When Torbjorn Hansen told friends in his chess circle that he was coaching a remarkably talented boy, they were all sceptical.
Coaches always spoke highly of their wards, after all.
But, once they saw the boy and played with him, they had to agree with Hansen: he was special. That boy, Magnus Carlsen, is today challenging the World champion. His former coach is delighted that he is here to watch him do that.
“It is a like a dream coming true for me, being at the World championship match,” says Hansen. “And I do hope Magnus wins, though I do not think he will have it easy against Anand, as many commentators seem to think.
“Magnus began poorly, as Anand thwarted his opening plans and even had a slightly superior position in the first game,” he says. “But I thought he came back superbly in the second game, showing that he could do some really serious preparations, contrary to the popular perception.”
How was Carlsen as a young learner?
“I was his first trainer; it was his father who asked me to teach him,” says Hansen.
“Magnus was nine when I began training him. What struck me was his phenomenal memory. There was a 60-player tournament that he took part in. And he could recall the entire results; he would tell which player beat which player in which round.”
Hansen says Carlsen absorbed a new lesson very fast. “He needed to be told only once, whereas my other students got it right only after several times,” he recalls. “Magnus was interested in different openings. I remember him learning with interest openings such as Sicilian (Dragon), French Defence and Ruy Lopez.”
Hansen says Carlsen didn’t show early indications of his remarkable endgame prowess. “He used to be very aggressive and won his games mostly in the middle game,” he says. “Yes, I did teach him a few endgame techniques, but he wasn’t overly interested in them then.”
Did he ever expect Carlsen to reach such heights?
“No, nobody could have predicted Magnus would become the strongest player of all time at such a young age,” says Hansen. “His progress has been unbelievable.”
Hansen, who is a Grandmaster-in-waiting having made three norms, says it is too early to say how much impact Carlsen will have on Norwegian chess.
“If he wins the World championship, I am sure a lot more kids will take up the game,” he says.
“I could already see a spurt in interest because of Magnus’s success and the World championship. Even adults are now asking me for chess lessons.”
Is he part of Team Carlsen?
“No, I am not,” he smiles. “I wish I were; I am not strong enough to be his second.”
Where does Hansen see the World championship going after Monday’s rest day?
“I think Magnus will press hard on Tuesday with white,” says Hansen, who played at the World junior championship at Kozhikode in 1998.
“Don’t expect too many short draws from him now,” he signs off.