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The Magnus Carlsen Interview

by Albert Silver & Priyadarshan Banjan - 02/12/2016

The Match is over. Magnus Carlsen has retained the title for the third successive time. And he pulled this off on his 26th birthday. The classic battle was left in a deadlock after the classical leg and the title had to be decided by a rapid tiebreaker that Magnus won. Albert Silver brings ChessBase India an exclusive interview with audio+text with Magnus Carlsen where you can hear Magnus answer the questions. Magnus talks about the match, preparations, games, psychology, negative thoughts, and more.

The Magnus Carlsen Interview


Rome wasn't built in a day. — French Proverb

The match began as a snoozefest where Carlsen missed a chance after another until he overpressed with frustration. Karjakin won leaving the world champion wondering about his fate. The press conference after the eighth game showed us a Magnus we had never seen before — devastated and angry with himself.


Doubts clouded the champion's mind. In the middle of the game, he would lose the thread, and think, 'How will I win this game?' — 'What happens if I lose the title?'. In the tenth game, in a practically must-win situation with his second-last white, he blundered and Karjakin had a clear route to a draw. 'Not again!' Carlsen cried.


But it was not to be. Karjakin missed his chance. Carlsen was back in the race. From then on, the champion made it count and retained his title.


ChessBase editor Albert Silver, along with a small group of journalists, conducted an exclusive interview with the world champion just a day after he retained his title. ChessBase India has the audio of the entire conversation with transcripts:

You have to click on the arrow to play the audio file which is an unedited, unabridged version of the entire conversation. You can enjoy the interview with the complete transcriptions.

The Questions and Answers...

What has been the last twenty-four hours been like? How did you celebrate your victory and your birthday?


Well, the last 24 hours – those have kind of been the easier ones because I felt, already going into the tiebreaks, I was calm, I was confident. So this wasn’t really the difficult part. Yesterday, it was just a lot of fun and I think and a great chess show.


I talked to Illya Merenzon yesterday. He said that they will consider to change the rules of the game so that you will make comments on the game during the game. Are you ready to participate in such activities to make the game more enjoyable, watchable? Do you think in general you are not against reinvent the chess championships aiding virtual reality, real-time comments, maybe even sensors on the players in the future?


I think AGON are doing some interesting and also good things but giving comments during the game… I don’t know, I have tried that in tournaments before and it is really quite distracting. So I feel it is better to have knowledgeable commentators that do this job instead. As for sensor monitoring, you know, heart rate and other things, I am all for that. I wouldn’t think it’s a bother at all and it would be interesting, I think, for spectators to follow.

The decisive moment 

Yesterday you mentioned something very briefly about controlling your emotions, and so on. Do you think that everything related to psychology – emotions, control, and so on… -- could be your weakest point right now?


Yeah, for sure, I think when everything is under control it is very very difficult to beat me but obviously, my playing strength drops quite a bit when you know everything is not going according to plan. I think I will have to work more seriously in the future. I mean it’s very easy when things are going my way and I am going from victory in one tournament to another and the confidence is there but when it’s not there things fall apart a bit. So it is something I’ll have to think about and work on.


In any other sport, the top stars, most of them, are working with a psychologist, especially in top sports. Are you thinking about it?


More no than ever yes.


Before the loss in game 8, have you slept throughout the last week?


It’s been a bit up and down but in general after game 10 when I won, I have slept very well. It was a little bit difficult to fall asleep yesterday as I was still very excited.


After game 8…?


No, no, after the eighth game and the ninth game, it wasn’t so easy. But after the tenth game, I’ve slept like a baby.

Magnus at the beginning of game 10

This was clearly your toughest world championship so far. Can you point out what exactly was the reason for that? I mean, was Sergey a stronger opponent for you than Vishy? Or it was assumed you were not exactly yourself maybe for like half of the match. Can you point it out and what are the factors behind it?


Well, I think I did a lot of good things in this match in terms of general strategy and openings and such. I mean, to some extent, my failures early in the match to win very good positions is, you know, a statistical coincidence. But when it happens over and over again, of course, there is something wrong. Usually, I should’ve been up +1 or +2 early on, and then it is a whole different ball game. But when he managed to hold those positions, early, I don’t know – maybe I should’ve been more focused on that in my preparations—to train for the fifth, and sixth, and even seventh hours of play. I felt it was clear that I was better than him in the second and fourth hours of play, a lot better, but then he started to defend and it became difficult. But, in some games, I made blunders that I don’t usually make, but I don’t think there was anything like too unusual. Both games 7 and 8 were really just awful. In game 8, I made a gamble at some point which just didn’t pay off and to his credit he really grabbed the opportunity.


