Reports | April 08, 2011 19:41

Carlsen starring in Biel (and The New Yorker)

Carlsen starring in Biel (and The New Yorker)Apparently it's the season of tournament announcements, and especially the second half of 2011 is becoming more and more promising. Today the organizers of the annual Biel Chess Festival proudly announced the participation of Magnus Carlsen (who was recently profiled in The New Yorker). We give the Sigeman line-up as well.

The headline of the press release says it all. 'Magnus Carlsen, the Chess Dominator in Biel!' The Biel organizers are proud to have contracted the famous Norwegian, and rightly so. The 20-year-old chess player is welcome in just about any chess event these days, and basically can pick whatever tournament he likes to play.

However, it's no surprise that Carlsen picked Biel again, as he will have good memories. There, in 2005, at 14 years old, he played his first ever GM tournament and in 2007, at 16, he won the 40th anniversary edition.

The organizers reveal that 'support of a private sponsor' was needed to get Carlsen back to Switzerland. And we'll forgive them for, in all their Swiss enthusiasm, twisting history a bit. They write 'The prodigy from Norway became the youngest world's number one in chess history in January 2010 (until March 2011)', forgetting that Vishy Anand led the world rankings in November and December 2010.

The tournament will consist of six players. Only two other players are known at the moment: Vugar Gashimov and Yannick Pelletier. Taking into account the dates that are mentioned (July 16-21), unfortunately it looks like the top group is going to be only a single round-robin...

[Update: Pelletier has confirmed to Mark Crowther that it's going to be a double round-robin.]

...just like the Sigeman & Co tournament. This tournament runs 9-13 June with Alexei Shirov, Anish Giri, Wesley So, Jonny Hector, Nils Grandelius and Hans Tikkanen.

Update: as Thomas points out below, the Bazna tournament has updated its website with photos of this year's participants. We learnt about the participation of Magnus Carlsen, Vassily Ivanchuk, Sergey Karjakin, Hikaru Nakamura, Teimour Radjabov and Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, but decided not to mention it yet because nothing official has been communicated so far.

Returning to Carlsen, we realize that we hadn't mentioned yet that the Norwegian recently starred in the famous The New Yorker magazine. It's a 7000 word piece of excellent prose by D.T. Max about different subjects like computer chess, the Soviet chess school, and, mostly, about Carlsen.

Carlsen in The New Yorker

The full text is only available to subscribers, but here are a few quotes:

When he is not travelling, he lives with his family in a house in Baerum, an affluent suburb of Oslo. He rents the basement from his parents. For this trip, some friends from the chess club at his high school had come with him to play in the open part of the tournament. Carlsen, who left school two years ago without formally graduating, had gone out with his old friends for pizza and bowling, but at most tournaments he is either alone or with his father, Henrik, who helps manage his career and, to an extent, his life. If Carlsen plays in a tournament in less than clean clothes, chances are that Henrik did not come with him.

Carlsen spends evenings in his hotel room, streaming TV shows on his laptop—“The A-Team” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” are favorites—and going on Skype and Facebook. Sometimes, he works out at the gym to relieve the tension of a match. When he is at home, he plays Wii Sports Resort and Mario Kart, and with his family he plays SingStar, a karaoke game; he also likes to tease his three sisters. I asked Carlsen if he wanted to go to college. “I have no interest,” he said.

He liked to go online to find human opponents, but he resisted playing against the programs themselves. Computer chess struck him as mechanical—the machine always won, and he did not like being told that there was one “best” move. “It’s like playing someone who is extremely stupid but who beats you anyway,” he said.

In 2009, Carlsen hired Kasparov to train him. Kasparov had long had his eye on Carlsen and was eager to take on the job. The Web site Chessvibes declared that it was a “dream team.” Kasparov was an expensive coach—his annual fee was set at several hundred thousand dollars—but Carlsen and his family thought that the tutelage was worth it.

In the lead-up to tournaments, when other players are testing out strategies on their computers, Carlsen is often staying up late playing video games or online poker. Before tournament days, he likes to get plenty of sleep—optimally, ten or eleven hours—waking up an hour or two before the start. “It’s no secret that the best players’ opening preparation is much deeper than mine,” Carlsen told me. In London, he went into some games with only the first move chosen; most players typically map out their first dozen or so moves. He believes that things even out because, as he put it, “I’m younger and have more energy, and it’s easier to adapt.”

