Why is chess easier than snooker

Magnus Carlsen: "I thought how am I supposed to win this?"

New York - Magnus Carlsen is not a man of many words. The day after successfully defending his title against Sergej Karjakin, the Norwegian world chess champion in New York invited a handful of journalists to talk to the Ritz Carlton. The STANDARD was part of the party.

DEFAULT: In the press conference after the last game you briefly mentioned that it was not easy for you to control your emotions in this competition. Do you think this is your biggest weak point at the moment?

Carlsen: Yes, definitely. As long as I'm in control I think it's very, very difficult to beat myself. But obviously my skill level drops significantly if things don't go according to plan. I think I may have to work more seriously on this in the future. Because when things are going well for me, everything is very simple: I go from victory to victory and the self-confidence is there. But when it isn't there, everything breaks up a little.

DEFAULT: In almost all other sports, the top players work together with specialized sports psychologists. Are you considering that now?

Carlsen: Yes, more than ever.

DEFAULT: It is well known that good, long sleep is very important to your performance. Did you sleep well during the competition, including during the critical phases?

Carlsen: After the defeat in the eighth game, it wasn't easy for me to fall asleep. But after winning the tenth game, I slept like a baby.

DEFAULT: How did you experience the last phase of the World Cup match?

Carlsen: The last phase was a lot easier for me than the days before. Even before the tie-break I had a very good feeling, I was confident and calm. I had a lot of fun on Wednesday when the tiebreaks were played and I think they had a good chess show.

DEFAULT: This competition was clearly the toughest of the three World Cup matches that you have played so far. Was your opponent stronger than you expected?

Carlsen: I think I got a lot of things right in this match, basic strategy, opening work, and so on. Normally, given the positions I won in games three and four, I should have been in the lead early. In that case it would have been a completely different match. Maybe in my preparation I should have concentrated more on the game in the fifth, sixth, even seventh hour of a game. Because I had the feeling that I was superior to my opponent in hours two and three of the games. But after that he started to defend himself very well and it got difficult for me.

DEFAULT: Have you not been able to call up your usual strength yourself?

Carlsen: In some games I may have made mistakes that normally don't happen to me. But I don't think there were any too unusual dropouts. Games seven and eight were just terrible for me. At one point in game eight I just gambled and it didn't work.

DEFAULT: Were there any outward appearances that influenced your game? Like when you forgot to write a move on your score sheet in game five? Or the conflict over the press conference after game eight, which you did not attend?

Carlsen: The forgotten move certainly contributed to the fact that I made a big mistake later in this game. But I don't think that was what bothered me in the other games. And the thing about the press conference - well, that was definitely not a moment I'm proud of. But I was just devastated, I couldn't sit there.

DEFAULT: At any point did you expect to lose the world title?

Carlsen: Yes, after the eighth game I wasn't at all positive. I still thought I was the stronger player. But I feared that it would be very difficult to prove it. Because there weren't many chances to win any more games. Part of me still believed in victory, but it was very, very difficult for me.

DEFAULT: How did you deal with these feelings?

Carlsen: Of course, at moments like this, the most important thing is to focus on the process and not think about the result. But that was extremely difficult for me at that moment. Even during the games I sometimes had to think: How am I supposed to win this? Instead of simply looking for the best move. Obviously, this is not an optimal strategy.

DEFAULT: And then how did you manage to overcome these negative thoughts?

Carlsen: I dont know. Before the tenth game, I wasn't in particularly good shape either. But at least I was able to pull off a more or less decent performance in this game. Of course, Sergej could have forced the draw at a certain point, and I just thought: not again! I was convinced that we would go home straight away and that I would have to play for a win in the eleventh game with Black. But then Sergej played something different and the game started all over again.

DEFAULT: Does the fact that you did not show your best chess in this match make the win even more valuable, or is it frustrating for you as a perfectionist?

Carlsen: A little of both. It's good to know that I can win a World Cup match even if it doesn't go well for me. Because what happened up to the ninth game in this match was almost the worst-case scenario for me. But of course I am still dissatisfied with the way I have converted my chances, I always want to improve my game.

DEFAULT: How would you characterize the match overall?

Carlsen: I think above all it was a fight. And actually that's exactly what chess and such matches are all about for me. In that sense it was great.

DEFAULT: Ten million people followed the match live on the organizer's website, and ten thousand spectators were there in total. How do you see the development of chess in the direction of spectator sport?

Carlsen: I like it when people share my love for this game. That's why I'm happy about everyone who is there at chess events - whether on site, via the Internet, as a fan or as a journalist.

DEFAULT: You have repeatedly expressed yourself positively about the knockout mode in which world chess championships have been held for a number of years. If you return to this system, do you not fear that the title will be devalued by random world champions?

Carlsen: For me the most important thing is that the mode is fair. The chess world doesn't seem to share my positive view of the knockout system right now and prefer matches in the current mode, so I have to deal with that. I'm always open to improvement, but the most important thing is that we players are able to show our best chess.

DEFAULT: How do you feel about the future of chess as an educational tool? You have shown an interest in this aspect, for example you attended the Brooklyn School here in New York.

Carlsen: I hope we can get chess into schools in more countries. Because it is important to me to spread the message all over the world that chess is fun and educates at the same time. (Anatol Vitouch, December 2nd, 2016)


STANDARD conducted the interview together with other journalists.

MAGNUS CARLSEN (26) from Tonsberg in Norway won the world chess title for the third time in New York on Wednesday. Carlsen is hailed as the pop star and child prodigy of his sport.