Too fast, too strong: Carlsen's Singapore simul

by Junior Tay
10/9/2017 – The October 6th, 2017, was a great day for Singapore chess. Thanks to the efforts of Norwegian Business Association Singapore, World Champion Magnus Carlsen visited the country for a simul against 16 players that was greatly enjoyed and appreciated by all the chess lovers of Singapore. The opposition that Magnus faced was not easy. Some players were rank amateurs, but there were also seasoned experts, with six-time National champion IM Kevin Goh Wei Ming (rated 2461!) being one of the participants. But Magnus showed absolutely no mercy; he cleaned up the field with a 16-0 score in little over an hour! | Pictured: Esther Koh (Business Development Director, Zenitant Holdings), Magnus Carlsen, and Michelle Tay (Director, Hauterobe Pte Ltd) | Photo: Junior Tay

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Astounding speed and precision

In a move greatly appreciated by Singaporean chess fans, Norwegian Business Association Singapore (NBAS) and Simonsen Vogt Wiig law firm organized a simultaneous chess match for 16 players to face the World Champion at the Norwegian Ambassador’s residence on October 6th. The organizers also roped in the support of the Singapore Chess Federation to supply the beautiful wooden Staunton sets for the occasion. Only 16 players could take the seats to face the World champion but the place was jam-packed with Norwegian businesspeople and Singaporean chess fanatics, all joining in the occasion to witness the maestro at work.

Carlsen arriving

Photo: Andrey Terekhov

Prior to Magnus’ arrival, the emcee of the event, Mr Hakon Bruasket Kjel (Senior VP, Telenor Group) remarked to me that it is an honour for them to host someone of Magnus’ stature, and they are glad to create this avenue for local fans to get close to the World champion as well. Well, the serious chess fans operated strategically too, placing themselves at the doorway to ‘ambush’ Magnus upon his entrance and they were rewarded for their strong positional sense with autographs as well as a beaming Magnus pic.

Hakon opened the event by introducing the players who were about to get the game of their lives:

  1. Anders Hellum, Consultant and Global Leader – The Gap Partnership
  2. Tom Hellebø. CEO, The Edge Group (Singapore)
  3. Per Fredrik Aamot, Intern, Norwegian Embassy
  4. Magnus Grimland, NBAS board member and co-founder of Zalora
  5. Are Glørensen, Director, Tronrud Engineering Pte Ltd
  6. William Klippgen, Co-founder of price comparison portal
  7. Morthen Winther, Partner Simonson Vogt Wiig
  8. John Lee Say Siong, representing Singapore Chess Federation
  9. NM Olimpiu Urcan, Chess Historian/Author, Top Chess Journalist on Twitter
  10. IM Kevin Goh Wei Ming, 6 time Singapore champion, CFO Lucence Diagnostics, (Elo 2461!!)
  11. Dr Lee Chien Earn, CEO Changi General Hospital
  12. Pok Wern Jian, former Malaysian national player, Teacher I/C chess in National Junior Colelge
  13. Carleton Lim, founder Fixitchess, grandson of Singapore’s chess doyen Professor Lim Kok Ann
  14. Fridtjof Berge, Associate, Mc Kinsey and Company
  15. Joshua Lim Geok Hock, Head of Trading East, Shell LNG
  16. Alexander Boe, Trading Partner, Telenor

Photo: Junior Tay

Espen Agdestein

One very much appreciated innovation was Team Carlsen’s FM Espen Agdestein’s running commentary to the audience on how each player was doing every few moves.

Soon, it became apparent that Olimpiu, Kevin, Chien Earn and Joshua were putting up strong resistance, especially, Kevin who was assessed to be giving Magnus an interesting fight. Espen also helpfully explained to the audience that typically, a player of Kevin’s stature (a 2461 rated IM) would not be participating in such a simul exhibition but Magnus loves a challenge so there you have it. Before the game, Kevin remarked in jest that he would be facing a third member of the Norwegian Olympiad team, having fought GMs Simen Agdestein and GM Aryan Tari to draws only a month ago. So can he keep ‘Team Norway’ at bay?

As I expected (having witnessed how Magnus dealt with 11 players — including two IMs — in a 2015 online simul) Magnus played almost instantly on each board, moving from board to board with amazing speed. Clearly, the players were placed under tremendous pressure (how does the dude think so fast?) having to deal with his speedy moves.

Within a hour and a quarter, all 16 opponents were routed, though Dr Lee Chien Earn put up great resistance.

Photo: Andrey Terekhov

Four players who gave Magnus the maximum resistance | Photo: Andrey Terekhov

Dr Lee Chien Earn (father of FM Lee Qing Aun) was the last opponent to lay down the arms. Just as we thought it was the end of a great show, Magnus went one better by explaining in detail about how the games went for the stronger opponents he faced! Here’s a transcription of what Magnus commented and the games he was commenting about. (You can replay all games below.)

Magnus Carlsen vs IM Kevin Goh

"Against Kevin Goh, I was probably a bit worse out of the opening. I think he made a crucial mistake by putting his rook on e8, and had Kevin not lost a pawn, he would be In very good shape". He went on to analyse with Kevin in greater detail as seen in the following game annotated by the latter below.

Magnus Carlsen vs NM Olimpiu Urcan

"I also noticed that Olimpiu played the same opening I recently played against Kasimdzhanov. I assumed it was …..(Olimpiu interjected at this point “A bit of trolling?” amid laughter) part of a joke. Anyway, this game I solved this problem of the wayward rook and it is very difficult for Black to improve his position".

Carlsen vs Dr Lee Chien Earn

"I thought I had some advantage from the opening but he defended very stoutly with Knight on e6 and Knight on f6 and I couldn’t for the life of me see how to make progress but eventually I got the pawns moving and I think he played a bit too fast. At several points, it was possible to go for counterplay with ….c4 but I assume especially in a simul, you want to hold and not rock the boat unnecessarily".
Magnus even went to demonstrate to the audience ‘a funny position’, a cute stalemate position for Earn Chien, assuming the latter could get rid of his major pieces (not possible, according to Magnus, to the laughter of the audience).

Photo: Junior Tay

Carlsen vs Joshua Lim

Carlsen playing simul

Epsen remarked that Magnus had a nice finish against Joshua Lim and the World Champion remarked “Yes, I thought at some point you played very well with the regrouping …Rc8, …Bd7, …Qd8, …Ne8 so I sort of had to take action with f4 but maybe you could have played …Nd6 a bit earlier on. If I take on e5, my e4-pawn is hanging as counterplay. Maybe you should go for …e5 at some point to give up a pawn and at least activate the pieces, advance the pawns in front of my king and it might be exposed”.

"In general, I think several of the players were giving too much respect, so maybe next time play a little more aggressively. It’s not easy to strike the right balance".


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.

And with that, the crowd showed their appreciation with much applause. What more can you ask for, a masterclass display, a running commentary during the game and patient post game analysis by the world champion himself! As IM Hsu Li Yang remarked, after the games, Magnus was also very generous with his time after the game with the audience, signing autographs and taking pictures with fans for a long time. A really successful event for which we must really thank NBAS, Team Norway and Simonsen Vogt Wiig for organizing and our host, Norway's Ambassador Designate to Singapore, Ms Anita Nergaard!

Video by Junior Tay

Originally published on Junior Tay's blog and reproduced here with his permission.


A chess author, editor and coach for the past three years after being a school teacher for 17 years, Tay is a former National Rapid and Cairnhill Open Champion and represented Singapore in international events including the Asian Team Championships.


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