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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Magnus Carlsen: When I’m at my best, I’m a little bit better than others

Magnus Carlsen finished the tournament with a whopping 27 points and broke his own record in the Grand Chess tour, bettering his 26.5 points scored at Abidjan, Ivory Coast earlier this year.

Written by Rahul Sadhu | Updated: November 28, 2019 4:51:51 pm
Magnus Carlsen plays a game of football between one of his games in Kolkata on Wednesday. (Source: grand chess tour)

Garry Kasparov, considered one of the greatest chess players ever, once described Magnus Carlsen as a lethal combination of Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov. On Tuesday, despite starting the day with a bad stomach, Carlsen showed the praise wasn’t misplaced. The Norwegian went on to win the Tata Steel Chess rapid and blitz title in Kolkata with a record tally of 27 points.

Carlsen scored 5.5 points in the final 9 blitz games, netting an impressive 27 total points to surpass his 26.5 point record from the Cote D’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz earlier this year. The Norwegian world champion regained the World number one spot in Rapid Chess. He also holds the world number two spot in Blitz Chess.

For the uninitiated, America’s Fischer is considered the greatest chess player of all time. Karpov reigned as world champion from 1975 to 1985 before he was defeated by Garry Kasparov, who was ranked world No. 1 from 1986 until his retirement in 2005 (for 225 out of 228 months).

Magnus Carlsen takes a break on day 5. (Source: grand chess tour)

The fifth day of the tournament in Kolkata started with the Norwegian making a strange start in round 10. He offered a draw to Indian wildcard Vidit Gujrathi after just five moves, much to the dismay of the crowd. Carlsen later revealed he took the decision because he was nursing an upset stomach.

In round 11, Carlsen drew against Anish Giri and then continued his draw fest in the following round, when he tied against second-placed Hikaru Nakamura in a fascinating blitz game.

It was only in round 13 that Carlsen took a big step towards the title as he crushed Pentala Harikrishna for his first win of the day. However, Chinese GM Ding Liren put a stop to his momentum in round 14, giving Carlsen a second defeat on Indian soil in a thrilling game.

In round 15, Nakamura took a giant step towards winning the blitz after winning against tail-ender Levon Aronian. Carlsen day didn’t improve, with another draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi. But it was enough for Carlsen to win the Kolkata GCT event with three games left to play.

Magnus Carlsen’s final standings.

The Norwegian dominated proceedings over the five days of the tournament as he went from strength to strength. Carlsen’s showing was a Grand Chess Tour record for the highest number of points scored at a single tour event.

“I think I showed I’m still the man to beat. When I’m at my best, I’m a little bit better than the others,” Carlsen said after winning the event.

It wasn’t as easy as he made it sound. The World Champion described the start – when he was suffering from a stomach bug – as being “pretty brutal”.

Carlsen isn’t known for his interactions with the media or public, but the 28-year-old seemed chirpier than usual after his victory and explained why he prefers staying out of the limelight.

“I try to get away a bit. It is to keep my focus on the game. I try not to use too much unnecessary energy. I am very happy with all the attention chess is getting here in Kolkata. I try to do whatever feels right if I have the energy. In the end, having conditions for performing the best is what is most important,” Carlsen told the media.

Next week, Carlsen along with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ding Liren and Levon Aronian will be participating in the $350,000 Grand Chess Tour finals. The Norwegian has had a good 2019 so far, winning the tournament in India and Shamkir Chess with a round to spare ahead of his closest rivals.

So given he’s World Champion does he feel the responsibility to carry the game forward or like Fischer does he stick only to his play?

“My philosophy is closer to Fischer’s. I would say 5 or 6 years ago is was focused on bringing the message of bringing chess to the world,” he said.

“I guess now I am conserving more of my energy and also after a few years of not performing at my best level, I realized that I need to use all my energy on playing chess. Promoting the game is something that I still think about but it’s always kind of secondary to being in the best condition to perform well,” Carlsen said.

Incidentally, after his sensational performance in Kolkata, Kasparov was among the first to wish him on Twitter. “Congrats to @MagnusCarlsen on another dominating performance in the #KolkataGCT event. A world champion at any speed and every speed,” Kasparov tweeted.

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