Magnus Carlsen about Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, Polgar, Hou Yifan and himself

by Johannes Fischer
5/5/2021 – On Sunday, 2 May, Magnus Carlsen won the New in Chess Classic Online Tournament, the first of the so far five Meltwater Champions Chess Tour tournaments the World Champion, who is as spoilt for success as he is hungry for it, could win. But Carlsen did not only entertain and impress at the board (or screen). In short video clips, shown during the live broadcast, he revealed what he thinks about previous World Champions and showed his amazing chess memory. | Image: Screenshot

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The New in Chess Classic was a rapid tournament, as are all tournaments of the Meltwater Chess Champions Tour. This format leads to a lot of games and a lot of chess entertainment, not least through the live broadcasts in which different teams of commentators follow and explain the action. But what do you do in a live broadcast between the rounds when no games are played?

Here, the live broadcast with David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare again relied on the appeal of the World Champion. They showed a series of video clips, in which Carlsen was asked to assess five previous World Champions, Judit Polgar, Hou Yifan, and himself with the help of four keywords:

  • Genius
  • Entertainment
  • Influence
  • Sanity

Carlsen's answers are interesting and reveal, among other things, how he sees himself compared to his predecessors, and of which player of this select group he thinks the most as a chess player.

Carlsen about Fischer

Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer

No other World Champion was more infamous both inside and outside the chess world than Bobby Fischer. On this DVD, a team of experts shows you the winning techniques and strategies employed by the 11th World Champion.

Grandmaster Dorian Rogozenco delves into Fischer’s openings, and retraces the development of his repertoire. What variations did Fischer play, and what sources did he use to arm himself against the best Soviet players? Mihail Marin explains Fischer’s particular style and his special strategic talent in annotated games against Spassky, Taimanov and other greats. Karsten Müller is not just a leading international endgame expert, but also a true Fischer connoisseur.

Carlsen about Karpov

Carlsen about Kasparov

Master Class Vol.7: Garry Kasparov

On this DVD a team of experts gets to the bottom of Kasparov's play. In over 8 hours of video running time the authors Rogozenko, Marin, Reeh and Müller cast light on four important aspects of Kasparov's play: opening, strategy, tactics and endgame.

Carlsen about Kramnik

Carlsen about Anand

Carlsen about Judit Polgar

Carlsen about Hou Yifan

Carlsen about Carlsen

In another clip, Carlsen once again demonstrated his amazing chess memory – and surprisingly good knowledge of popular culture.

Memory test



Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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Claudioarrau Claudioarrau 5/12/2021 04:43
Magnus says you have to be merciless to be world champion and he has achieved many wins in dry positions against odds. But the fact remains that chess is inherently a game where draws are inevitable if players of equal strength on the day play perfectly. If this makes you mad, regardless of the aesthetics and instructiveness of high quality draws, don't watch it.

Fischer was as uncompromising as it gets when it came to playing for a win. But even he could appreciate reality. In "My 60 Memorable Games", his draw against Gligoric at Bled, 1961, is praised as "A lyrical performance" which had the charm of perfection. On move 26, he comments: "I could see the draw coming but felt the position was too precarious to play for a win". In a nutshell, that is the problem all attempts to discourage draws run up against, certainly at the top level.