In the days after Fashion Week, he had contacted Wesley So, a rising seventeen-year-old Philippine grandmaster, and offered to pay his way to Europe if he would train with him. In London, Carlsen had described So to me as his stylistic opposite. “I think his entire training has been with a computer,” he had noted with amazement. When I last spoke to Carlsen, he was in Majorca with So, and they had been working together. Carlsen once told me that if chess ever stopped being fun for him he’d “have to do something else.” He added, “If you have that feeling all the time, what’s the point of playing?” But, for now, he was appreciating the new training: “We’ll see if something good comes of it.”

The article mentions a few games, for example, Carlsen-Ernst, Wijk aan Zee 2004, which is often given as one of Carlsen's best games. However, the Norwegian himself prefers games like Carlsen-Kotronias, Calvia OL 2004, in which he plays a possibly unique combination, or Carlsen-Anand, Nanjing 2010, in which he shows superb positional chess. All three are given below.

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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.


JOKEMASTER's picture

your anand? What exactly do you mean by that?
And anand will tell me i have gone too far?
your comment is too pointless to reply.

JOKEMASTER's picture

If the discussion was pointless , what was the point giving all your arguments?

1> Who said that the list means nothing?
since i clearly talked about ratings, it indicates i believe (like most others) ratings is one of the key indicators).

2> Carlsen is not the world champion does not mean he is not one of the best.
But it does mean that till he does not climb the summit he cannot be Proclaimed the best which is the hype his fans are creating. Also no body is saying he cant improve.

3> Head to head counts for sure . It is also one of the key points but not the only one. Ananad is likey to find aronian a tough opponent in match.

4> Anand stated being no1 is a priority which he has achieved.
He has beaten topalov and kramnik , who along with anand are the players who have dominated the last decade. So to be the best player in the world
carlsen has to beat likes of anand/ kramnik/ aronian in match play. If the hype is carlsen is a great talent , any one would be foolish to argue against that , but if the hype is that he is the best player now , i believe many will disagree.
Though in era of machines , the difference between players is lesser , yet
clearly vishy has a small edge.
will you put your money on carlsen in a match against vishy?

help's picture

Nicely done, gg. :)

(Keep a copy of it for the next time! ;))

Zacalov's picture


kenh's picture

You tell 'em, gg. I got your back on that. And jokemaster, you will live to regret your silly, nitpicking comments. The world champ is 20 years older than Magnus. But no one is putting down your Anand. In fact, Mr. Anand would probably also tell you that you've gone too far.

lefier's picture

gg has in deed summed up this discussion to the point!

gg's picture

He can't be the best because he was #1 on just six of seven rating lists and didn't win his latest tournament but five of six before that? I guess it's impossible to keep hyping him just because he is young when his results aren't better than that.

JOKEMASTER's picture

1> He is not the world no 1.
2> He is not the word champion.
(See interviews of greatest champs including kasparov , the pressure of winning world championship is totally different . Carlsen has never done that...
3> He has a very poor individual record against vishy anand and other leading chess players like kramnik.
4> Because of wierd fide rules anand has had to play wcc more frequently and during wcc prep he is unable to focus on tournaments. After winning wcc, he said he wants to be world no1 which he has accomplished.

gg's picture

1. He was world no 1 on six of seven rating lists, and then the argument was that the rating list meant nothing, now that he is 2 points behind Anand the rating list is suddenly much better at showing who the best player is, at least if one single list is picked rather than all those that showed the "wrong" result.

2. He is not World Champion. To be that he would have had to qualify in 2007, since it has been a closed business between Anand, Kramnik and Topalov after that. But not qualifying for a title match that early doesn't have to mean that he is just hype, or that he can't be a better player now than in 2007, I think most would say he is.

3. As for the very poor record against Kramnik, it's 3-3 after 2007, and against Anand it's 1-2 after 2008. If head to head is what counts Anand could of course never be #1 with his results against Aronian, while Aronian never coud be #1 with his head to head against Topalov, etc. Carlsen also has a career minus against Leko, by the way, so I suppose he can't be better than Leko either.

4. It's true that Anand's not winning any tournaments for more than three years doesn't give a correct perspective on his level, but then it's hardly proof of him being better than all other players either. I sure don't think Anand just is hyped, he is a great player and more or less on Carlsen's and Aronian's level. But the question was if Carlsen just is hyped because of his youth, and if failing to win one tournament and falling two points behind Anand on the rating list was proof of that.

