Magnus Carlsen – now we are eighteen

by ChessBase
11/30/2008 – We first introduced the Wonderboy, the "Mozart of Chess", to our readership back in January 2004. In the meantime countless articles have been written about this super-star of chess, who for a few days in September this year topped the live world rankings. Today he is eighteen – a good opportunity to embarrass him with some baby photos we dug up. Happy Birthday, Magnus!

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Let's begin this formally: Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen was born on 30 November 1990 in Tønsberg, Norway. He played his first tournament at the age of eight and was coached at the Norwegian high school for top athletes led by the country's top player, Grandmaster (GM) Simen Agdestein. In 2004, just two months after his thirteenth birthday, he won the C group at the Corus chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee (see our "Mozart" report below), making his first GM norm with an Elo performance of 2702.

Magnus obtained his second GM norm in the Moscow Aeroflot Open a few weeks later. In a blitz chess tournament in Reykjavík, Iceland, in March 2004, he defeated former world champion Anatoly Karpov, and drew a rapid chess game against Garry Kasparov. The third GM norm and title came at the Dubai Open in April 2004, making him the world's youngest GM (at the time) and the second youngest chess prodigy ever to hold GM status.

Magnus Carlsen number one on Live Ratings

After his round four victory over Teimour Radjabov in the Bilbao Masters (and assisted by Anand's loss to Topalov in the same round), Magnus Carlsen climbed to the number one position in the world – on the unofficial Live Rating List that ranks all players over 2700 on a daily basis. Here are the standings on September 5, 2008, at 21:37 CET

# Player
live rtg
01 Magnus Carlsen
02 Vishy Anand
03 Alexander Morozevich
04 Veselin Topalov
05 Vassily Ivanchuk
06 Vladimir Kramnik
07 Levon Aronian
08 Teimour Radjabov
09 Peter Leko
10 Wang Yue

27.01.2004 ChessBase report: "The Mozart of Chess"

This was our first indepth report and our first use of an epithet conferred by GM Lubomir Kavalek of the Washington Post on the then 13-year-old Norwegian came in January 2004. Magnus had made his first grandmaster norm and won the Corus C-group in Wijk aan Zee and our report contains the games of this remarkable young lad whom we advised our readers to watch carefully in the future. It also included a portrait of Magnus Carlsen by Mathias Berntsen.

Magnus in 2001 (aged ten)

Magnus Carlsen played in his first tournament when he was eight. Relatively late some might say, but his development has been dramatic. His talent was discovered immediately and Norway’s best player of all time, GM Simen Agdestein, took on the task of training him. This has proven very successful and with Magnus’ never ending enthusiasm and desire to learn, the results came quickly.

Magnus participated in both World and European Youth Championships (age divided groups), and his best result came in Crete, Greece in November 2002 where he finished second with 9 points (he lost on tie-breakers to his arch-nemesis: Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2433).

Already a star in the chess community in Norway, Magnus is a very well liked kid. He has a smile and natural charm that people love. Often he is observed playing with a football while waiting for his opponent to find a move (or resign).

In order to keep developing his chess he has to work very hard. Until recently it was 2-3 hours a day, now-a-days it is more like 4-5 hours. He spends many hours reading chess books (which he loves), playing on the Internet and training with his tutor. In addition, he also loves to play football, go skiing and even ski jumping! Scary.

To give him the opportunity to develop his talents his parents have sold their second car, rented out their house, and for a year they will be traveling around the world so Magnus can participate in chess tournaments. Magnus’ school work is not neglected at all, but it has to be done in the back seat of a car, in hotel rooms, etc. Both his father and sisters participate in some of the tournaments as well. Traveling around to chess tournaments in different countries is not at all cheap, and it would not have been possible without financial aid. Luckily he has now found a sponsor (Microsoft).

Magnus' memory is said to be photographic. His coach did a little stunt for some journalists: on TV he showed the boy a diagram from a position in a chess book Magnus immediately replied which game it was, from which book, and roughly how it went. His father also has stories of five year old Magnus reciting the name, size and population of all the 430 counties in Norway. This ability is undoubtedly very useful when keeping up-to-date on modern opening theory. One might assume this has been vital when building up his amazing opening repertoire.

Magnus Carlsen is being called “without a doubt the most gifted talent in Western Europe at this time”. He is clearly a player we will see more of in the years to come. Fans can already start looking forward to the next Corus Chess Tournament, where Magnus will be playing in Group B (he qualified directly by winning Group C this year). So, how far can he go? Interesting question. His coach is sure he is 2700+ material and that he might play for the World Championship title one day. That might be true, but there are many obstacles and difficulties to overcome, and numerous things might get in the way. He is still so young, and young people change fast. Perhaps he will suddenly stop improving and grow tired of chess altogether. Let’s hope not. Luckily there are no indications of this yet. He seems hungrier than ever.

