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6 things to learn from Magnus Carlsen's 2990 performance at the Grenke Chess Classic 2019

by Sagar Shah - 30/04/2019

Magnus Carlsen won his third super tournament of the year 2019. When he won the Shamkir Chess 2019 a couple of weeks ago, we felt that the World Champion would not be able to better his 2988 performance, at least in the near future. 22 days later Magnus Carlsen is standing on the podium of the Grenke Chess Classic with six wins, three draws, and a performance of 2990! With this Carlsen not only finished 1.5 points ahead of his nearest rival Caruana, but he also pumped his live rating to 2875.2! There are a lot of things that we could learn from the World Champion, and in this article we bring you six qualities of Magnus that helped him win the Grenke Chess Classic 2019.

Magnus Carlsen with the Grenke Chess Classic trophy. Fabiano Caruana (left) finished second. Arkadij Naiditsch was third | Photo: Grenke Chess 2019

The final crosstable

Carlsen beat Vincent Keymer, Vallejo Pons, Georg Meier, Levon Aronian, Peter Svidler and Maxime Vachier Lagrave to score 7.5/9 and took home his third super tournament of the year. How does the World Champion do it? Well, we bring you six qualities of Carlsen that helps him to dominate the world of chess in a way that no one has been able to do before!

1. Never say never

Vallejo Pons vs Magnus Carlsen, round two

Two things stood out for me when Carlsen was talking about this position:

1. He knew that this was winning

2. He wasn't confident that he could win this in 50 moves


Both of his assessments after the game were accurate. The fact that the bishops are of opposite colours, gives Black a winning position. If the bishops were of the same colour, this would have been a draw. Knowing that the above position was winning helped Carlsen to make a very important decision in the game.

Here Carlsen played the move Be5 and continued the fight. Many players would have instead chosen ...fxe3 Rxb8 e2 Rb1 Re3 Re1 Rxe8 when they are a piece up, but White can draw the game with...

Kg2! and there is no way to save the e2 pawn

Carlsen's phenomenal endgame knowledge, his ability to make the most testing moves and more than anything else his will to win helped him to beat Vallejo Pons in a game that most of the best players in the world would have drawn.

2. Sticking to the openings that he has worked on

Caruana vs Carlsen, Round 4

Carlsen loved to experiment and in almost all of his earlier events we could find him playing all sorts of different openings. But after the World Championship, it seems as if he has found the weapon that makes him feel the most comfortable against 1.e4 - the Sveshnikov! This was tested quite a bit in his match against Caruana. One would imagine that Magnus wouldn't play it much in the tournaments after the World Championship Match. But in the nine games that his opponents went 1.e4 in the Tata Steel Chess, Shamkir Chess and Grenke Chess, the World Champion replied with 1...c5 on seven occasions, clearly showing an interest to play the Sveshnikov. The results were quite phenomenal as Carlsen scored four wins and three draws. Against players like Radjabov, Svidler, Navara, Karjakin, Caruana etc. this is not at all an easy achievement. Carlsen playing 1...c5 shows that he believes in his opening preparation and he is not afraid that his opponents would come with some new idea.

3. Strong players who are familiar are better than weaker unfamiliar players

The biggest stress that Carlsen felt in this event was fighting it out against Vincent Keymer and Georg Meier. In one of the interviews after beating Aronian, Carlsen said that it was much easier to face Aronian because he knew his playing style well. So even though Aronian is much stronger than Meier, Carlsen felt less pressure playing against the Armenian GM as he knew his style of play.

Unfamiliarity regarding an opponent can unsettle even a World Champion | Photo: Grenke Chess 2019

This is also one of the reasons why Magnus was knocked out in round three of the World Cup 2017. It was Bu Xiangzhi who eliminated him. Carlsen is the strongest player in the world, there is no doubt about it, but when he knows his opponents well, he is able to play even better chess. This just goes to show how much psychology goes into Carlsen's choice of openings and moves against his opponents.

