Portrait of a World Champion

Magnus Carlsen (30 November 1990)

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen, in full Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen, was born on 30th November 1990 in Tønsberg, Norway.

Carlsen's father first taught him the rules of chess when he was five years old. Aged eight, he took part in his first tournament. Carlsen finished second in the boys' under-12 section at the 2002 FIDE World Youth Championship in Iráklion, Greece.

In January 2004 he won his first tournament, at Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands. Though he played in the weakest C-group, his total domination of the tournament, perhaps best illustrated in a 29-move game ending in checkmate, marked him as a player with massive potential. This win also prompted American grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek to nickname Carlsen the Mozart of chess. In March 2004, at a blitz tournament in Reykjavik, he beat former World Champion Anatoly Karpov and drew in a game against former World Champion, Garry Kasparov. Carlsen obtained the grandmaster title by finishing joint second at the Dubai Open Championship in April 2004.

He finished in tenth place at the 2005 World Cup in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia. He thus became the youngest player to earn a place in the Elista Candidates matches. These were played in 2007 and its top four players received a place at the FIDE World Championship later that year in Mexico City. However, in the Elista qualifying tournament, Magnus was defeated by Armenian player Levon Aronian in the first round.

Carlsen went on to win at the Pearl Spring tournament in Nanjing, China, in October 2009 with 8 out of the maximum 10 points, and this was considered one of the all-time best tournament performances. In November that year, he won the World Blitz Championship in Moscow.

FIDE announced, in its January 2010 rating list, that Carlsen was the top rated player in the world. He had recently turned 19, so he was the youngest player to ever become number one. Also in 2010, Carlsen was hired by the Dutch clothing company G-Star in an advertising campaign. Carlsen caused quite a stir of surprise in the chess scene when in November 2010, he decided to miss the 2011 Candidates matches, arguing that the championship structure was flawed and that the reigning champion should not receive an automatic seeding into the final round.

However, Carlsen did take part in the 2013 Candidates tournament in London. There he secured the challenger spot against Indian Viswanathan Anand, since he had collected enough wins in the tournament to overcome the Russian Vladimir Kramnik, who had the same total number of points. In November 2013 Carlsen defeated Anand in ten games in their first match in Chennai, India, by the score of 3 wins and 7 draws. Carsen was the second youngest player, after Kasparov, to win the World Title. On the May 2014 FIDE rating list, Carlsen reached his top Elo rating of 2882, the highest in history. He defended his title successfully in November 2014, once again defeating Viswanathan Anand, this time in Sochi, Russia. In November 2016, he defeated Russia's Sergey Karjakin to claim his third World title. The twelve-game match ended in a tie, but Carlsen prevailed in the rapid tiebreaks, winning with a spectacular queen sacrifice in the final game.

From the onset of his career, Carlsen impressed his coaches with a prodigious memory. This he has used in his career to play a wide range of openings. He favours a positional style of play in which the maximising factor is overall control of the board, rather than attacking opponent’s pieces.

Who knows what Carlsen will be capable of in the future years? One thing is certain - he belongs to an era where the top players' average age is continuously decreasing, and the competition is very tough at the highest level, so it is comparatively harder to hold on to one's supremacy now, than it was in recent years. Only time will tell!

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