Magnus Carlsen is the reigning World Champion of Chess, currently looking to defend his title against American challenger Fabiano Caruana.
In Game 1 on Friday, Carlsen and Caruana played for seven hours in an intense game that ended as a tie, giving each player half of a point.
The 2018 World Chess Championship is a 12-game marathon that runs from Nov. 8-28, based out of London. You can watch the match take place here, on Chess.com.
When asked about his stamina for the championship, Carlsen replied, “If it’s tiring for me, it will be even tougher for Caruana.”
Here’s what you need to know about Carlsen:
1. Carlsen Is a Norwegian Chess Player Known as a ‘Prodigy’
According to Britannica, Carlsen was born “Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen”, and he was born in 1990 in Norway. Carlsen learned how to play chess from his father when he was five years old, and won his first tournament in 2004 in the Netherlands.
Within that first tournament, Carlsen’s skill with the game (particularly notable with one game he won with a 29-move checkmate) led people to dub him the “Mozart of chess.” That name still sticks.
Carlsen is notoriously tough on himself, and is not an easy loser: he has been known to cry if he loses even to himself in practice matches. Carlsen said to The Guardian of learning to play chess, “[My father] started with one pawn, and I had all the pieces, and when I managed to beat him he got two pawns, and so on. So he made it progressively more difficult as I got better.”
Carlsen explained that he wasn’t really into the game until he was eight years old. “I needed to mature a bit at the start. I just wasn’t ready.”
2. Carlsen Became a Grandmaster at 13 Years Old, & Was Ranked Number One in the World By 19 Years Old
Carlsen climbed the ranks of the chess world quickly as a child, and by his early teenage years he had earned Grandmaster status. The title of Grandmaster is granted by the world chess organization, FIDE, and it’s the highest qualification a chess player can attain, similar to the status of black belt in karate.
By 2010, FIDE had announced that Carlsen was the top player in the world at 19 years old, making him the youngest player in history to earn that title.
When asked about what type of advice he’d give to aspiring chess players, Carlsen told The Guardian that a poker face is key. “You can’t look too annoyed or they’ll look for the mistake you’ve made,” he explained. “A lot of the time it’s about looking for these opportunities and if you give them a clue, the good players will find it.”
3. Carlsen’s Advice for Chess Players: Don’t Sit For Too Long, & Look For Patterns Rather Than Moves
To The Guardian, Carlsen provided a list of advice for chess players, including the following tips:
- Don’t sit down for the full time: “Whenever it’s your opponent’s move, as long as you don’t leave the playing hall, you can basically do whatever you want. You can walk away. In general I don’t think you can keep full concentration for very long. I couldn’t bear to sit there for seven hours.”
- Don’t overthink any one move: “If I’m thinking for more than 20 minutes about one move, it’s usually a waste. Sometimes you can come up with some amazing solution but most of the time you just end up looping: you consider a move, you reject it, then you’re desperate, you come back to the move, you don’t remember why you rejected it, you have to make a move so you make it – then your opponent replies and you remember why you rejected it. The longest wait I ever did between moves was one hour and five minutes – and the move was horrible.”
- Search for patterns rather than one-off moves: “Good players actually use their long-term memory much more than inexperienced players, who use their short-term memory. Good players try to recall patterns, something familiar about this position that can tell you something that helps you.”
- Make sure you know how to seal the deal: “Once you’ve outplayed your opponent and you’ve grabbed basically all of their pieces, you still need to find a way to checkmate, otherwise the probability in the game ending in a stalemate is pretty high. It’s frustrating not to be able to checkmate so knowing some basic techniques, like checkmating with a queen and a rook, is very useful.”
4. Carlsen Is Known For His ‘Positional’ Style of Play
In terms of his chess playing strategy, Britannica reports that Carlsen is known to play a “positional” style of play in which he seeks to gain control of the entire board, instead of trying to individually attack his opponent’s pieces.
With that said, Carlsen is the first one to tell you he doesn’t think he’s an untouchable prodigy; in fact, he once claimed that the opening line to his autobiography would definitely be, “I’m not a genius.”
When asked how he became so much better of a player than his peers, Carlsen simply said, “It was no accident that it was me rather than my peers in Norway that made it. They may have had chess training once a week and then a tournament on the weekend, like a normal hobby. But it was something I wanted to do every day, so it was only natural that I surpassed them. How I managed to take the next steps rather than others, I cannot tell you.”
5. A Chess App for Players of Various Skills Was Named After Carlsen, & Players Can Compete to Actually Play Carlsen in It
The app PlayMagnus is an online chess app that allows people to play varying levels of chess against a computer version of Carlsen at different ages, i.e. Carlsen at five years old, Carlsen at 11 years old, etc.
The app offers the chance for users to win the opportunity to actually play Carlsen live. When asked why he would ever want to take time to play with average people, Carlsen said, “But why not? So many people already play chess on their phones and tablets – why not give them a face to compete against?”