Reports | December 21, 2011 20:02

Carlsen on working with Kasparov, and other topics

Carlsen on working with Kasparov, and other topics

In the comments below our recent article about the end of the cooperation between Nakamura and Kasparov, several of our readers pointed out an interview with Magnus Carlsen which was conducted by Evgeny Atarov just after the Tal Memorial and published a few days ago at ChessPro. Indeed it's one of the most interesting interviews with the world's number one published in a while, and definitely worth mentioning here.

The tireless ColinMcGourty doesn't have too much time for Chess in Translation these days but luckily he still translates lots of material from Russian into English for WhyChess. We give a few quotes and recommend reading longer excerpts.

How much time do you devote to chess?

It’s hard for me to count. When I’m at a tournament chess takes up all my time. At that point I’m 100% focussed on the game. I switch off the television and telephone, I don’t exist for anyone… When I’m at home? If I don’t have a training session and there’s no upcoming tournament then I don’t study chess at all.
How much slower do you think your chess development would have been if you didn’t have a computer at hand?
I don’t know. I never thought about it. It seems to me (stopping to think), that the computer didn’t have any kind of fundamental influence on me personally.
That’s hard to believe… You stand out precisely for being ready to play any position “on sight”, for being ready to defend positions where “ugly” machine moves are required…
But that’s how it was. I can tell you that for the first few years I didn’t use the machine’s help at all, even as a database! Back then I simply put a board in front of me, took the books I was studying at the time and looked at everything on that. And the first time I needed a computer for chess was when I started to play on the internet.
What was the main benefit you got from working on the game with him?
Thanks to him I began to understand a whole class of positions better. It’s clear that he knew much more than me… At times it was difficult to keep up with the speed and depth of his analysis, but more often than not we were on the same wavelength. What can I say: it was a unique experience for me. Kasparov gave me a great deal of practical help.

You can read longer excerpts here (and the original in Russian here).

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Michel83's picture

@ Peter

Little correction, the sentence
"That’s hard to believe… You stand out precisely for being ready to play any position “on sight”, for being ready to defend positions where “ugly” machine moves are required…"
is a question by the interviewer. Right now it's part of the quote of Carlsen.

Michel83's picture

And related to the Nakamura-quotes it might be worth also to include this part, it's quite interesting:

"Yes, he’s a very “energetic” man! It seems as though he’s simply sharing his opinion with you, but in actual fact he’s dictating how you should act…"

Just a suggestion. :)

Peter Doggers's picture

Aha indeed, thx, corrected.

raving_mad's picture

His comment on Kasparov is respectful and gives Carlsen some credit as well, in some contrast to Nakamura's comment.

choufleur's picture

Great to read this. I think Kasparov has done so much for chess than he deserves positive comments ! Hard dot believe that Magnus doesn't work everyday in chess.

The Player's picture

Imagine how good Carlsen could have been with 110 % dedication to chess...

Ashish's picture

Maybe, or maybe he would have burned out, or gone crazy like you-know-who. We are not machines.

I think Carlsen knows himself well, and he has a fantastic manager in his dad. What a wonderful ambassador for chess.

Anonymous's picture

I guess Carlsen is like Capablanca - doesn't have to work that hard at the game.

stevefraser's picture

Carlsen's comment is a nice underscoring of GK's one dominates chess the way GK did without genius in all phases of the games....I remember back in the '80's' how stunned the experts were with the frequency and profound depth of GK's exchange sacrifices in what seemed like every other game.

chandler's picture

the "full interview here" link seems wrong

Peter Doggers's picture

Oops, now it's good, thanks.

guest09's picture

"my game against Anand in this tournament: I simply didn’t manage to create any tension at all. But in all the others I strove as much as I could…"

If WCC is hellbent on draw even carlsen cant do anything.. LOL

Zeblakob's picture


guest09's picture

What is your point? this also shows Vishy is a strong player.

guest09's picture

Zeblablob, i m not crtisizing Vishy here..

Zeblakob's picture

No probblem :) I was just surprised coz any one in top 10 can draw any game Vs a top 10 if he wants.

christos's picture

This is a great interview. It makes you admire Carlsen for so many different reasons!