By all means have tournaments under rules designed to prevent draws, if wins are the be all and end all. These rules usually involve stacking the odds against one of the players, but that takes no account of the players' relative strengths. Dominant players like Morphy will still dispatch inferior players with ease, even against rook odds.
Green22 Green22 5/11/2021 07:40
I like a lot of the comments. but in my mind how does he NOT give Judit and absolute resounding 10 for Influence?? she's been promoting Chess for what 20+ years now around the world. She has had a HUGE impact on that. Good Lord Carlsen get a clue bro.
methos methos 5/9/2021 02:13
This is rubbish.
The only worthwhile indicator is strength, although influence is interesting.
As far as influence goes, the others rate 0 and Fischer 10.
How many of the others have been continuously on the front pages of world media?
How many have had mainstream movies made about them?
How many books have been written about them compared to him?
What would their earnings be without him?
The ingratitude is mindboggling.
Before him some of the top players of the past starved to death in poverty.
Getting back to strength, there is a tendency of the later players to say they faced stronger opponents.
I suppose they have to use spurious agruments to try to convince the world they are the best - after all they have pretty decent egos.
That is to cover up that they just squeaked past a lot of their opponants.
Carlsen's recent defences were a disgrace to chess.
Kasparov and Karpov ended up about even. while Korchnoi nearly beat Karpov and Kramnik demolished Kasparov.
Everyone, including Karpov, admit Fischer would have won the 75 match.
So what you have is Fischer obliterating his opponants compared to what from those that came after?
To honestly say any of them would have beaten him in a match is delusion.
The second argument is length of reign.
Lasker and Alekhine had long reigns by avoiding the most dangerous opponants.
It also means nothing compared to who would beat who in a match - who is the strongest.
The other important elements are will to win and self belief,in which Fischer would rate twice as high as the rest.
Look how many egos he broke - including Petrosian, probably the hardest nut to crack.
And who of the rest could come back from a -2 start to demolish a world champion?
Have we seen any of the others perform in the candidates like Fischer did?
Poiuy Trewq Poiuy Trewq 5/8/2021 07:08
ChessTalk beat me to it, I believe it was GM Larry Evans who once said that Fischer was the sanest man ever to sit at a chessboard--pure reasoned logic dominating his play. Thus, the "sanity" metric should have been limited to the chessboard, and and so could have reflected their emotional involvement in the game, from romantic (Spassky), phlegmatic (Petrosian), risk-seeking (Tal), avant-garde (Larsen), etc. You can tell I came of age in the 1960s! My second critique is regarding Fischer's unquestioned influence on how chess was brought into the spotlight worldwide--I would equate his impact to that of Muhammad Ali in boxing or Pele in football. It is hard for someone of Carlsen's generation to fathom how much a niche sport chess was prior to Fischer, with reporting limited to specialty magazines or back pages of newspapers, and miniscule monetary rewards--Fischer single-handedly changed all that, and chess players the world over benefited ever since. In terms of genius, how many players created such gems as Fischer did against Donald Byrne (at age 13!) and later Game 6 in his match with Spassky? You don't have to play like a genius every game, but you know it when you see it. Lastly, combining genius and influence we must give credit to Fischer for his clock and his implementation of bonus time in regulating game play--it is the dominant form of time control since the 1990s--again, who (aside from Staunton, who only gave his name to a style of chess pieces) has impacted everyone of us who plays competitively today?
ChessTalk ChessTalk 5/8/2021 06:14
One could ask if it is even possible to win a world chess champion without sanity. Over the board, Fischer was quite sane. He also had to have iron nerves to deal with the pressure of competing against the Russian School of Chess and a formidable champion in Spassky. Off the chess board, one can question Fischer's sanity. But on the board? Give us a break. I think Fischer came from a generation that loved Frank Sinatra and regardless whether Fischer liked Sinatra, Fischer did it his way. A forceful individual with uncompromising style.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 5/8/2021 01:06
The observation first expressed below by Minnesota Fats is very astute, and retspan describes it even more accurately. When I think back to the great chess-players and their comments, the players they have faced repeatedly and/or overcome are always rated as much stronger than others.

@Derek880, it does not make sense to consider engine analysis of games that were played before engines were invented/strong. Of course players who came in later times by necessity had to be more accurate, and were able to be more accurate, because of engines. The fact that players today are stronger at defense than previous generations is a credit to engines, not today's players.

As alluded to below, it's also interesting to compare the player conditions when growing up - Fischer eg, in poverty and with an unstable situation, vs. Carlsen, in Norway.
excalibur2 excalibur2 5/8/2021 12:29
None of these so called ratings make any sense at all which just further confirms that as much of a chess savant Carlsen is, he's not a very smart guy all round
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 5/7/2021 10:22
I would like to pose the question, what does Sanity mean? on what bases is it defined in the interview?

According to Western (European/USA) thinking?
According to Eastern thinking?
According to science?
According to believe or religion?

