Weekly chess column
By Harold Dondis and Chris Chase |
JANUARY 20, 2014
Now that the world championship has changed hands, it is perhaps fruitful to take a look at the new champion, Norway’s Magnus Carlsen. He has reached the highest rating on record, 2872, compared to Garry Kasparov’s previous record of 2851. Carlsen is a true phenomenon, coming from a nation of few chess players and now completely fired up by its hero.
Carlsen is an international celebrity, making lots of money and apparently attracting high-decibel crowds.
What’s curious about Carlsen is that his style is simply not glamorous. It seems difficult to compare him to other champions. He certainly does not belong to the class of aggressive players. Mikhail Tal no doubt leads the field in that category, preferring attacking to defending. Next in line is Kasparov, whose personality certainly fits Tal’s style, as does that of Bobby Fischer and Alexander Alekhine. These three also lead the pack when it came to opening preparation. Jose Capablanca was different. He was pure positional player, quiet, with limited opening knowledge. Capablanca didn’t plan, he just played.
In terms of preparation, Kasparov perhaps has a parallel with Mikhail Botvinnik, but the two quarreled as to the necessity of taking risks. Botvinnik said that the player must stay with the percentages. And that seems to have been the attitude of Wilhelm Steinitz, who thought in terms of an accumulation of advantages. Anatoly Karpov was noted for his dogged persistence, Viswanathan Anand was a speed demon, and Fischer calculated with lightning power.
As for Carlsen, he has said he does not put a high price on openings, claiming that chess games are won in the middlegame or endgame. Except for Tigran Petrosian, who was an almost completely defensive player, Carlsen is one of the most laid back and distressing players to contend against. We have no doubt that he knows his openings well enough to prevent any kind of catastrophe. By and large he avoids the well-trodden ways, willing to accept a second or third best move just to get his opponent out of the books. He then finds some weakness and passes into the endgame with an advantage. In the closing portion of a game, he has powerful stamina to excel and win. He is a star who will shine for a long time.