly comes with experience. At least for me that was the case. I developed a better feeling for the game in general. My endgames also improved and there are many books on a few theoretical endgames that you have to know. One I read was Fundamental Chess Endings from 2002, by two German authors. I think that’s still a good handbook, but most of all many of the same principles apply in endgames as in regular positional play, so experience, just playing the game and enjoying the game, will help you a long way.

Magnus later added:

One that I mentioned earlier, Fundamental Chess Endings, helped me quite a bit in playing some key endgames better. When I was, let’s say, 11 years old, I was quite poor at endings, and then already at 13/14 that was becoming a strength of mine.

How many hours do you train now and how many in the past? Do you agree with Bruce Lee that concentration is the most important thing when it comes to training?

Not necessarily. I do think I probably trained more when I was little than I do now, but for me I think in chess you can do a lot of good training without being completely concentrated. I think if you just think about it ideas pop into your head and it’s still very useful training. Now I wouldn’t say that I do many hours of chess training every day – probably just a couple – but I think about chess all the time.

How can you play blindfold?

I think it comes with practice. I sort of practice blindfold chess all the time since I visualise the board in my head without having to have the actual board and pieces. In time you can do more and more. It just comes with practice. There’s really no hocus pocus.

Why analyse with an opponent after a game and risk revealing your strategy?

Well, we don’t share everything. We just find the games so interesting that we have to discuss the craft afterwards. After all, these are the best in the world at chess, so they are the ones who are most interesting to discuss the game with, regardless of whether you won or lost or like that person or not.

On his chess career in general

What's the craziest game you've ever played?

First of all I’m sorry to say I would never use those words. There isn’t so much crazy about my games! I don’t like it when the games are crazy – I like it when they’re neat and tidy. There was my game with Topalov from Wijk aan Zee 2012. If I ever played a crazy game that was probably it.

1. e4 c5 2. ♘f3 d6 3. ♗b5+ ♘d7 4. c3 ♘f6 5. ♕e2 a6 6. ♗a4 ♕c7 7. O-O e5 8. d4 b5 9. ♗c2 cxd4 10. cxd4 ♗e7 11. ♘c3 O-O 12. ♗g5 h6 13. ♗h4 ♗b7 14. ♖ad1 ♖ac8 15. ♗b3 ♖fe8 16. dxe5 dxe5 17. ♗g3 ♗f8 18. h3 ♘b6 19. ♘h4 ♘c4 20. ♘f5 ♘xb2 21. ♗h4 ♘xd1 22. ♗xf6 ♘xc3 23. ♕g4 ♗xe4 24. ♘xh6+ ♔h7 25. ♗xf7 ♕xf7 26. ♘xf7 gxf6 27. f4 ♗g6 28. ♕h4+ ♔g7 29. fxe5 ♘e4 30. ♖xf6 ♗c5+ 31. ♔h2 ♘xf6 32. ♕xf6+ ♔h7 33. ♘g5+ ♔h6 34. ♘e6 ♖xe6 35. ♕xe6 ♖e8 36. ♕f6 ♗e7 37. ♕xa6 b4 38. ♕c4 ♗f8 39. g4 ♔h7 40. e6 ♗d6+ 41. ♔g2 ♗e7 42. ♕c7 ♔g8 43. ♔g3 ♔f8 44. ♕f4+ ♔g7 45. ♕d4+ ♔g8 46. h4 ♖d8 47. ♕c4 ♗d3 48. ♕c6 ♗b1 49. h5 ♗xa2 50. ♕e4 ♔h8 51. h6 ♗f6 52. e7 ♖e8 53. ♕f4 ♗g7 54. hxg7+ ♔xg7 55. g5 ♔g8 56. ♕f6


Would you play Garry Kasparov?

Of course! I’m ready to take on any human opponent, Garry included. If he wants to play some blitz or rapid games then I’m very happy to do that.

What happens when Hammer becomes the challenger for the World Championship crown – do you change seconds?

I have nothing but love for the Hammer, but I don’t think that’s going to happen!

Have you decided on your seconds for the World Championship?

No, there are not going to be wholesale changes – that’s all I’m going to say!

Computers and technology

How do you perceive the future of the game of chess in a world with such rapid technological advancement?

"World Championship matches will be great in virtual reality..."

Obviously we’ve seen changes, even since I started, in that computers have become so, so much better. When I started out humans could still compete very well with computers, but now, of course, we cannot. I guess in the future also opening preparation will continue to improve. It will be even easier for people to get better at chess with so much information out there. Also the possibilities for broadcasting chess to more people will be greater with technology that’s coming. World Championship matches will be great in virtual reality, for instance! So we’ll see what happens.

Would you play a match against a computer, like Kasparov against Deep Blue?

It is my opinion that Garry should have beaten Deep Blue. I think at that point Deep Blue was still not showing enough to beat Garry – clearly something was wrong at some point mentally there. Now I wouldn’t have any chance in say a 10-game match against one of the best computers. I’m not going to do that and I’m not going to play any handicap matches. I find it much more interesting to play humans, and also I like to win!

Random questions

Do you have any pets, and if not what one would you want?

My family has had a cat and a dog over the years, actually overlapping, strange as that may sound. I think I liked the cat better – I’m a soft man!

According to your knowledge about soccer, who’s the best Mexican soccer player?

Well, there’s this guy, I don’t know how to say - Cuauhtémoc Blanco – who did a trick where he puts the ball at his feet and then jumps over his opponent. I really enjoyed watching that.

What would you do if you weren’t a chess player?

I’m so glad I don’t have to find out anytime soon! Hypothetically maybe I’d be a gambler of some sort.

Do you ever think chess will become boring for you?

No, I don’t think so. I think I’ll enjoy chess to the day I die, which hopefully won’t be very soon!

See also:

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