2004: Magnus analysing the position with his opponent after the game

19.03.2004: Boy meets Beast in Reykjavik

It was a dream pairing for the organizers: a 13-year-old Norwegian cherub (yes, we actually called him that) faced legend Garry Kasparov in the first round of this Icelandic rapid knock-out event. The result was predictable but it was closer than you'd think. Our report at the time contained a game annotated by Almira Skripchenko.

Carlsen pondering what to play against Kasparov – Photo © Omar Oskarsson

"I was not at all happy with my 0.5-1.5 against Kasparov in the rapid chess game," Magnus said. "I should have won as White. As Black I played like a child!"

Incidentally, it was after this encounter that Garry Kasparov instructed us to "watch this kid". In fact Kasparov wrote a dedication in two volumes of his Great Predecessor series and sent them to Magnus, as an encouragement to the boy. The Carlsen family at first though it was a practical joke, and were overjoyed when they discovered it was real. Magnus' grandfather, we were told, younged (opposite of aged) ten years when this became clear.

30.04.2004: Magnificent Magnus, the world's youngest grandmaster

Magnus had just made his final GM norm with a performance of 2678 at the Dubai Open. This news electrified the chess world because the player in question was just 13 years old, the youngest GM in the world. "He is also a bright and highly eloquent kid," we wrote, and provided a remarkable in-depth interview by Hans Olav Lahlum to prove this claim.

Hans Olav Lahlum interviewing Magnus Carlsen in April 2004

Here a few short samples from the interview. The answers of the lad are as spoken, not doctored or edited. He actually has a very sophisticated level of discourse. Today he does it equally well in a disconcertingly flawless and erudite English.

Magnus: I can’t deny that there has been a lot of traveling lately, and more traveling by car than I really care for. But that part of my efforts to become a professional player has been inaccurately portrayed by the media. It is true that I have not been to school since last summer, and that I have been playing a lot of chess. But it has always been my parents plan to take a year off and show us, their children, the world. And this year was a good opportunity to do so, both for me, my sister and my parents. And I’m definitely going back to school again this autumn...

12 year old Magnus, still a lowly FM (Elo 2326) at the Barentssjakken 2003 tournament.

I have not missed school yet. I do not learn much during ordinary classes. It is so much more effective when mom and dad are tutoring me. I do of course understand the problem a teacher with thirty students has; nevertheless, it is kind of frustrating and under-stimulating for me with all the waiting. I become unmotivated and I spend little time with schoolwork when it is like that. In spite of that I am among the best in my class in all the subjects except for drawing, crafts and other subjects not suited for us with ten thumbs. When I am at school I look forward to the time between classes and to going home, nothing else.

19.11.2004: Magnus comes to town

At the end of 2004 a book about Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian wonderboy, was published by New in Chess in Holland. It was written by his trainer GM Simen Agdestein and is available in three languages. We published a review by Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam when Magnus paid a visit to Amsterdam in October 2004 to promote the book.

"One of the criticisms of the book," Dirk Jan wrote, "has been that it is a bit early to write a biography of a 13-year-old. A predictable reproach, but this is exactly missing the point of the book, which reads like a fairy-tale and depicts the stellar development of a young chess player with an unusual talent and ends with the fulfillment of one of his big dreams, i.e. becoming a grandmaster. On this adventure the reader follows him from his earliest games to his spectacular recent exploits guided by Simen Agdestein, who shows great pedagogical skills and gives the narrative a pleasant pace with his unflagging enthusiasm."

Magnus signing the Wonderboy book in Amsterdam

And here to thoroughly embarrass Magnus on this his eighteenth birthday are some baby pictures taken from the Wonderboy book, with the original captions.

Little Magnus gets going. Here he is nine months...

...and here he is one and a half years old.

Three-year-old Magnus after dinner.

When he was five he found chess unappealing, but at Lego he soon played in higher age categories

Wonderboy (ISBN 90 5691 131 7, 192 pages, paperback) costs 21.95 Euro (14.95 Pounds, US $24.95). Schaakwonder (ISBN 90 5691 126 0) costs €19.95, Wunderjunge (ISBN 90 5691 134 1) €19.80. All can be bought in bookstores, from your chess dealer or in the NIC Shop.

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