Who are you to say another is not sane?
alphamaster alphamaster 5/7/2021 02:11
Carsen does not tell the truth about Fischer because 1. Is the only one deceased so is an easy target. 2. Is one of two (in this list) who considered clearly better than him. Especially as to the genius item Fischer achievements at so young age are unparalleled till now (especially considered the time he achieved them). But in all items he also downgrades him.
retspan retspan 5/7/2021 06:35
@MS_Sando8 I agree. Fischer lived and breathed chess. He worked hard at it. But perhaps that's why some people view his accomplishments as more due to hard work and less due to genius. They conveniently forget that on his way to becoming world champion he took on the entire Soviet chess machine practically all on his own, starting from Taimanov, on to Petrosian, then on to Spassky. I submit that hard work would have taken Fischer far. But to get to the very top, fair credit must be given to his genius as well. Now, as to his sanity level, if there was a '0' he'd qualify for that, too.

It's understandable that Carlsen would rate Anand and Kramnik high. He beat those guys. To rate them lower would diminish his accomplishment. It's also understandable that he would rate his mentor, Kasparov, high. His training with Kasparov helped a lot in getting him to the top of the rating list.
Logos Logos 5/7/2021 06:04
Great article - thank you.

I wish they had used a better term than "Sanity" (reminding one of insanity or lunacy - terms which are biased to say the least). I think a more suitable term such as "mental health" helps us do a better evaluation. In this case, it reminds us that a person's mental health is a continuum - it fluctuates through one's life. For example, in Fischer's case, it deteriorated after he became world champion.

As for genius, the word is subjective; the first thing is to define it; what does it include and exclude? Does it include only gifts such as visual memory? What about qualities such as will power, perseverance and the ability to recover from setbacks? There are some who argue that we should include personality when measuring genius. The point being that we are likely to measure differently depending on how we define the term.

Regardless, a fascinating interview. Thank you.
MS_Sand08 MS_Sand08 5/7/2021 04:44
I would like to comment a bit on the remark of chesstalk below.

First, compare the social conditions of Bobby and Magnus, in particular in their youth. Worlds apart.

Genius: what it is about? Kasparov was raised by the Soviet school of chess. Later on, he had an armada of people helping him finding opening novelties fitting to his style. Again: how in the world you want to make a fair comparison to the conditions Fischer had? Call it want you want but the fact that a single person was able to become superior to a whole system is an achievement which I still rate higher than any other in chess.
RJV RJV 5/7/2021 02:17
Anand, a five time 'minor' world champion, Gerald C? That is sanity level '1' 😂
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 5/6/2021 11:29
Fischer and Kasparov would score equal on their will power to win a game. Carlsen might be just slightly behind them.
bbrodinsky bbrodinsky 5/6/2021 11:15
Fischer deserved a 10 in genius (but a 1 in sanity). I think Carlsen is guilty of recency bias. Fischer’s pure IQ is a matter of record. And to declare his chess as anything but “genius” is unfathomable. Only Kasparov could be rated equal or higher in this category.
Derek880 Derek880 5/6/2021 04:44
Always great to get an insight from a World Champion. Especially as he approaches being the 2nd best chessplayer of all-time behind Kasparov. Despite the angst from the Fischer fans, I don't think Carlsen underrates Fischer at all. Carlsen, for his youth, has proven and earned his respect in terms of being able to speak on this. Fischer was sort of like Capablanca, and possibly a more active version of Karpov. But he wasn't some huge genius in terms of what his fans like to think. His style wasn't the most exciting, he wasn't truly dynamic on the level of Kasparov, and in spite of what fans may think, he wasn't some great master of attack. Like any other grand master from that era, engine analysis has discovered some mistakes in his analysis and play. While his My 60 Memorable Games is a decent book, I've never seen it as the best books of games by a GM. I would give that honor to Alekhine and Keres books of their games. In fact, I think Shirov's Fire on Board is actually even better than Fischer's book. Lastly, he didn't defend his championship against the top contender of that time. To be honest, I don't think he had any intention of doing so. Which make claims of him being the best ever quite a bit farcical. Carlsen's evaluation of Kasparov is spot on. Kasparov is the greatest ever and proved so by successfully defending his championship over a 15 year period, while holding the record for the most consecutive tournament victories where he place first or equal first in 15 straight tournaments from 1981-1990.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 5/6/2021 04:35
I don't understand how he could only give Fischer a 7 on the genius scale. If Kasparov is a 10 by his rating, then Fischer is definitely a 10! No question.
Gerald C Gerald C 5/6/2021 11:11
V. Anand and V. Kramnik who were minor world champions are obviously overrated by M. Carlsen.
amarpan amarpan 5/6/2021 02:42
I think he underrates himself in all categories.
ChessTalk ChessTalk 5/6/2021 01:03
You can tell there is a World Championship coming up. So much hype.
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 5/5/2021 09:35
@tom_70 most GM's know these famous games.... they weren't the most rare games GM Howel showed .... He should have showed some games of Sultan Khan for example or from So's world championship games in Fischer Random chess....
tom_70 tom_70 5/5/2021 09:24
His chess memory is astounding.
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 5/5/2021 09:05
It's normal that a young player always rates his closest predecessors (with whom they grew up or looked up to) higher than predecessors before these and than the ones before these .