About Kasparov: "Yes, we played a lot of blitz games! It was an interesting battle. At times it was hard for him – you could sense he was out of practice." Such a polite way to say "I beat Kasparov in blitz".

Morley's picture

I have more and more respect for Carlsen with each interview he gives an each game he plays. It is truly great for the game of chess that we have such an unbelievably strong player with such good manners, professionalism, and, frankly, a happy attitude. Can't wait for Corus!

Niima's picture

Agreed. He is so comfortable in his own skin, so natural. It shines through that he is an emotionally fulfilled and balanced person. His good relationship with his family and how he appreciates his father were also impressive.

S3's picture

You think refusing to shake hands with a girl because she beat him fair and square is part of good manners? He didn't even have to decency to apoligize himself but had his father do it for him.

Pablo's picture

And you will keep bringing this matter into scene until when...?

Some people never forget. Oh, God.

sab's picture

"Some people never forget."

Or/And shall we say/add : some people never *forgive*.

S3's picture

Well, cheating is a very serious issue in chess. But I only mentioned these incidents after someone took this interview as a reason to compare Carlsen's character favorably to that of Nakamura. After that people reacted very funnily-apparently it's hard for them to hear the truth. Nakamura may be less diplomatic but he is far more a gentleman on the board. Trust me, I know a gentleman when I see one!

The Player's picture

Me too, and u aint it :(

Septimus's picture

Very classy, unlike Nakamura. If Kasparov started playing actively again, he will be in the top three by 2013.

S3's picture

Why the hate for Naka?
If I have to compare them I'd say that Naka is very classy compared to Carlsen.

After all there are no cheating incidents for Naka while Carlsen f.e. made false claims against Morozevich and tried to cheat against f.e. Gashimov and Savchenko (each time pretending not to know the same rules when caught)
Also he tried to take back a piece against Aronian and denied touching it, but alas it was on tape. So far he has managed to keep the tapes that weren't broadcasted live out of the media, but this is all proven nonetheless.

Ok..Nakamura probably tries to distract his opponents with his facial expressions while playing, but so does Carlsen with all his moves and silly poses.
Another similarity is their trashtalk; Nakamure f.e. said he would crush Grischuk like a baby while Carlsen promised to crush Kramnik like a bug (only to delete his facebook account after he lost that game).
That tells me that their words cannot be taken all too serious. So the facts remain.

Talking nice is easy. Acting nice is harder. So far Nakamura at least has never tried to cheat, as far as I know.

And in the end they are nothing compared to class acts like Anand, Kramnik and Aronian who combine great chess with truly great personalities.

noyb's picture

"Ok..Nakamura probably tries to distract his opponents with his facial expressions while playing, but so does Carlsen with all his moves and silly poses."

Check out -

These guys are pikers compared to the King!

redivivo's picture

"If I have to compare them I'd say that Naka is very classy compared to Carlsen"

I can't think of anyone you'd compare Carlsen favourably with.

S3's picture

Indeed there is no other current top player with such a big history of cheating attempts. If we judge people by their actions, and not on their words, you must be right.

redivivo's picture

Even more fascinating is that, as you say, Carlsen has pretended not to know there is a touch move rule in chess. That's a new one to me, I guess you have some source for that statement and not just made that one up too?

S3's picture

Of course, I have posted the links before, but as you know the last thing I want is to sound repetitive so I'll just refer to youtube this time.

Anyway, I see that you -as so often - focus on me and some side issues and not on the main issue. I guess it means that you implicitly agree with the cheating accusations. Which brings us to the bottom line: you can hardly say a sportsman has a great personality when he tries to break the rules. I'm sure we all agree on that.

Xeno's picture

Carlsen has of course never pretended he doesn't know there is a touch move rule, in a couple of blitz games he resigned after having it pointed out that he had let go of the piece, but that's blitz and far from for example Azmaiparashvili's and Moiseenko's takebacks long after having played a move in classical chess. However there is no point discussing Carlsen with you, all your posts about him speak for themself.

