The second of the five-part series on Magnus Carlsen on the lead up to the World Championship, starting Nov. 9, chronicles how he notched up his IM and GM norms
Having given a glimpse of his potential as an unrated player, Magnus Carlsen was outplaying rivals in open events but finding it difficult to deal with his peers in age-group competitions.
In April 2001, Carlsen made the World Chess Federation (FIDE) rating list with 2064 points — a playing strength considered formidable for an under-12 player.
He tested his skills in the Gausdal Classic where he was made part of the 10-player International Master group. His score of 2.5 from nine rounds saw him perform at 2090. This event also saw Carlsen draw with an International Master for the first time — he held Bulgaria’s Marian Petrov in 44 moves.
This result made the tournament organiser Hans Olva Lahlum remark: “I will never be afraid to invite him to tournaments. There is just one Carlsen, and he perfectly illustrates my motto: never underestimate children.”
Carlsen continued to perform above his rating without sacrificing his titles in the Norwegian junior events. He just loved the Nordic gold medal!
The year also saw Carlsen hold Iceland’s Throstur Thorhallason, rated 2456, to a draw in 52 moves at Bergen. This was Carlsen’s first draw against a Grandmaster.
In 2002, his rating rose from 2127 in to 2279 despite playing only 12 rating games.
Carlsen was emerging as a real threat to higher rated rivals. And the first evidence of his remarkable progress came in January 2003 when he scored 7/10 in the Troll Masters at Gausdal, and finished sixth in a field of 60 for his first International norm.
To become an International Master, a player needs a minimum of three norm-results and a rating of 2400. Carlsen continued his pursuit of norms in St. Vincent (Italy) and back home in Oslo and Gausdal.
A second norm followed when Stockholm hosted the Salongernas IM event where Carlsen tied for the second spot by scoring six points from nine rounds, performing at 2470 against his own rating 2356.
Carlsen, who had by now decided to drop out of school, did not make his well-wishers wait long for the final norm.
The following month, he collected the final norm with a stupendous rating performance of 2503, scoring 8/11 at the Politiken Cup in Copenhagen, where he followed champion K. Sasikiran after beating K. Humpy in the final round.
Officially an IM in August, Carlsen started his quest for three Grandmaster norms and a rating of 2500!
In January 2004, Carlsen, rated at 2484, was part of the Corus Tournament’s ‘C’ group at Wijk aan Zee (Holland).
Carlsen went on to win with a score of 10.5, a point more than GM-norm requirement, from 13 rounds, performing at a whopping 2702.
What also made the chess world sit up and take notice was the way Carlsen sacrificed a knight to fox Dutchman Sipke Ernst, on the way to his victory.
In February, Carlsen collected his second GM norm at the Aeroflot Open in Moscow, amidst a formidable field. He finished 40th out of 203 players, scoring 5.5 from nine rounds, performing at 2660.
In March, all eyes were on Carlsen who was expected to collect a third successive GM norm at Reykjavik. But, he could not reproduce the magic.
However, there was joy in store for the youngster. In the Blitz and Rapid events played in reduced time formats, Carlsen caught global attention.
In five-minute Blitz, Carlsen stunned ex-World champion Anatoly Karpov. Media hysteria followed, as expected.
But Carlsen was not done yet.
He drew with Garry Kasparov, considered the strongest in history, in 52 moves in their rapid game but lost the next. Chess had, nevertheless, found a new superstar.
In April, Carlsen played in Dubai Open and picked up the final GM-norm with a performance of 2674, way over his rating of 2552.
Carlsen became the second youngest GM behind Ukraine’s Sergey Karjakin; since then, Parimarjan Negi has pushed the Norwegian a rung lower on the all-time list.
But Carlsen was destined to scale even newer heights.