Magnus Carlsen: ‘I just want to win one more tournament!’

World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen hasn’t won a tournament since
Altibox Norway Chess in mid-October, and even then a last-round loss to Levon
Aronian took some of the gloss off the win. In the aftermath of losing the
final of the Opera Euro Rapid to Wesley So, Magnus talked to Ilya Levitov about
his motivation, how he feels the World Championship should be decided and much
more. Magnus explained that when he was young he was “spooked” when he played
Russians, since he thought they knew everything!

The interview with Ilya Levitov, who used to be in charge of
the Russian Chess Federation, can be watched in full below on the Levitov Chess YouTube channel.  

We’ve transcribed Carlsen’s answers belows, with the questions shortened in
most cases:

Are interviews harder
than playing?

Magnus Carlsen: Well,
these days playing is very hard for me, but yeah, it’s not so easy just to talk
and talk and talk.

Are you tired after playing

No, I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Obviously any
tournament that ends the way that it ended for me, with a disappointment, you
have the feeling it was very close and there could have been more, but I would
say recently I haven’t been playing well at all. I haven’t been feeling that
things are breaking through, so looking back I’m still feeling like the last
tournament was a step in the right direction. Yes, there were still lots of
things that I could do better, but I still feel like I played some good games
and I could actually be a little bit creative even sometimes, so it wasn’t that

Do you still get as
upset at losing as 10-15 years ago?

I think it’s still the same feeling, to be honest. I think
it’s about how you deal with it in retrospect, after the tournament, but
certainly right in the moment 

I get just as upset when I lose as I used to. The
drive to try and win every game – that’s certainly still the same.

Do you miss regular
off-line chess life?

I certainly miss playing regular tournaments, yes. I was
very grateful to have the opportunity to play in Wijk aan Zee and I would love
to do more of that. I think it’s been great to have the opportunity to play
online, to play high quality chess there, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t want
to play over-the-board anymore, so whatever opportunities I can have for that
this year I will be very happy to have.

Is playing offline
and online the same for you?

I think it’s quite similar. The feeling that I have, the
thoughts that I have – they’re not that different. As you said, the main
difference is the time control, and I simply think that people don’t have the
patience to sit at home and play classical games online, but I think apart from
that the difference is not that great. I think at the start I feel like I saw
the board a bit differently online, maybe there are some geometries and so on
that you can feel better when you’re playing over the board, but I feel with
experience that difference is not so big now.

As World Champion are
you concerned about the lack of opportunities for 2500 players?

I think there are certainly new opportunities online for
people who want to make a living from chess, but purely from playing of course
it’s getting very difficult. Also one thing is in a longer perspective I’m not
sure that it’s great that you educate younger players to become only rapid and
blitz players online, so I think in that sense it’s not fully a positive thing
that so many things are online now, but yes, it’s just a very, very difficult
question and I think in general what you need to do is adapt.

If you used to make a living playing open tournaments and
travelling around Europe, for instance, and this is not a possibility anymore, then yes, that’s bad, but you have to adapt, otherwise you won’t get by. But
certainly it’s not been easy for everybody. I know also in Norway a lot of
young players who have very few opportunities now.

What’s your ideal
World Championship format? You previously suggested playing 4 rapid games a day instead of 1 classical game. 

It depends on what you want to see. 

If you want to see who
the best player is, then you should play a lot of games – it’s as easy as that! 

I think what happens now is that when you play 12 or 14 games it’s a pretty
short distance and I really think that the value of a mistake is very high, and
against any of the top players it’s really hard to get back if you’ve lost an
early game, so I think the format is not great for deciding who the best player

I think it’s only good in the sense that the matches are
almost certainly going to be very tight and there’s going to be intrigue about
who is going to win until the very end, but I think as a system for determining
the best player it’s not very good.

Would you switch to
rapid games for the whole World Championship cycle?

I don’t know. I think classical chess still has a place. I
just don’t know if it should be the no. 1 priority, if it should be the most
prestigious. I don’t think people should stop playing, I think it has some
value that there’s a cycle, but certainly…

I would prefer the Championship to be

Why is the 2 million euro
prize fund lower in Dubai lower than for some of the Karpov-Kasparov matches
despite the recent chess boom? 

