The series on Carlsen concludes with an account of how he worked his way through the field to earn a shot at Anand
Starting 2010 as the World’s top-ranked player, Magnus Carlsen showed no signs of relenting. He topped the field at Corus, Bazna Kings, Arctic Stars, Nanjing Pearls Springs and the London Classic during the year to almost maintain his rating of 2810.
The only aberration came at the Grand Slam Masters in October where he lost to champion Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand. These defeats also cost him the World No.1 spot that came Anand’s way on November 1.
Carlsen, who had earlier in the year helped Anand in his preparations for the World title match against Veselin Topalov, was criticised for getting distracted since he had taken up modelling for a fashion brand.
Before long, Carlsen silenced them all by winning at Nanjing and at London to become numero uno again — despite slipping from 2826 to 2814 between July and December.
Maintaining a high rating in chess is never easy because of the increased degree of expectancy in the calculations involved. Carlsen realised this the hard way in January 2011. At the Corus tournament, the traditional season-opener, he scored over Kramnik and champion Hikaru Nakamura while playing to his rating.
But it did not prove enough. Anand, who scored half a point more than Carlsen, gained more rating points and regained the No.1 spot on March 1.
Carlsen was not to be denied. He triumphed at Bazna Kings, the Tal Memorial and at the London Classic to end the year on a new high of 2835.
This also saw the youngster tighten his grip over the No.1 spot.
Carlsen did not make much progress in the first half of the following year but remained No.1. He ended his title-drought in the Grand Slam Final beating a six-player field. It was only in December that Carlsen reached the goal the world had waited for.
Winning the London Classic title for the third time in four years, Carlsen overtook Garry Kasparov’s rating-record of 2851 that had stood since July 1999. Carlsen started 2013 with a career best rating of 2861. At the Corus, Carlsen produced a stunning performance scoring 10 points and finishing 1.5 points ahead of Levon Aronian. Seven victories in 13 unbeaten encounters raised Carlsen’s tally to 2872.
Even as the chess world wondered whether Carlsen could become the first man to breach the 2900-mark in rating, the Norwegian had other more serious preoccupations.
His sights were set on the Candidates Tournament in London winning which would earn him the right to challenge Anand for the World title.
All this while, Carlsen had attained the status of a global superstar. Profiled on 60-minutes on CBS News, Carlsen modelled with Liv Tyler for a clothing brand, was approached for a role in the movie Star Trek, but declined it following work permit issues, and signed a few big endorsements in Norway.
There was a lot riding on victory at the Candidates.
In one of the most dramatic finishes seen in elite contests, title-contenders Carlsen and Kramnik both lost their 14th and final round games to Peter Svidler and Vassily Ivanchuk as millions following the action online were treated to an unforgettable twist at the finale.
The tie-break system favoured Carlsen, who had even trailed Kramnik by half a point after 12 rounds.
An obviously overjoyed Carlsen conceded: “I guess, to some extent, the pressure got to me a bit. And I was also tired, which is not a good combination.
“In general, I made a lot of poor decisions, both practically and also pure chess decisions that I don’t normally make.
“I think also some credit has to be given to my opponents. “But, I don’t lose those positions.
“I made more mistakes in those (last three) than in the first 11 rounds combined.”
Later this month, in the week leading to his 23rd birthday, Carlsen aims to add the only collectible missing from his already-cluttered mantlepiece — the World championship trophy.