The third instalment of the five-part series on Magnus Carlsen, ahead of the World Championship starting Nov. 9, tracks his early progress as a young Grandmaster
Minutes after Magnus Carlsen became a Grandmaster, at the Dubai Open in April 2004, the media circus commenced as expected. The search for the young celebrity began, but he was nowhere to be found. Magnus’s father Henrik had switched off his phone while the man of the moment was celebrating with an ice cream at a McDonalds.
The media in Norway went overboard. One of the radio stations discussed Magnus’s brain in all seriousness, with a researcher solemnly showing how a 13-year-old could become a GM.
Amid all the cacophony, the Carlsens kept their feet firmly on the ground. The following day, Magnus drew the final round and tied for second place.
There was hardly any time for the celebrations though. Accompanied by his mother, Magnus boarded a flight at 4 a.m. and began a14-hour journey to Malmo, Sweden, for the Sigeman event. Despite the fatigue, and a slow start, Magnus finished third with 5.5 points from nine rounds. Another GM-norm performance!
Even after becoming a GM astonishingly early, Magnus knew that this was just a milestone, and not his destination.
Though inspired, Magnus could not last long on his World Cup debut, losing to Levon Aronian in the first round.
Undeterred, Magnus struck form to tie for the Norwegian Championship title. However, he fell short of podium finishes in three other tournaments that year.
For 12 months, starting October 2004, Magnus took time to hit his stride. His rating came down from 2581 to 2570 during this period. But it turned out to be just the lull before the storm.
Before the rating list was out in January 2006, Magnus had added 55 points from 40 rating games to gate-crash into the World’s top-100.
It was a 10th place finish in the World Cup at Khanty-Mansisyk, Russia, at the expense of names like Zurab Azmaiparashvili, Farrukh Amonatov and Ivan Chepariov that raised his ratings. That also gave Magnus a spot among the World championship candidates.
An enviable rating of 2625, worth the 89th spot in World rankings, brought the focus back on Magnus, who was just 15 years and one month old.
He started 2006 by sharing the top spot in the Corus Tournament’s Group ‘B’ at Wijk ann Zee in the Netherlands, and continued the good form for the better part of the year.
In nine months ending September 30, Magnus played 86 rated games and took his rating to 2698. The growth was in keeping with the expectations as the youngster used all his energy to play more and win more. He played all formats, including the Glitnir Blitz event where he blanked Viswanathan Anand 2-0 in the semifinals, and went on to win the title.
Magnus could not cross the threshold into the elite 2700-club until July 2007 — at 17 years and eight months. The nine-month wait was due to the loss of rating points in January when he finished last in his Group ‘A’ debut at the Corus Tournament. This was Magnus’s first elite tournament.
But at Linares, in another top-class field including Anand, Aronian, Veselin Topalov, Peter Svidler, Alexander Morozevich, Peter Leko and Vassily Ivanchuk, the Norwegian finished runner-up on tie-breaks after four wins and seven draws in 14 games. He performed at a rating of 2778 after starting at 2690.
Over May and June, Magnus played the Candidates tournament of the FIDE World Championship, ran into Aronian and lost the tie-break Blitz games for a first-round exit.
What took him over the 2700-line was his winning the Biel Grandmaster Tournament. Magnus ended the year with a semifinal finish in the World Cup, losing to eventual champion Gata Kamsky.
By the end of 2007, Magnus was looking part of the big league and gaining in status. The chess world had reasons to expect bigger things from this extraordinary talent.