4. Finding his own unique path!

I remember going to the venue of the World Championship Match 2013 at the Grand Hyatt in Chennai to see the fifth game between Carlsen and Anand. When I reached the venue Carlsen was pondering on his move after this position:

Carlsen vs Anand, World Championship 2013, Game 5

I was expecting Magnus to play 6.Bd2 when Anand would take the pawn on d4 with his queen and we would get an exciting complex position. Instead Carlsen just retreated his knight back to c3.

This was not a novelty, but experts considered this line to be quite toothless. Black would get in a quick c5 and White would not really be fighting for an opening advantage. Well, Carlsen chose to differ on this. He not only got an opening edge, but he managed to get Anand out of his comfort zone and scored his first World Championship win.

The above episode happened over five years ago. Nothing much has changed since then. Carlsen is still the same - he believes that he can outplay any opponent in the world from a fresh equal position.

This position of the Vienna has been reached in over 1000 games. The three main moves for White are Bb5+ Bxf6 and Nb5. But guess what Magnus did?

He retreated his bishop back to d2 and this move has never been played, not even in correspondence chess. Because it is clearly an inferior move to the other available choices. But Magnus' argument is simple - Aronian has prepared the main lines, I will play an inferior move, which will give us a fresh position and then we will both begin thinking on the board and in such a situation, my chances of outplaying anyone in the world is better! The World Champion always blazes new paths and doesn't walk on the ones that are well trodden. Aronian played 0-0 instead of the principled ...Nxe4 because he was not sure what Magnus had in store for him there.

5. No draws

Carlsen had won both Shamkir and Grenke Chess 2019 with a round to spare. He could have just made a quick draw in the last round and enjoyed his victory, but instead he chose to toil hard on the board. It was not as if Magnus wanted to win at all costs. He just went to the game with an open mind. His opponents in both the events made an inaccuracy in the middlegame and then Magnus saw no reason to go for a draw. He fought hard and won the games. The most important thing is that he gained valuable 8 Elo points from both these games (four against Grischuk and four against MVL).

Carlsen fighting hard against MVL in the last round of Grenke Chess 2019 and winning the game! | Photo: Grenke Chess 2019

6. Competing with himself

Who is the most dangerous sportsperson? The one who competes with himself! The reason? A man who competes with himself is always looking to improve his flaws. For Magnus chess would become quite boring and dull if he compared himself to the other players in the world. He already has an Elo difference of above 50 points over world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, which is huge. For Carlsen it is a battle with himself. When asked after the last round whether reaching 2900 is a realistic aim, Carlsen said, "Earlier I felt that it was just impossible. But now I have three fourth of the way there with a rating of 2875. And I think that this is quite possible."


As you can see Carlsen converted his self doubt (of reaching 2900), into a goal which gives him self confidence. Competing with himself is the reason why Carlsen has managed to remain the World Champion for five and a half years and the World no. 1 for nearly 8 years.

All Magnus Carlsen interviews on the Grenke Chess YouTube Channel

I would recommend you to keep a couple of hours in your hand and go over the videos below. These are all the post game conferences, interviews and analysis videos of Carlsen after his wins at the Grenke Chess Classic 2019. If you watch the videos closely you would learn a lot more about this genius called Magnus Carlsen.

Magnus speaks about his first round win against Vincent Keymer
Carlsen speaks about his marathon win against Vallejo Pons
One of the finest videos in recent times where you can find two World Champions discussing their game after an intense struggle
Carlsen after his win against Georg Meier
Even a strong player like Peter Leko couldn't understand how Magnus beat Aronian. In this video Carlsen shows exactly how he did it!
Carlsen beats Peter Svilder
Discussion on different topics with Gustafsson and Leko after Magnus won the Grenke Chess Classic 2019
On winning the Grenke Chess Classic

If you would like to learn more about Magnus Carlsen and how he became such a fierce player, you can go for the Magnus Carlsen Master Class series DVD where three GMs and 1 IM analyze Carlsen's openings, endgames, strategic ideas and more from his chess career.

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