What’s next for Carlsen?

Magnus Carlsen receiving the winner’s trophy at the 2013 Tata Steel closing ceremonies. A stoic Viswanathan Anand looks on with his third place finish. He will hope than this scene will not repeat itself if the two should meet in future tournaments or a championship match. Photo by tatasteelchess.com.

A few days ago, Magnus Carlsen won the 2013 Tata Steel Chess Tournament with a prodigious score of 10/13 matching Garry Kasparov’s mark in the 1999 Wijk aan Zee tournament. Many were praising his play, but also noting the variety of way in which he won his games. The current World Champion was asked about his chanced of catching Carlsen after which Anand stated,

Magnus is much more efficient at collecting points. He is winning every kind of position… it’s an amazing skill. It makes it very tough on the others. He’s converting almost every game. It’s a huge disadvantage if you’re trying to keep up with him. (see video)

Magnus Carlsen’s universal style was on display. Photo by tatasteelchess.com.

In his seven wins, he showed a combination of opportunism, extreme patience, balletic precision, unbridled determination and even brute force. Against van Wely, he squeezed water from a rock in developing a small edge and slowly exploiting small advantages. Playing Pentala Harikrishna, he played the Ponziani (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3!?) got a reasonable position before building to a decisive victory.

Against Sergey Karjakin, he played the English, nursed what was perceived as no advantage in an endgame and won anyway! He also beat Ivan Sokolov in a wide-open encounter. In the game against Hou Yifan, he kept the tension and at the right moment, outcalculated her and deftly won in a queen ending. He brutally crushed 2011 Tata winner Hikaru Nakamura when the American essayed a faulty plan. Finally, he nursed another pawn-plus victory against Erwin L’Ami. So, Carlsen won a total of seven games in various style and below is the tally:

2013 Tata Steel Tournament
January 12th-27th, 2013 (Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands)
GM Magnus Carlsen (FIDE 2861)

Title Player
Nation
Flag
ELO Result
GM Fabiano Caruana
Italy
Italy
2781
½
GM Levon Aronian
Armenia
Armenia
2802
½
GM Loek van Wely
Netherlands
Netherlands
2679
1
GM Pentala Harikrishna
India
India
2698
1
GM Viswanathan Anand
India
India
2772
½
GM Ivan Sokolov
Netherlands
Netherlands
2663
1
GM Peter Leko
Hungary
Hungary
2735
½
GM Sergey Karjakin
Russia
Russia
2780
1
GM Hou Yifan
China
China
2603
1
GM Erwin L’Ami
Netherlands
Netherlands
2627
1
GM Wang Hao
China
China
2752
½
GM Hikaru Nakamura
USA
USA
2769
1
GM Anish Giri
Netherlands
NED
2720
½
Score: 10-3 (See GAMES!)

Thus, it appears that Carlsen was showing a truly universal style that some are comparing to Bobby Fischer or an old Anand. Perhaps this style is the wave of the future, but still receives scorn from the “old guard”. Several Russian players (i.e., Evgeny Sveshnikov, Boris Gelfand and to a lesser extent Vladimir Kramnik) have spoken with disdain of current players and usually tout Sergey Karjakin as the model player of today. Sveshnikov had this to say about Carlsen’s openings:

He is interesting as a practical player, but… Carlsen’s weakness is above all the opening. At this stage of the game he is not a strong player. He should be outplayed in the opening, while his opponents do the opposite. The way new generation plays the opening… I would say those aren’t neither Polugaevsky nor Kasparov. They lack succession in openings. They just play chess, that’s why their chances to fight for the title are small. Honestly, I prefer Karjakin’s play. I like him as a player and he really has a perspective. At the moment Carlsen shows a good practical play, but if Kasparov won’t coach him with his preparation methods I would say Magnus’s future doesn’t look so promising. He is surely a very talented player, but only those who will be making the strongest moves can become the champions. Only scientific component of chess has a chance to win nowadays. Not a single practical player has a chance of becoming the champion without scientific approach to the subject. (see full interview at chess-new.ru.)

Sveshnikov may prefer Karjakin’s style, but most everyone else would prefer Carlsen’s results. There is no doubt that Karjakin is quite talented and will be a candidate in future world championship cycles, but one must notice that players such as Carlsen, Nakamura and Wesley So are part of a new breed of players who train on natural ability and practical play and not raised on the less dynamic methods touted by the “Russian School of Chess”. Carlsen certainly is breaking many barriers with his approach and the scary part is that he will improve once he studies chess even more seriously. While it will be a stretch to say 2900 is within reach this year, it will not be in the next year or so.

Carlsen-Karjakin… a contrast of styles according to Sveshnikov.
Photo by tatasteelchess.com.

Carlsen will now prepare for the World Championship Candidate’s match and will be a odds-on favorite to win, but he will have a much tougher time with the strongest competition available. In fact, it is conceivable that Carlsen may not win the Candidate’s tournament and may have to wait another cycle to get the coveted world title. While Carlsen has said that he places more weight on the number one than the world title, he certainly realizes that he must get this crown in order to be in the conversation of all-time greats. Time will tell.

Tata Steel Official Site: https://www.tatasteelchess.com/ and Videos.
Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2013/01/04/2013-tata-steel-chess-wijk-aan-zee/

Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

6 Comments

    1. It’s business. Both are professionals and I’m sure Nielsen will not betray his trust of Anand. The Carlsen team has already shown a bit of class in saying that should Carlsen win the Candidate’s Tournament and face Anand, they could not work with Carlsen.

  1. As far as Nakamura is concerned, could it be that Carlsen finds him predictable in certain positions while no one else has been able to scout him nearly as well? Could it be that Carlsen is an expert at ‘Nakamura plans’?

    1. Nakamura simply makes bad decisions in his preparation of Carlsen. Some of the losses are catastrophic and there is no reason that Nakamura would go up in a heap of flames as he did in Wijk aan Zee. He never loses without a fight. This game was a disaster on all counts.

  2. I agree! I watched the entire game with my son. I taught it was going to be a good game with Naka having good chances of winning, while my son thought otherwise. From our observation, Naka needs to play more solid openings against Magnus. It seems like he comes out too forceful too soon while Carlsen shows poise and let him over extend his pieces and slowly bulldoze his premature attacks. Naka has to approach Carlsen with the mind set that it will require remarkable fortitude to outwit Magnus. Opinions will vary, but that’s how we see it.

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