I don’t know. Still, I think the prize fund is up from what
it was last time, so that’s an improvement. I don’t know, to be honest…

Are you ok with that?

I don’t think it’s a great development, clearly. There have
been matches with more money and more prestige in the past, but I understand
it’s not an easy job.

After PlayMagnus
bought New in Chess are you building a chess empire? What’s the plan? Or is
that a question to the suits and ties?

Yes, I think it’s mainly a question for them. I think we’re
just trying to bring something to everybody and to have different platforms,
but I’m not the one making these decisions. That’s not my expertise at all.

You don’t participate
in the business?

I’m certainly kept informed about it, this I can say, but I
don’t think I should make a decision on whether the company should buy this or
that, because there are more qualified people there. I’m more giving advice
like what we should do about the Champions Chess Tour, the format and all of

What was your first
and maybe most memorable experience of the Russian Champions, before Garry?

I certainly read a lot about Russian and Soviet chess, and
for me it was always something very special. I actually remember thinking as a
young player, the first time that I beat a Russian that will be something
special for me, and the first tournament that I played, I played the European Under
12 Championship in 2002, and my only thought there was who are the Russians,
how strong are they? 

I was so spooked every time I played a Russian because I
thought they knew everything… 

…and as far as I can remember I scored 6/9, and the
four games that I didn’t win were against the Russians. I lost to Ian and I
lost to Andreikin as well, and then I made draws with Khairullin and with Potapov,
so I’m trying to think what was the first time I actually beat a Russian, and I
cannot even remember.

I only remember the 2004
Aeroflot Open, your game against Dolmatov, and I remember Garry standing there
and saying that you should remember this name, this is forever.

The game against Dolmatov was good, but I thought maybe the
game against Shaposhnikov was even better actually, from the same tournament.
Obviously less spectacular, but I thought that was better.

1. d4
2. c4
3. ♘c3
4. ♕c2
5. dxc5
6. ♘f3
7. e3
8. b3
9. ♗b2
10. ♗e2
11. g4
12. ♖g1
13. ♘g5
14. O-O-O
15. ♘ce4
16. ♘xc5
17. f4
18. ♘xf7
19. ♖xg1
20. ♖xg7
21. ♘xd8
22. ♗f6
23. ♕xh7
24. ♕g6
25. ♔b2
26. ♗g5
27. fxg5
28. ♕f6
29. ♖g8+
30. ♔c3


Did you study with
any Russian grandmasters before Garry?

No, I don’t think so. The only thing is Grandmaster
Alexander Baburin came to Oslo once, he had a training session with me and one
other, that was the only thing, but he was already Irish at that point, but
still part of the Russian Chess School, I guess.

Did you have any
particular admiration for the Soviet Champions, Tal or Petrosian or Spassky, or
it was all just study material for you?

I read a book on Tal when I was young and I certainly found
it impressive, but no, I would not say anything in particular. I would say that
maybe my favourite experience from reading about the Soviet Chess School has
been more recently. Right now I’m reading about the Soviet Chess Championship,
I think from 1921 to 1937, which has recently been released in English, and
that’s very interesting. It’s really fascinating. This shocked me as well. They make
some extremely simple mistakes, but the level of ideas for that era is very

Once in Moscow I witnessed
a conversation where you exchanged a lot of games you remembered with Levon
Aronian – I was shocked with the level and quality of your chess memory. Is
that something you were born with or trained?

I think I definitely was born with a great memory. I read a
lot when I was young and I saw a lot of games and it’s still sort of sticking
and, obviously, speaking to Levon about these things is fascinating, because
he’s somebody who has a great knowledge of the past.

Do you think it’s
important for the modern chess players to know the past?

I don’t know if it’s important, I just think it’s very

Do you still have the
motivation to play at the highest level, and if so, what is the motivation

Now I just want to win one more tournament! 

One more
tournament. That’s the first goal. I still want to try and be better, try to
learn more, so I think there is nothing that I haven’t won that I can win, but
I want to do it again, and I want to learn more, and I can see what I knew
about chess even five years ago… I think everything is updating so fast and
there is so much more to learn there, so motivation is not a problem.

Updating because of
the computers?

I think partly, yes, because of computers. Even what you
thought you knew recently is not necessarily true anymore.

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