Carlsen: "This time it’s the real deal"

by Macauley Peterson
10/10/2018 – World Champion Magnus Carlsen returned to Hamburg yesterday evening with the fourth "Play Live Challenge", a clock simultaneous against twelve amateur, beginners and club players who are users of his Play Magnus mobile app. Carlsen, who has never yielded even a half point in prior editions of this event, won easily 12-0 and then gave each of the players some chess lessons in front of the live audience. ChessBase snagged him for a brief chat. | Photo: Lisa Meinen

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Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen

Scarcely any world champion has managed to captivate chess lovers to the extent Carlsen has. The enormously talented Norwegian hasn't been systematically trained within the structures of a major chess-playing nation such as Russia, the Ukraine or China.


Less than a month to London

After the Play Live Challenge (which you can read about below) Magnus had a few minutes to offer his latest thoughts on the World Championship, now just four weeks away. Although he was suffering from a noticeable cold (but said he was fine and we needn't feel sorry for him) and was wrapping up a long day, he was in a good mood. After all, he'd won thirteen chess games on the day! The first was in the morning against Liverpool football player Trent Alexander-Arnold, who Magnus checkmated in just 17 moves.


We spoke in the green room at the Spiegel HQ, upstairs from where the evening's simul took place.

Macauley Peterson: You were in Manchester this morning, did you also spend some time in London in recent days?

Magnus Carlsen: Yeah, I had the chance to look at some hotels and such in London, so it was nice.

MP: What’s your general feel for the venue, neighbourhood, preparations?

MC: I didn’t actually get the chance to see the venue but I’ve heard it’s not bad. But it’s kind of a busy part of London, which is not ideal for relaxing between games but at least there’s no shortage of, let's say, restaurants and all of that. So that’s the good part. But I have to try and find some peace and quiet in the middle of the city.

And a basketball court? 

Yeah, we’re going to try and find that for sure. 

Tonight your opponents were supposed to descend the staircase to music from the Avengers movies but German copyright, GEMA, is relentless, so they had to scuttle that plan, but I gather you’re a Marvel fan.

Not really, no. I’m one of the few who’s not.

OK…setting that aside — if you know the chess historian Olimpiu Urcan, he tweeted recently: "As a Magnus Carlsen fan, it’s slightly alarming to see Fabiano Caruana's wins getting increasingly Carlsenesque in style. That being said, the Norwegian remains a Thanos in a world of capable Avengers." 

Are they though? I mean, he plays extremely well but I feel like his wins are in Caruana-style. He’s playing very very well. I have to give him that. And he played a bunch of tremendous games during the Olympiad. But I hope he’s going to have a more difficult time during the match. But he did play very well at the Olympiad and all of this year.

Magnus walking

Carlsen meant business as he dispensed with his twelve opponents | Photo: Lisa Meinen

Your historical win/loss ratio going into the match is very similar to that going into the Karjakin match, it’s almost 2-1 in decisive games. 

[But] it’s different because I’d barely lost to Karjakin at all, whereas I have lost to Caruana a bunch of times and he’s been doing well in other games as well, so in that sense it’s very different, since there are so many more decisive games. And I also have beaten him like ten times in classical, which is more than almost any other opponent. It tells you that it’s probably going to be a very different match from the ones that I’ve played. I wouldn’t be shocked if there were four decisive games or even five during the match.

This will be your fourth match. Bracketing off the first two — the first being special, and the second being a return match — what do you see as the biggest difference from two years ago? 

The biggest difference is that everybody agrees now that these are the two strongest players. There’s nobody that really questions that, which makes it all the more exciting really, and makes it kind of easier for me as well, because I know it’s 100% legitimate, whereas the previous matches you could always ask ‘what if this guy had qualified’ — like last time ‘what if Caruana had won the last round’, wouldn’t that have been tougher? This time it’s the real deal.

12 lucky chess fans get to Play Magnus for real

Magnus Carlsen is himself a brand and his affiliated company, Play Magnus, offers a trio of chess learning apps and games on iOS and Android platforms. Each of the past three years, the World Champion has taken on users of the apps in a live event. For the second consecutive year, the "Play Live Challenge" was held in Hamburg, this time in partnership with the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel ("The Mirror"). Magnus played twelve opponents in a clock simultaneous exhibition where each player received 30 minutes for the entire game. After the games, Magnus went over each one individually with the players, pointing out mistakes and offering helpful tips. The result was a fun-filled evening in front of a small live audience, plus thousands watching online.

