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Magnus Carlsen: Construction of a champion,piece by piece

What goes into making a chess superstar? The No.1’s father,Henrik,tells The Indian Express.

Written by Raakesh Natraj |
August 20, 2013 4:18:55 am

Magnus Carlsen may be considered the favourite to overthrow Viswanathan Anand for the World title,but Henrik Carlsen is among those who do not think his son will have it easy come November. As a way of reminding his son of the decades of experience that he will come up against,there is a story he repeats to Magnus.

“Carlsen was around 11 or 12 when an organiser at a Norwegian tournament told me: ‘We have not seen such a young talent since Anand.’ I didn’t even know the official had seen Anand before. I keep reminding him about it,that he is playing him (Anand) today,” says Henrik.

Carlsen was to become a Grandmaster shortly after that,when he was just 13 (at that time the second youngest in history to achieve the title),and within a decade would be hailed the game’s greatest,but Henrik says there was a time when he thought his son was perhaps not cut out for chess.

“When he was around five,I was trying to teach Magnus and his sister chess and they did not seem too interested. I thought maybe they don’t have a talent for chess,” says Henrik. “With Magnus,you can’t be pushy. Then he will do something different and I am really glad I did not push him to take up chess.”

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A few months later,Carlsen returned to the game on his own. “When he came back to it again,he was around seven and I could see he had a deep passion for it. It had to be that way for him to stay motivated and enjoy it. The chess is his. It is not mine. I am just happy looking,” says Henrik,a chemical engineer.

Precocity isn’t something that is new or unexpected in chess,but Henrik says it could at times get to be a task,even for the talented.

“I underestimated how difficult chess is for kids. We teach them how to move a piece and how to respond,but to have three or four pieces react together,it is very,very difficult for little kids,” he says.

Father cum manager

Henrik doubled up as Magnus’ manager until recently,and it was two years ago that the multi-tasking got to him.

“Firstly,I am his father,but very often I had to ask him questions as a manager. And often you did not know if you were asking him questions as one or the other. Now for two years we have a professional manager and it is working that I am more a father than a manager,” he says.

It also helped that he could now spend time with his other children too.

“The daughters,they make the family more normal,” he says. “When I am at home,I get up early in the morning and try to bake them something fresh,a good breakfast and generally pamper them a lot when I’m in Norway. With Magnus,I have to pinch myself occasionally to believe what has happened. Lots of things have obviously changed. All you guys wouldn’t be talking here to me otherwise. I feel happy for him and also think it makes people nicer to him,even if it is probably fake.”

Chess is something like a hobby for his son,something he is admittedly very good at,but still just one among other pursuits that interest him,says Henrik. The 22-year old is a big NBA and football fan (Miami Heat and Real Madrid are his favourite teams) and outdoor sport (golf,soccer and swimming) constitute a big part of his training camps.

“I think he spends as much time as it is possible for a World No. 1 to have a normal life. He has many many interests,but of course he spends a lot of time on chess. Otherwise he will not be so good,” he says.

Early signs of greatness

Was there a moment when Henrik realised his son was not just good,but great? “When he was 13,I saw the talent and knew he would be a Grandmaster. I told myself,anything after that will be a bonus. Of late it has just been one bonus after another. Maybe there is another bonus waiting in November,I don’t know,” he says. “I am glad we are here and I know there will be great chess and what more can you ask for?”

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