What about the external factors that you think – the press conference thing that happened and you had forgotten to write down the move — those are the two factors, to what extent did that affect your play?


No, I mean, of course, the move I missed in the fifth game was the contributing factor to me playing poorly making a blunder in that game but I don’t think it affected me later on. And as for game 8, it’s not my proudest moment. I was just devastated. I couldn’t sit there.


Was there a moment in the match where you believed that you would lose the title and how does that make you feel at this moment?


Yes, certainly, after game 8, I did not have a positive state of mind. I still felt I was the strongest player but it would be very difficult to prove since I had only a couple of chances to win games. I mean, a part of me still believed in it but it was very, very difficult. Again, I think in those moments the important thing is to focus on the process instead of the results but it is very, very, hard and even a bit during the games, I was thinking how am I going to win this rather than trying to make the best move, which is not a very good strategy.

'I think in those (bad) moments the important thing is to focus on the process instead of the results.' — Magnus Carlsen

What was your plan then? How did you overcome these negative thoughts that were invading your mind at this point — family, rest…?


I don’t know. Even before the tenth game, I was not in a great state of mind but I managed to, at least, perform more or less sensibly in that game. Of course, at some point, I blundered. He could have forced a draw and then I was thinking, ‘Not again…’, so I was trying to debate at that point whether I was going to play the sharp positions with two knights against the rook but I felt there were no chances there. I thought, okay, now we go home, and I will have to win with black in the 11th game. And then, okay, he did something else in the game and started in a new direction. I wouldn’t say I really managed to overcome everything. It’s just that I got a break in the tenth game.


Now that the match is over, would it be okay to share who your seconds were?


Yes, I think, some of them have been shared. Peter, of course, and Fressinet, and also Nils Grandelius was in the team. And I think others either don’t want to be named or they want to do the announcement themselves.

Team Magnus: French GM Laurent Fressinet, Danish GM Peter Heine Nielsen, and Swedish GM Nils Grandelius.

Would you say... does it make your victory more gratifying knowing that you won despite not being at your best or is it frustrating for you as a perfectionist?


It is a bit of both. It is good to know that I can win even if things don’t go my way since what happened up until the ninth game was the worst case scenario. But, no, I am not happy about the chances I wasted in the match. It’s not really the main focus right now. Of course, I am always looking to work on my game to be better.


This match had quite a narrative arc – first, you were down and then you finished off with a great mate. So can we call this a classic?


Well, it’s been a fight throughout. It hasn’t been particularly pretty. At least the finish was pretty, at least from my point of view. It’s, most of all, been a fight. For me, that is what chess is about, I think what these matches should be about, and in that sense, it’s been great.

The 16th World Champion

Do you want chess to become a big spectator sport or do you personally prefer a tournament without spectators, just the two of you?


No, generally, I like when people share my love of the game. So, yeah, I welcome anybody who wants to follow chess at the venue, online, as a fan, as a journalist.

The spectators enjoying the match.

Let’s talk about the future from two different angles: first of all, in general, what changes or what do you think should be improved and then, very concretely, you said something about coming back to the knockout system in the world championship. It sounds strange because it sounds like you want to come back to a system that produced champions like Khalifman and Kasimdzhanov.  Can you elaborate a little?


I think that the systems that produced Khalifman and Kasimdzhanov also saw Anand lose one match in three knockout tournaments. But, most of all, I feel that the system should be fair. But it seems that, for now, the chess world doesn’t agree with me on that. They want to have the system that we have and so, for now, that’s what I am dealing with. Again, for improvements, I am open to anything as long as it doesn’t impair our ability to play in the best way possible.


What about chess as an educational tool? You look very sensitive to that. You have been, for instance, visiting the Brooklyn school here. How do you see this for the future?


I am hoping that we will improve – get chess in schools, more places, and more countries – to spread the message that chess is both fun and educational, around the world.

ChessBase editor Albert Silver brings the ChessBase India readers this interview from New York.

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