OSLO (Reuters Life!) - The chess world’s new number one 19-year-old Magnus Carlsen plots 20 moves ahead and can remember matches he played six years ago move-for-move, but insists he is still pretty much your average teenager.
The brightest talent in a generation according to his Russian coach and chess great Garry Kasparov, Norway’s Carlsen will officially become the world’s youngest ever top ranked player when new rankings come out at the start of 2010.
Dubbed the “Mozart of chess,” Carlsen plays with a healthy dose of natural intuition on top of deep analysis and pursues other interests that he believes help his game.
He brushes aside comparisons with the world’s troubled chess geniuses such as Bobby Fisher, a prodigy and champion who became engulfed by chess and detached from the rest of the world.
“Bobby Fischer was obviously one of the greatest chess players of all time — one of the inventors,” Carlsen told Reuters in an interview.
“The difference between him and me, for example, is that he was obsessed with chess in a way that is not healthy and that’s a line I don’t intend to cross.”
“I try not to mix chess with life. When I don’t play I more or less do normal things for a teenager,” said Carlsen, who this year graduated from high school and become a household name in Norway, winning a number of person of the year honors.
Carlsen started playing chess as an 8-year-old mainly to beat his older sister, which he says took him “a few weeks.”
Within a year he regularly beat his father, who plays club-level chess in Norway, and at age 13 he had a shock win in a speed chess competition against world champion Anatoly Karpov and a draw against Kasparov.
Carlsen believes his fluid style is well suited to speed or blitz chess, shorter versions of the game played with a clock giving each player only a few minutes to complete their moves, rather than deliberating at length over a single movement.
Asked about a tournament match he played, as a 12-year-old, against a club player and Reuters correspondent Oskar von Bahr, Carlsen said he could probably replay that match move-for-move and admitted that at one point he was in trouble.
But the early success and enviable memory has not spoiled Carlsen, who remains mild mannered and at one point even had a reputation for being a bit of a slacker in training.
His early coach Simen Agdestein successfully juggled being Norway’s chess No. 1 and a national team soccer player and ingrained into the prodigy that the world does not have to revolve only around 64 black and white squares.
“Of course playing tournaments was probably my main source of training, because it was so much fun and I love competing,” Carlsen recalls of his early days.
That all changed sometime last year when Carlsen realized he could become the best in the world. He hired Kasparov to coach him during tournaments and for “intense” training sessions.
“Magnus possesses what we call a strong positional sense, an intuitive feel for where to put the pieces,” Kasparov said in an email to Reuters, calling him a “once-in-a-generation talent.”
“Before this year he did not have to work particularly hard. To maintain his position as No. 1 he will have to accustom himself to a more rigorous workload,” said Kasparov.
If Carlsen develops great rivalries with opponents, he could become one of the “greatest ever” grandmasters, Kasparov adds.
Carlsen says that he owes much to Kasparov, who polishes his opening gambits and offers “lots of psychological advice” detailing the weaker sides of his leading opponents, many of whom he played before retiring in 2005.
Carlsen completes his preparations with computer analyses of his opponents’ matches but says that since the 1997 victory of the Deep Blue chess program against then world champion Kasparov, playing against a microchip does not make much sense.
“It’s more an analytical tool,” Carlsen said “Playing against the computer regularly would mean that I would lose more often than I won and I don’t think that would be very helpful for my confidence.”
Additional reporting by Oskar von Bahr in Stockholm, editing by Paul Casciato