There is a (psychological) bias in reasoning and analyzing, especially with youngsters like under 30 years old. Once they get to 40, they kind of learn to take a step back and look more broadly...and see more things than there closest history or closest idols. Their worldview/helicopter view kind of shift gears and opens up for more than just their world that they grew up in.
mehmet17 mehmet17 5/5/2021 08:26
Those are Magnus's thoughts but I don't believe many are true. Karpov beat Anand in a crucial match when his career was already in a decline. And also underrating Fischer's genius quite a bit IMO.
Edwin Meijer Edwin Meijer 5/5/2021 08:06
Someone has gained some corona pounds
Vidmar Vidmar 5/5/2021 08:04
Of course ratings are inflated and the subject of who is the greatest will always be open for debate. We shouldn't be mocked for expressing our (widely held) opinion.
adbennet adbennet 5/5/2021 06:59
Talent plus hard work equals illusion of genius.
Quiet manner plus careful words equals illusion of sanity.

ChessTalk wrote: "Magnus will never understand Fischer. "
Just like the rest of us.
Mawin Mawin 5/5/2021 06:48
Karpov ought to get a 10 at "genius", because he solved all problems at the board, and he is the most successful chess player in history.
PIETRO2009 PIETRO2009 5/5/2021 06:26
Bobby Fischer is the strongest player in the History. He is not comparable to the others.
chessgod0 chessgod0 5/5/2021 04:51
I think he underrates Fischer's genius and overrates his sanity.

Fully agree on Kasparov.
Vidmar Vidmar 5/5/2021 04:21
Magnus is quite honest and accurate about himself, but manifestly underrates Fischer. Bobby destroyed his 2 nearest predecessors, Spassky and Petrosian, and (as a youngster ) played to a standstill the 3 previous World Champions, Tal, Botvinnik , and Smyslov.
No way Carlson, Kramnik, or Anand comes close to Fischer's genius.
I believe an argument can be made for both Karpov and Kasparov, though.
semprun semprun 5/5/2021 04:14
Fantastingly interesting article. THANKS
ChessTalk ChessTalk 5/5/2021 04:14
Magnus will never understand Fischer.
Vibov Vibov 5/5/2021 03:56
* Fischer only 7 at genius (the least among all the mentioned world champions; on par with Polgar)
* Anand less entertaing than Kramnik (7 vs. 8)
* Karpov with less influence than Polgar (8 vs. 9) - mostly due to the gender factor, but objectively quite questionable? Even Carlsen's own style is arguably quite Karpovian.
* Kramnik with lower sanity than Magnus himself (8 vs. 9) - I wonder why that would be.
tonttu tonttu 5/5/2021 09:59
Very interesting insights from Magnus. And he is far too modest of course about himself :). What an incredible memory and chess talent he has!