Monday, January 17, 2011

Kasparov on Carlsen

Below is an excerpt of an interview with Kasparov on Magnus Carlsen. Earlier, I criticized Seng Sun for distorting Magnus' comments on quitting the World Championship Cycle. But I disagreed with Magnus' choice to quit it.

I suppose, my take on the issue may not have a lot of weight, but it would be safe to say Kasparov's take on the matter does count for something. He has more or less said the same thing that I did about Magnus' poor attitude. Of course, he has greater insights on Magnus' poor work ethics considering that he did work with him very closely.

Once again, I wish to stress that attitude is one of the most important factors to chess improvement. Even Magnus needs to work hard. What more our juniors? In fact, they would probably have to work twice or three times as hard just to catch up. So when I hear this talk about getting seniors to coach juniors and what not, it is again the entitlement attitude. The juniors must first demonstrate that they are hardworking enough just to keep up with the level of the senior players. Not just by the fact that they have "fighting spirit". Chess is more than just fighting spirit. Merely the evidence that despite all that fight in the juniors, they find it hard to keep up in terms of level of play shows that the foundation that they have is lacking. This is mainly caused by the lack of hardwork that was found in what some people call "seniors".

Granted, the seniors may not be fighting as hard as they should, but they did at one point in their lives worked their asses off just to get to where they are. I don't even see that in most of the juniors today. What good is fighting spirit without effort in preparation and training?

Anyhow, here is the interview:

Kasparov says that Magnus Carlsen's decision not to participate in the current World Championship cycle is the wrong decision. "At his age and with his development he should fight – on the board." When asked whether he understood the motives of his former charge Kasparov said:

    "He is right to criticize the system as unfair. FIDE has created chaos in the whole cycle. I myself do not like the way the Candidates matches are going to be played, without a pause between the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and the finals. Magnus would still be the favourite, but there will be greater physical and psychological aspects that play a role, a certain element of luck. But I think his criticism of the system is an excuse. He seems to feel uncomfortable taking on such a serious challenge."

So what did Kasparov think when he first heard that Magnus was withdrawing?

    "I wasn't surprised. Already at our training camp in Marrakech a year ago he sidestepped the subject when I discussed his lack of experience in match play. I advised him to play a training match against a world class grandmaster who is not amongst the world championship candidates."

When he led the world rankings Kasparov used to lose an average of one game per year, the newspaper says. In the last three months Carlsen lost seven. What is the reason for that?

    "He does not work as hard as he should. That is my only explanation. Working means to be constantly occupied by a subject, to keep your wits sharp and active. The way he lost against Anand in London was terrible. He should also have lost against Kramnik. The fact that he won the tournament in spite of this shows that he can do better. He is phenomenal at the board. And if he can work hard enough he will dominate chess."

Kasparov says he cannot imagine coaching Carlsen again.

    "He is his own master, he is in the process of becoming an adult. He needs time to think about his future. Everything seems to go his way, but the competition is not sleeping. A year ago he dominated chess, but that is no longer the case. If he had worked hard he could have broken my record of 2851 Elo points. That would have produced great headlines for chess and for him. A player of his talent and medial attraction – the first western player to reach the top of the world rankings since Fischer – would be great for chess. For that he has to prove his dominance incessantly. But he is no longer succeeding in that, and that is not enough to stay in the headlines and to catch the interest of people who are normally not involved in chess. Magnus is twenty. At that age one has to fight. It strengthens character to absorb set-backs and take on difficult challenges. Avoiding them is self-defeating."


  1. You have pointed out that the "seniors" work real hard. Can you elaborate? How many hours a day? Or better yet, how did they "work"?

  2. Obviously I do not have quantitative evidence on ALL seniors. Also, working for any amount of hours is not an indication of hard work at all. One can sit in front of a computer and play on-line blitz for 5 hours a day. Is that considered working hard?

    The evidence of their hard work is seen in the chess understanding of these seniors. Their ability to maintain their playing strength after long periods of hiatus shows that they rely more on understanding rather than just updated opening theory, or tactical sharpness.

    Perhaps such evidence can appear circumstantial to you. Maybe you can help by taking a poll on how many chess books the juniors these days read compared with the seniors in the past? Most juniors these days are more interested in playing than working on the hard issues. How many juniors do we see attempting to work like IM Goh Weiming on positional analysis?

    How many juniors read books on endgame studies by endgame specialists such as Jon Speelman? How many juniors these days have read "How to Think Like a Grandmaster" by Alexander Kotov? I don't know about you, but in the past, such books were "compulsory" reading.

    Plus, many of the "senior" players today did not have coaches. They had to rely on themselves and their friends to improve. Furthermore, internet was a luxury. Chess books were scarce. One had to be very resourceful to gain every little edge one could. That's why the work ethics are grossly different.

    That said, these are just some ways, definitely not an exhaustive list. Different people need to work on different aspects. So that's why it is crucial to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses before you can begin your journey of improvement.

    P/S: I am not on the seniors'/juniors' side on this issue. I will write more on that later. But the fact is, the work ethics has changed drastically compared with the past.

  3. This is an interesting article. One certainly does not get a good understanding of Magnus Carlsen from the Norwegian media alone, where he is portrayed as a hero.

    I agree with Kasparov's assessment of the situation, especially when it comes to the WWC. He should have participated in it, instead of criticizing it for being unfair. As I understood it at the time, the basis of his criticism was the fact that the world champion from the former competition only has to play in the final, whereas the contender has to win multiple games. Does that not give him at least as much chance of getting to the final as anyone else bar the champion?