S3's picture

Xeno, I noticed that you leave out Carlsen taking back a move against Aronian, which was not in a blitz game. And the incident in the game with Morozevich wasn't in blitz either.
Against Aronian the arbiter even had to watch the videotape to make Carlsen follow the rules-he denied letting go of the piece until it was proven differently.

Judging Carlsen's "surprised" look time and again against Savchenko, Gashimov, Kosteniuk and others in blitz -those videos were broadcasted live and thus can be found on the internet- it's also quite fair to say that he pretended to not know the rules. But if he did know the rules, it makes it only worse to break them don't you think?

By the way, you'd make more of a case if you wouldn't talk about my prejudice but if you could explain why these numerous incidents all happened to Carlsen, and not to Aronian, Kramnik, Karjakin, Anand or even Nakamura. Nakamura, who is far less of a gentleman, if I read it correctly.

redivivo's picture

"Judging Carlsen's "surprised" look time and again against Savchenko, Gashimov, Kosteniuk and others in blitz -those videos were broadcasted live and thus can be found on the internet- it's also quite fair to say that he pretended to not know the rules"

Who are the others? You mention the three existing blitz games where Carlsen resigned immediately after touch move incidents. There are no other blitz games than these three, so I can understand why you didn't mention all those "others" by name. But blitz isn't serious chess anyway, and if you were interested in other players than Carlsen you might find it interesting to debate all the touch move incidents that happened "in cold blood" in classical chess, without any bullet chess piece shuffling involved.

And it's of course not quite fair to say that he pretended that he didn't know the rules, he resigned immediately after having it pointed out that he had let the piece go, so claiming that he pretended he hadn't heard there existed a touch move rule doesn't make much sense either. Now I'm getting seriously bored but keep going by all means if it makes you feel better.

S3's picture

He tried it twice against Gashi and I remember there was at least one other incident but even I don't remember everything by name. However, the list is impressive as it is..

As for immediately resigning...against Kosteniuk he stormed off (I guess that counts as a resignation even though he didn't shake hands and didn't say anything) but against Gashimov f.e. the arbiter had to get involved.
And once again, why do you ignore the games that were not blitz?

Here is a quote of Magnus blog on Carlsen-Aronian: rapid:

"In the second game Magnus got a small but comfortable advantage as white and was trying to make progress in the rook and bishop endgame when the unfortunate incident took place. Magnus moved his rook to a3 and discovered immediately the blunder (due to Rg3+). He mind was so occupied by registering the blunder and instinctively correcting it that he did not really notice whether he had released his rook at a3 or not. Aronian immediately took exception to the corrected move and the arbiter was involved. Magnus was somewhat surprised when the arbiter said that the video footage clearly showed that Magnus had released the rook on a3 before moving it to c1. He has not seen the video but of course he accepted the ruling of the arbiter, and duly resigned. 0-1. After the game Magnus has emphasised that he did not intentionally try to cheat and he has apologised to Aronian for any disagreement he may have felt during the episode."

As you can see even this blog admitted that at some level he cheated. To which degree it was deliberate is debatable ofc.
So where does that leave us: we have established that Carlsen, several times, didn't resign, but waited for the arbiters decision and that you were wrong stating otherwise. Thank G** for cameras!

Bitmap's picture

haters gonna hate

Septimus's picture

No hate, simply comparing statements and the fact is Nakamura thinks Kasaprov is only an opening specialist, which is a bit of an insult to one of the greatest player ever to play the game.

noyb's picture

After reading this I had a funny feeling/reaction. The tone or "voice" didn't feel or sound right compared to other Carlsen interviews. Did anyone else who is familiar with several of his other interviews get this impression? Not saying the interview was fabricated, but maybe his exact wording was altered or "cleaned-up".

Remco G's picture

It's a translation from Russian, while the interview was presumably in yet another language.

jimknopf's picture

I guess nobody hates Nakamura: he's just not important enough.

What happens is just that he gets some well earned contempt for his silly remarks about Kasparov - a player who has been the top rated chess player for about 20 years. To delcare or even think that this is possible due to opening preparation, while others are better in middle games and endgames, is quite a funny way of displaying missing chess knowledge.