Magnus with the simul participants

Magnus with the twelve simul participants | Photo: Lisa Meinen

Chess has a great tradition at Der Spiegel. In the 1980s, the rise of German GM Robert Huebner was reported in the magazine, there was a Spiegel chess book published and Garry Kasparov played a simul at the firm's headquarters. The epic Karpov vs Kasparov World Championship matches were also covered in depth. Since chess is the ideal sport for the Internet, it has always been a featured subject on Spiegel-online as well and it continues to this day. 

The atrium of Speigel's Hamburg headquarters | Photo: Andre Schulz

The new office building in Hamburg has an airy atrium, in which regular events take place — mostly panel discussions on socio-political topics. Immediately adjacent to the hall is a lavish studio set up to produce, among other things, "Spiegel TV". The Spiegel Group today produces far more than just a weekly news magazine and is very active in digital content, and Carlsen's simultaneous exhibition was streamed live by the in-house production team, which you can replay below.

Carlsen has managed to maintain a perfect record in four Play Live Challenges so far. With twelve opponents and just 30 minutes, he had just 2.5 minutes to allocate to each game, but this proved to be more than enough. Magnus was merciless and completed his task with a comfortable margin.

Live webcast replay

Watch the full show with commentary by GM Daniel King!

The youngest participants were Justus Poniewasz (9 years old) from Hamburg and Bennet Hagner (10 years) from Bad Sodener (near Frankfurt). Poniewasz taught himself chess with the Play Magnus app and has never played a tournament game. His first serious over-the-board opponent was the World Champion!

Justus against Magnus

Welcome to chess Justus...and don't forget to press the clock! | Photo: Lisa Meinen

Constanze Wulf from Hamburger SK and Antonia Ziegenfuß from OSG Baden-Baden, the reigning German U14 champion, were two of the more dangerous opponents. 

Carlsen's tallest opponent was certainly Nils Ehlers. The Hamburg beach volleyball player is 2.1 meters tall and recently finished third at the German Beach Volleyball Championships together with his partner Lars Flüggen. (The team of Jullius Thole / Clemens Wickler won the championship).

Nils Ehlers, beach volleyball player

Nils Ehlers had just had a meniscus surgery and came on crutches. Another athlete, professional boxer Arthur Abraham, was scheduled to participate, but was unfortunately stuck in the rush-hour traffic en route to Hamburg and did not make it in time. 

Ehlers, a hobby chess player, suggested that the difference in aptitude for chess between he and Carlsen was about the same as in beach volleyball, but in reverse. Magnus Carlsen acknowledged that but noted that he had some experience playing against Norwegian volleyball players. At the suggestion of Daniel King, a rematch was agreed in Ehlers' sport. Lucky for Magnus that Abraham, the boxer, did not make it to the simul on time, or else King might have suggested the same terms.

Trent and Wulf | Photo: Macauley PetersonIn his place jumped Nitish Maini, Portfolio Manager at WorldQuant LLC, one of the event sponsors. Pedro Luis Encinas Martin from Spain, Eric Colin from France and Joe Kempsey from the USA provided further international flair; Anna Sylvi Björkedal and Robert Ellingsen from Norway could speak to Magnus in his native tongue; and Christoph Rottwilm, the editor of the German Manager Magazine, represented the written word.

Before the simul, IM Lawrence Trent (at right posing with Constanze Wulf, after signing her t-shirt) gave the twelve simul-goers some quick tips, explaining some basic principles and looking at historical games, and then it was off to face the World Champion. The English Grandmaster and well-known ChessBase author Daniel King moderated the event.

Rottwilm and Wulf provided the longest resistance. For what Magnus Carlsen believed to be the last running game — against Rottwilm — the Norwegian took a chair and sat down. However, after finishing the game noticed that Constanze Wulf still had four seconds left on the clock, with Carlsen on move. That oversight was quickly rectified and the 12:0 was in the bag.

Afterwards, the World Champion discussed the games with each player.

Magnus Carlsen makes his way around

Trent and Abraham

By the time Abraham arrived, the simul was already finished, but he got a few games in against Lawrence Trent

Andre Schulz contributed reporting

All simul games


The Weekly Show

IM Lawrence Trent analyses the highlights

'Til next year!


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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