Magnus Carlsen is called “the Mozart of chess” by many chess commentators because of his meteoric rise to the very top of the chess elite at a young age. On 26 April 2004, Carlsen became a grandmaster at the age of 13 years, 148 days, making him at that time the second youngest grandmaster in history, although he has since become the third youngest. On the November 2009 FIDE rating list, Carlsen had an Elo rating of 2801, becoming the fifth player to achieve a rating over 2800. Aged 18 years, 336 days at the time, he was by far the youngest to do so. On 1 January 2010, at the age of 19 years, 32 days, he became the youngest chess player in history to be ranked world No. 1, breaking the record held by Vladimir Kramnik. On the January 2013 FIDE rating list, Carlsen reached an Elo rating of 2861, thus surpassing Garry Kasparov’s rating record of 2851 set in July 1999.
Magnus Carlsen will turn 23 on November 30th and he has a chance to celebrate his birthday with a World Chess Championship title in his hand. In order to break Viswanathan Anand’s six-year hegemony, he will need to show why he is the number one rated player with the amazing 69 points difference from second place. The World Championship itself stands as the crucial test to someone who has little to prove regarding his talent, and Magnus seems ready to embark the challenge.
If Carlsen gets the coveted crown, he will be the first Western Europe’s world champion since Max Euwe (title holder 1935-1937) and the first Western World’s champion since Bobby Fischer (1972–1975). This, attached to his great public relations work outside the chessboard, is sport’s popularity booster around the globe, bringing the World Chess Championship 2013 to potentially the most seen chess event in history.
Magnus Carlsen is very young, but already has a rich chess career, one that is difficult to encompass in just one preview. We will take a look at the way he worked his way up the very demanding ladder of competitive chess, from his early years as a prodigy until his victory at this year’s Candidates tournament in London in reverse chronological order.
Candidates Tournament, qualification for FWCM 2013
Magnus Carlsen won the 2013 Candidates Tournament after a few dramatic last days. He lost the lead against Ivanchuk, but managed to catch up with Kramnik after a supershow against Radjabov.
In the last round Carlsen lost to Svidler, but so did Kramnik to Ivanchuk.
Carlsen and Kramnik finished with equal points, but Carlsen was declared winner on tiebreak – more wins.
World Champion Viswanathan Anand wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations to Magnus! He always comes through. Vladimir made a huge impression with his play, but what can you do about this tiebreak?”
Games: Replay all games here
Reaching the top (2009 – 2013)
In this period, Carlsen started showing back-to-back strong performances, winning most of the events he participated in, with few exceptions. This propelled him to clear first place in the ratings list, eventually overstepping Kasparov’s historic highest rating.
In one of the greatest all-time tournament performances, Magnus obtained clear first place 2.5 points ahead of the field at the Nanjing Pearl Spring Masters, where his 3002 rating performance left the chess world absolutely amazed.
Given the big number of successful performances in this period, we will present them as a list.
- First place at the 2009 world blitz championship, three points ahead of Anand who finished second.
- First place at the 2009 London Chess Classic, with a 2844 rating performance.
- First place at the 2010 Corus Tournament, despite losing against Kramnik in the ninth round.
- Shared first place alongside Ivanchuk in the 2010 Amber blindfold and rapid tournament. Carlsen also blogged from the event
- Clear first at the 2010 Bazna Kings Tournament, with an impressive 2918 rating performance.
- First place at the rapid Arctic Securities Chess Stars tournament, after defeating Anand in the final match.
- First place at the 2010 Nanjing tournament, a point ahead of second-placed Anand. RP: 2903.
- First place at the 2010 London Chess Classic, thanks to the fact that this tournament uses the Bilbao system.
- First place at the 2011 Bazna Kings Tournament, after edging Karjakin on tiebreaks. Videos here
- First place at the 2011 Grand Slam Masters Final, after defeating Ivanchuk in the blitz tiebreak.
- First place at the 2011 Tal Memorial, after getting a better tiebreak score than Aronian.
