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‘They are different, yet similar’

P.K. Ajith Kumar
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Leif Johannessen— PHOTO: K.V. Srinivasan
Leif Johannessen— PHOTO: K.V. Srinivasan

Leif Johannessen is fascinated by some similarities between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand.

“They may be different when it comes to style, but their life stories are a lot similar,” says the Norwegian Grandmaster. “It is interesting to note that they both come from countries with no previous achievements in chess.”

Johannessen, who is here to analyse the World Championship games for followers back in Norway, says Carlsen has had it easier than Anand.

“There was a system in place to learn chess properly in Norway when Carlsen’s interest in the sport began,” he says. “Thanks to Simen Agdestein, chess had begun to be taught at Norges Toppidrettsymnas, a sports academy, in 1998. Carlsen is a beneficiary of that. You may even say that we could not have spotted Carlsen if it wasn’t for the academy.

“We have had a few GMs before Carlsen came along. I myself became one in 2002.”

Anand, of course, is India’s first GM.

“You could only marvel at how Anand created his own path,” says Johannessen. “He is a pure genius. He reminds me of Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal, whereas Carlsen is more like Anatoly Karpov who, too, had great success in tournaments. Of course, Carlsen, too, is a genius.”

Johannessen believes that in a few more years, Norway will start producing more world-class players, inspired by Carlsen’s success.

“The World championship has generated tremendous interest back home,” he says. “Hundreds of kids are sure to take up chess because of that and a few of them could turn into fine players too,” he says.

Johannessen has been Carlsen’s teammate in four Chess Olympiads. “He played for Norway in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010,” he says. “I had made my Olympiad debut in 2002. I have beaten Carlsen twice, when he was much younger, of course. When I beat him at the Drammen International chess festival, in 2005, he was already quite strong.”

He believes Carlsen has the potential to dominate world chess for another 20 years.

“Fischer wanted to be the world champion for the next 30 years after he won the title in 1972, but he couldn’t,” he says. “But Carlsen could actually do that. He is focussed, driven and level-headed.”

Johannessen says he never believed that Carlsen would have it easy against Anand.

“I know most experts called Carlsen an overwhelming favourite,” he says. “I am expecting the match to be tough and close.”

That precisely has been the case, after three games.

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