magnus carlsen story

Magnus Carlsen is just 30 years old, but for 17 of those
years he’s been a grandmaster, for 10, the world no. 1, and for the last 8, the
World Chess Champion. A 7-part documentary that aired during the Magnus Carlsen
Invitational gave a glimpse behind the scenes, including interviews with his
father Henrik, older sister Ellen, manager Espen Agdestein and second Jon
Ludvig Hammer. Magnus reveals he’s always unsure whether he’ll play the next
match for the title, though it’s complicated: “I’m not necessarily that happy
that I have it, I just would be very unhappy to not have it!”

In case you missed it during the Magnus Carlsen
Invitational, we’ve embedded the full 7-episode Magnus Carlsen Story below.

1. Childhood

Magnus’ father Henrik comments:

My wife and I considered our children to be absolutely
normal in many respects, basically. Now later, I understand that they had some
special traits, and clearly Magnus was in to concentrating for hours at a time,
doing various tasks, whether it was Lego or chess or math or sports results.

Chess didn’t immediately catch on with the future World
Champion, however, with the attempt to teach him the game at the age of four
ending in failure:

Magnus had shown a clear indication and ability to certain
activities, concentration activities, that I thought would match well with
chess, basically, so I tried to teach Magnus and his older sister chess when he
was four and a half, and then it was so difficult for them, really. They could learn the
rules, they could play some games, typically I would start with just one pawn
and my king and they would try to beat me with all their forces, but in the end
it was usually a stalemate, or sometimes I even won with my one pawn.

If I had any aspirations for the kids basically that all went
away during the first year or two – fortunately, because it turned out that
chess was much more difficult than I had understood, basically, and when Magnus
started becoming really interested in chess at seven and a half, he said because he
wanted to beat his older sister, then I didn’t have that much ambition on his
behalf and he was allowed to develop and flourish on his own.

By the age of eight and a half Magnus played his first tournament, and
though he didn’t come close to winning he’d had a lot of fun and there was no
going back. “Chess was very much his life from the age of eight,” says Henrik.

2. Euro Road Trip

Magnus Carlsen was an International Master in 2013 when his
parents decided to fulfil a dream and take a year out to travel with their
three kids around Europe. They had a lot of fun, though some things were

I remember also finding an internet café and playing some
blitz online after not having had internet for a month or so. That was also
pretty cool.

It wasn’t your average family vacation, however, since it
included Magnus beating 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov and coming very
close to defeating 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov in an event in Reykjavik,

Magnus comments of the year:

I think the effect on me as a chess player cannot be [overstated].
I had the chance to play a lot of tournaments and also not to think about too
many other things. It’s probably the year where I made the biggest leap… After
that year was over I was a grandmaster and I’d sort of made my breakthrough.

3. 13-year-old Grandmaster

Magnus made GM norms at the start of 2004 in Wijk aan Zee
and the Aeroflot Open in Moscow, playing games that gained huge resonance
around the chess world. He finally clinched the 3rd norm and grandmaster title in
the Dubai Open, with a last-round draw against
Viorel Iordachescu
. Magnus comments:

I still very much remember the nervousness that I felt on
the day and the game where I finally got the title. My opponent I think offered
a draw in a somewhat worse position, and frankly I couldn’t have taken the draw
any faster, because I just wanted the title.

Ellen reveals:

We went to celebrate at McDonalds, which was not like where
we would go to eat every day, and we even got ice-cream as well.

Magnus reflects:

It’s funny to think that is now almost 17 years ago. I’ve
been a grandmaster for much longer than I haven’t.

4: Superstar

By 2012 Magnus had eclipsed the long-standing rating record
set by Garry Kasparov, with Espen Agdestein commenting that Magnus was “almost
too good before the Candidates”. The 2012 London Candidates saw Magnus qualify
for his first World Championship match, but only after a nail-biting battle
with Vladimir Kramnik. 

