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Carlsen: “Pure chess, physical training and mental preparation”

The World Chess Championship match is just 7 days away, with the reigning World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, facing Russian’s No.1 and 2021 Challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi, at the Dubai Exhibition Centre.

Photo: World Chess

Recently, Nepomniachtchi and Carlsen have been interviewed about their preparation and the three-time World Champion was all about thanking his team and friends.

Carlsen, who is usually very guarded around the Match, gave an uncharacteristically candid email interview to Gulf News. Here are the main take-aways:

Q: Thanks for doing this one. Your world championship game against Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi has been billed as one of the marquee events of Expo 2020. What’s your take on it?

You are welcome. I think organizing the World Championship match in chess at the Expo 2020 is a very good idea. With hundreds of thousands of daily visitors to Expo 2020 and the relatively broad global coverage of the World Championship match digitally, I hope the execution of the match will bring out synergies for both Expo 2020 and for the chess world.

Q: Nepomniachtchi is one of the few players in the world who has a decent record against you. How do you assess him as the challenger?

Obviously, I enter every World Championship match with huge respect for my opponent. To become the World Championship Challenger, you have to show world class chess consistently throughout the qualifications as well as mental fortitude during critical moments. Ian and I are contemporaries and know each other well. He has deserved his place in the match and I just have to try to be the best version of myself in the upcoming fierce battle.

Q: This will be the fourth time you will be defending the crown since beating becoming the champion in 2013. Can you talk us through your preparation plan a bit for the big match?

World Championship matches are particularly mentally taxing and I tried not to think about the next match until the challenger (Ian Nepomniachtchi) was determined seven months ago. Gradually, it takes more and more of your focus.

There are three main aspects in preparing for this match: the pure chess part, physical training and mental preparation. In addition, you need a good team around you during the actual match.

As usual, both players each has a team of chess seconds consisting of strong grandmasters, mainly working on opening preparations for months. You want to be as well-prepared as possible for any surprise or opening novelty that your opponent may throw at you, while trying to surprise your opponent yourself. After the initial games of the match, the real time critical work starts of adapting your opening preparations to the development of the match and the openings played so far.

Q: This year, you completed a decade at the top of world rankings – a feat achieved only by Garri Kasparov. How has been the journey so far?

While I try to look ahead and not rest on laurels, the decade-long reign as top ranked player was a significant milestone. Sometimes I have been lucky to maintain the top spot as individual games easily could have gone differently on several occasions and changed the standing. Overall, it is fair to say that I have been the best player for most of the decade.
I have a bit of a lead in the ranking right now, but it is going to get more and more difficult to maintain the No.1 position. Currently I’m highly motivated to try.

Q: You may be aware of the influence of Vishy Anand, whom you beat in 2013 to first land the world title, on Indian chess and the chess revolution he led there. Any thoughts on Anand the competitor?

Anand has been a formidable chess player for more than three decades and at nearly 52, he is still capable of beating anyone in the world. His influence on Indian chess cannot be exaggerated. He was the decisive force in bringing India from an untapped potential into arguably the strongest chess nation in the world.

He was a formidable opponent in 2013 and 2014, and I was may be fortunate not having to play against the probably even stronger version of him a few years earlier.

Q: There is quite a following for chess in the UAE, with Dubai and Al Ain hosting a series of global tournaments over more than a decade. Are you aware of that?

I secured my third and decisive Grandmaster norm in the Dubai Open in 2004 and I played in the Rapid and Blitz World Championship in Dubai in 2014 winning both, so that I’m well aware of and appreciate the chess interest in the UAE. It will be nice to come back for the World Championship match in 2021 having such wonderful memories from 2004 and 2014. Hopefully, the match can help popularise chess in the UAE even further!

Q: You became a GM at 13 years of age but not everyone can be a Carlsen. So, what’s the right age to take up chess as a sport?

For me, chess is all about passion and interest. I learnt the game around the age of five, while it was not until I turned eight that I became really interested and passionate about it. If you want to become a very good chess player you have to start early, but I think you can learn and enjoy chess at any age!

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