But the whole discussion is rather pointless. Let's say it's true that objective results show that other players are better than Carlsen (since he didn't win his latest tournament) and that he is just hyped (because of his youth), and move to some more interesting discussion, at least I sure will.

JOKEMASTER's picture

i guess what was meant was hype of being the best..
One of the best carlsen is for sure , his results very easily prove that,
but he is not the best...(purely based on results , not subjective opinion)

john's picture

Carlsen is not the world champion, he is not number one on the FIDE rating list and he did not win the last tournament he entered either. I just dont see how the hype can be carried by his youth alone right now.

gg's picture

He didn't win the last event but five of the six before that, he isn't #1 on the rating list but was on six of the seven before that and is 2 points behind at the moment. Yeah, hype carried by his youth alone, you said it.

lefier's picture

Unfortunately, the article leaves the impression that Carlsen is not working too hard with his chess-career.
One would still hope that he proves to the contrary in the years to come.

Thomas's picture

If there is a link between updates to the live rating list and Carlsen playing somewhere, it should happen in mid-June: Bazna (11-22 June) with Carlsen, Ivanchuk, Karjakin, Nakamura and Radjabov. Maybe the organizers didn't send out press releases, but they updated their homepage:

This overlaps with the Sigeman event, and July now has three overlapping events: Biel 16-21/7, World Team Championship 15-26/7 (in China), Dortmund 21-31/7. Will I have to stay glued to the computer for live games from different time zones, or can I still go to the beach if the weather happens to be nice? :)

Peter Doggers's picture

Indeed, we knew about these players for Bazna but nothing official has been communicated so far.

RealityCheck's picture

Does this mean we'll have to wait until July to see an updated LiveRatings list?

Janis Nisii's picture

Am I the only one who found the New Yourker article boring, poorly written, not informative, confused, full of trivial mistakes and way overrated by all the chess-related blogs/comments to happened to mention it?
I mean, please, don't lose your mind EVERY time a decent magazine covers chess. This is called inferiority complex in my book,
(I actually liked a few sentences here and there, some 8% of a way too long article)

Janis Nisii's picture

to=that (sorry)

AuN1's picture

utter rubbish; kramnik doesn't need to train with someone like garry kimovich to reach the chess summit. he is not known as a guy who studies a lot either. there is nothing hermetic about his life, the way they try to make it seem; he is married, and has a daughter. carlsen is not even known to have a girlfriend.

gg's picture

That game against Anand was very nice even if Carlsen missed the win at the end.

Solomon's picture

I do wish Carlsen would put more effort in his prepartion. Too often players (both strong and weak) use lack of preparation as an excuse to explain why they are not doing better than they should. However, it is just a poor excuse. I can see why Kasparov and Carlsen separated. Kasparov's work ethics could never accept walking into a tournament with just the "first move prepared"!

Carlsen is a great talent. Would love to see him perform at his very best. Thank you for the excerpts.

S2's picture

Yet you still seem to use this poor excuse to argue that Carlsen can do better ( ? )
Apart from his Tata game against Giri, I can't think of a game where Magnus was worse after the opening. Kasparov's style was way more suited for his deep sharp opening preparation but Carlsen's repertoire is broader.

suleiman's picture

I had read this New Yorker article a week ago or so, and I sort of concluded that there were remarks here and there in the entire article which present (unfairly) Kramnik a boring and annoying person; I mean someone who does not really know the chess world that well can form this image in his/her mind that Carlsen does not study anything before the tournaments and just spends his days watching TV., hanging out around and enjoying himself and then when he sits in front of the board everything comes to him naturally because he is a huge talent, whereas Kramnik, like a nerd kid at an elementary school, has to study day in & day out and make his play perfect and then has to go to tournaments because he does not have that natural talent - I mean he is the antagonist of the entire story (at some point Carlsen admits that Kasparov "really hates" Kramnik, which is not directly relevant to the content of the article but it is added into it in order to strengthen this image of Kramnik, I guess) and Carlsen, the guy we should have sympathy for, is the protagonist and we should all love him because he can do things while living a normal life like us, the mortal ones. Of course this has nothing to do with Carlsen but I don't like this kind of journalism, which always presents to the readers what they want to hear.y

gg's picture

I interpreted Carlsen's mentioning Kasparov's negative feelings for Kramnik, and how it was hard to stay unaffected by such emotions when working with Kasparov, not as intended to strengthen a negative image of Kramnik but rather the opposite, to point out that the description of Kramnik could be unfairly negative because of this bias.

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