Espen reveals how he initially delayed telling Magnus he’d
been selected for Time
magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world
so as not to disturb
him during the event. It was only after a loss to Vasyl Ivanchuk that Magnus
was told in the hope of giving him a boost. It worked.

5: MC Hammer

Despite Magnus being the clear world no. 1, a World
Championship match was very different from playing tournaments. As he commented:

Back then I sort of felt that I was really scraping by – it’s
probably time to get a full-time second.

The person he picked was a surprise – his Norwegian
childhood friend Jon Ludvig Hammer, who also had no experience preparing for a
World Championship match. In the video Hammer returns to the spot he got the

6: World Chess Champion

“Well now I can die”, Henrik says he thought after watching
his son win the World Chess Championship from Vishy Anand in Chennai in 2013.
After that, the process of defending the title began, against Vishy again in
Sochi in 2014, Sergey Karjakin in New York in 2016, and Fabiano Caruana in
London in 2018. Magnus felt that last match was different:

He’d had a great year, I hadn’t had a great year, and it
felt when we were playing like we were equals, and in that sense the other
matches it felt like losing is simply not an option, it cannot happen. Obviously
that’s not an attitude that is good if you want to have an enjoyable experience,
but the match in London was a little bit different in that sense. It was an
equal match, and if I’d lost it, it would have hurt a great deal, but still it
didn’t feel like it was impossible, something that couldn’t happen.

Magnus Carlsen’s seconds Peter Heine Nielsen, Jan Gustafsson and Laurent Fressinet gave a behind-the-scenes account of that match here on chess24.

7: The Future

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. If there’s one theme
running through the Magnus Carlsen Story it’s the pressure when the World
Championship is at stake, and that Magnus has a love-hate relationship with that title.  

The thing that everybody mentions first is obviously World
Champion, and I’ve started to over the years identify with that more and more.
It’s nice, it’s opening some doors and it’s a position of great privilege, but
I don’t necessarily think it’s very healthy.

He comments:

I guess in the few years before I became World Champion most
of the time I was pretty happy just travelling, playing tournaments, and most
of the time I would be the best and I was not that concerned with the World
Championship. It changed a bit in late 2012 and early 2013, but it was more
like, let’s just try and get it, because why not?

How did things change after 2013?

After I gained the title the situation became very
different, because then I didn’t want to lose it, I didn’t want any others to
take the title away from me… I’m not necessarily that happy that I have it, I
just would be very unhappy to not have it!

How long will Magnus have the motivation to try and keep the

I think before and after every single match, at least the
last three, it’s been a real question of whether I’m going to play, or I’m
going to play the next one also. I would say that’s still the same. I will most
probably play in 2021, and if I were to win I’ve no idea whether I would play
the next one.

Magnus is set to play the winner of next month’s resumed Candidates
Tournament in Dubai, where he gained the grandmaster title, starting November
24th this year. If he plays, that will be Carlsen’s 5th
World Championship match
, and you can directly compare his achievements to
that other candidate for Greatest Of All Time, Garry Kasparov, who won or retained the title in 6 matches.

As you can see, not counting the abandoned 1984 match, Magnus is exactly matching the rate at which Garry won and defended his title. This year’s match is the equivalent of Garry’s 4th defence, at the age of 30, against Nigel Short in 1993. Can Magnus hold on to the title for another 7 years, or more immediately – if matches are played every two years – surpass the 6 times Garry won or retained his title? Back in 2014 he’d made that his goal.

One thing that’s changed immensely since Garry Kasparov reigned supreme, however, is the access the general chess public has to the World Champion. This Saturday at 16:30 CET you have a chance to play against Magnus, as he takes on chess24 premium members in Banter Blitz!

Simply go to the Banter Blitz with Magnus Carlsen show, hover over his chess24 username MagzyBogues and, when he’s online, you’ll be able to click “Challenge me!” and submit a challenge. If he accepts, you’ll automatically be taken to the game. Good luck!

Chess Mentor

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