- First place at the 2012 Tal Memorial, finishing on +2 ahead of Radjabov and Caruana.
- First place at the 2012 Grand Slam Masters Final, after defeating Caruana in the rapid tiebreak games.
- First place at the 2012 London Chess Classic, after winning five games and drawing three.
- First place at the 2013 Tata Steel Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, 1.5 points ahead of second-placed Aronian.
Among the elite (2007 – 2009)
While still a teenager, Carlsen faced Armenian star Levon Aronian at the first round of the 2007 Candidates Tournament. The six-games match finished tied after each player obtained two victories; the rapid tie-breaks were not enough to define the winner; and only at the blitz games Aronian could defeat his young opponent.
Magnus went on to win the Biel International Tournament after defeating Alexander Onischuk in the Armageddon final tie-break game. He reached the semifinal round of the World Chess Cup in December after defeating Michael Adams in the round of 16 and Ivan Cheparinov in the quarter-finals. In the semifinal, he was eliminated by the eventual winner Gata Kamsky, ?–1?.
In 2008, Carlsen obtained shared first place at Wijk aan Zee with an 8/13 score and a 2830 rating performance. Then, he improved his previous year performance at Linares by finishing in sole second place, half a point behind Viswanathan Anand. At the Aerosvit category 19 event, he finished with an undefeated 8/11 score and a 2877 rating performance (detailed 2008 Aerosvit coverage here).
Carlsen’s first years at competitive level (2004 – 2007)
The strength of Carlsen’s play became obvious when he obtained the first place at the C group of the 2004 Corus tournament in Wijk aan Zee. His remarkable score of 10.5/13 gave him also his first GM norm. Only three months later, he had already gathered the other two norms required to get the maximum title for a chess player; he had strong performances at the Aeroflot Open in February and at the Dubai Open Chess Championship in April. Subsequently, he participated in a blitz tournament where he was knocked-out by Garry Kasparov after having defeated Russian legend Anatoly Karpov.
In 2005, Magnus became the youngest participant at the Candidates Tournament by qualifying at the Khanty-Mansiysk knock-out Chess World Cup. The next year, he played at the B group of the Corus tournament and shared first place with Alexander Motylev, thus gaining the right to play in the A group at the next edition. This was also the year when Carlsen finally obtained the title of Norwegian champion, after having tied for first place and lost on tiebreaks two straight times.
Magnus’ first appearance at the A group in Wijk aan Zee was not successful at all, as he finished in last place with a 4.5/13 score. However, this was the prelude to a very successful performance at the strong Linares event, where he finished in second place despite being the lowest rated player by a significant margin. The young Norwegian was already a member of the chess elite.
An important highlight for the upcoming World Chess Championship was a blitz tournament in 2006. Carlsen won the Glitnir Blitz Tournament in Iceland, where in the semifinals he beat 2–0 Viswanathan Anand.
Carlsen, a bright child (1990 – 2003)
Magnus’ parents Sigrun ?en and Henrik Albert Carlsen quickly realized that their son had a special ability to solve intellectual challenges, combined with a great memory. His father, a chess enthusiast, taught his son the game at age 5. Magnus did not show great interest at first but later came back and started a long road of discovery which would eventually become his ultimate passion.
His first major coaches were former Norwegian champion GM Simen Agdestein and former junior Norwegian champion IM Torbj?rn Ringdal Hansen. The young prodigy showed steady progress while gaining experience at youth and junior national events. In 2003, even before turning 13, Carlsen got the three required norms for the IM title in less than eight months. The first was at the January 2003 Gausdal Troll Masters (score 7/10, 2345 TPR); the second was at the June 2003 Salongernas IM-tournament in Stockholm (6/9, 2470 TPR); and the third IM norm was obtained at the July 2003 Politiken Cup in Copenhagen (8/11, 2503 TPR). After finishing primary school, Carlsen took a year off to participate in international chess tournaments held in Europe during the fall season of 2003.