In sharp contrast Carlsen, despite having been unnerved by Kasparov's dominating presence, is still able to judge things in proportion and to show some gratitude for what he learned from Kasparov. In contrast to Carlsen Nakamura wil hardly ever be able to become a top two or three player, becuase he is missing exactly the deeper strategic understanding of chess which both Kasparov and Carlsen have shown just like Aronian, Kramnik and other not just good, but great players.

S3's picture

Nakamura :"like I said, his strength was in openings. You look at middlegames or endgames and I’m quite convinced there are other players who were better than he was but he was able to get advantages out of the opening, so that was his main strength."

I fail to see a big problem really. Carlsen has said something similar before this interview about him understanding certain positions better than Kasparov.To think that Kasparov's main (emphasis!) strength was openings is pretty legitimate imo, and it's defenitely possible that some players understood other parts of the game as well or even better.

Not to mention the fact that Nakamura also said that Kasparov was to him " the greatest chess player ever".

It seems to me that Nakamura's words are being blown out of proportion.
Meanwhile a bad mannered player (one of the few top players ever who regulary tried to break the chessrules/cheat) like Carlsen is presented as being a gentleman, just because he talks sweet. A strange situation.

MJul's picture

Right now Morozevich is my favourite chess player, but, sometimes, I think I will be the greatest Carlsen' fangirl just because reading your comments he must be doing something really greater than I tought.

S3's picture

No need to emphasize that girls and rational decisions don't mix well.

MJul's picture

No need to emphasize that you and logic don't mix well.

Anonymous's picture

Carlsen has only stated that he understands "certain positions" better. That certainly makes sense, in sharp contrast to what Nakamura said.

Nakamura tried to insinuate that Kasparov's success was based mainly on opening preparation, and that others were probably better in the other phases of the game. I would be curious to hear whoever that should be? Kasparov has outplayed any kind of player in any kind of position in lots of games, over a period of two decades.

Nakamura's claim is utter nonsense for anyone knowing just basics of chess history. How often was Kasparov blown completely out of preparation in the Karpov matches alone? And looking at his success in playing positions where neither of the players could rely on opening kownledge any more, or where he played calm positions successfully against the best positional players of his time, or endgames against the best endgame specialists, completes the picture.
His liking for sharp variations doesn't change anything about these facts.

So I stay with it: it's not anger, what Nakamura has stirred with his disdainful nonsense statement: it's just well earned contempt from anybody not being as forgetful as him about Kasparov's achievements.

And yes, Carlsen is not only smarter than Nakamura in answering sensitive questions. He also plays a deeper kind of chess. Nakamura can beat anyone on a good day, but overall he is not playing in the same league as persons like Kasparov, Korchnoi and Karpov in their time, or as Carlsen, Aronian, Anand, or Kramnik play now.

He just should concentrate on his kind of sharp combinative chess, which really is attractive and fun to see, and else rather keep silent than make a fool of himself.

S3's picture

This view of Kasparov being "just a very good player" with exceptional opening knowledge was held by quite a few people, including elite grandmasters.
Kasparov's "later" style from the 90's onwards was definitely build around deep opening preparation often reaching far into the endgame, and as such this was his main strength.
Nakamura's words can be taken as a jab in the direction of Kasparov but there is surely truth in it. Why else do you think that Diaz regulary pictures Kasparov as a trainer with a notebook full of opening surprises.

As for this interview, the almost excessive praise and gratefulness for Kasparov may well be inspired by the critique that Nakamura got. After all, it wasn't like this in earlier interviews. More and more chess is turning in a popularity contest..

Janis Nisii's picture

I'm convinced - and I've talked to both players - that on Kasparov Carlsen and Nakamura have similar views. The only difference between then is that Nakamura should hire a good publicist, Carlsen already did.
Some of the interviews of Carlsen I've read (this one included) have clearly (to me, of course) been supervised by Espen or Henrik or both. This is only my guess, but nothing will convince me of the opposite. Nothing.

Janis Nisii's picture


MJul's picture

Agree. It's too common.

jimknopf's picture

Well, that's as safe as a prejudice not based on evidence can get. ;-)


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