OSLO (Reuters) - World chess number one Magnus Carlsen of Norway is relaxed ahead of his challenge later this year for the world champion crown against reigning titleholder Viswanathan Anand of India.
Slouched on a couch and fiddling with the zipper of his purple hoodie, the chess wonderboy is confident he will win the one title that has eluded him when he meets Anand in Chennai, India, on November 6-26.
“It has been a while since I went into a game with losing as an option,” the 22-year-old, dubbed the “Mozart of chess” because like Mozart he was a virtuoso from a young age, told Reuters in an interview.
Carlsen became the world’s number one at age 19, the youngest player ever to do so. A grandmaster since he was 13, he has the highest rating in the history of the game, ahead of chess great Garry Kasparov’s 1999 record.
The world number-one ranking is determined by a mathematical system that uses match results to determine an individual’s playing strength - much like the ATP ranking for tennis.
Kasparov, who coached Carlsen, has described him as a once-in-a-generation talent.
And genius player he may be, but like most young men, he also is concerned about his social life, about going out and having fun.
He usually gets up around midday and works short hours. “I can’t concentrate for more than three hours. So I might work for maybe one and half hours a day. But it will still work in my head afterwards,” he said.
On Facebook he describes himself as an athlete. In person he wears washed-out, torn jeans and trainers. He once modeled for Dutch fashion brand G-Star Raw with U.S. actress Liv Tyler.
Asked whether it was easy for him to meet women in Norway, Carlsen said: “It is. It helps to be well known.”
As a player, Carlsen is deemed to be equally strong no matter what challenges come his way on the chess board.
His mental prowess and physical fitness afford him the stamina to torment his opponents for hours until they finally make a mistake. Carlsen rarely makes any tangible errors.
Unlike Kasparov, famous for his strong and aggressive opening play, Carlsen strives to get a playable position from the opening with many pieces left on the board - confident that he can outplay his opponent in the middle-game or endgame. In the later stages of the game, his play is almost flawless.
Carlsen will need all of his skills against Anand in Chennai and is already in training. He is surrounding himself with three to four players to play against - he won’t say whom - as well as a support group, including his father, to motivate him.
In July he played tennis and beach volleyball with former professional athletes, as part of a training camp he set up at a resort in southern Norway.
“This will give me an advantage because at the end of a match, you are very tired. If you feel good and strong, you concentrate better,” he said.
Later this month Carlsen will tour Chennai to familiarize himself with its sights and sounds. He also will play some tournaments, unlike Anand, who says he will solely focus on training.
Carlsen is considered a favorite to win: he beat the Indian in June in their last encounter. But he does not underestimate his rival.
“It will depend on which Anand I get on the day. Will it be the great Anand of 2008? Or will it be the terrible one?
“I expect him to be on top form. An Anand in top form has sharp tactics, great strength and a great understanding of the game.”
Additional reporting by Oskar von Bahr in Budapest; Editing by Michael Roddy