The world champion is seven games away from achieving a new personal best.
by Tarjei J. Svensen
«It would be nice to beat that record.»
The table shows Carlsen’s longest undefeated streaks – and who broke them.
Magnus Carlsen has just learned he is seven games away from setting a personal record. Between September 2012 and March 2013 he played 41 games without loss before he was finally stopped by Vasily Ivanchuk in the 11th round of the Candidates tournament, Matt & Patt can report.
Just now Carlsen stands at 35 games in row without defeat. He last loss was against Yannick Pelletier in the fifth round of the European Team championship in Reykjavik on 17 November, 2015. Since then the world champion has won 14 and drawn 21.
A powerful performance considering his average opposition was rated 2726, equivalent to the world’s top 30.
Carlsen has shown fine form since that surprising upset in Iceland by winning three tournaments in a row – in London, Qatar and Wijk an Zee.
«In Wijk an Zee, apart from my game against van Wely, I didn’t have any bad positions. So there is a good chance to beat that record,» Carlsen says.
But now Altibox Norway Chess is what counts. The fun starts on Monday, with a blitz event in the evening that decides the main tournament pairings, before serious business begins at 16:00 on Tuesday.
«There isn’t so much I need to do differently.»
«I hope to do better than last year,» the 25-year-old jokes when asked about what we can expect from him in Stavanger. Carlsen has not won there in three attempts. Last year was a catastrophe for the local hero, with a disappointing 7th place and 3.5 points. He experienced the bitter taste of defeat four times.
Magnus gets serious.
«The first goal is to do well in the blitz. Last year it started to go quite badly already at that stage. I managed a +2 score (two more wins than losses) but it could have been so much worse. That is the first goal. And after that … there isn’t so much I need to do differently. I’m not very worried.»
How important is it to do well at home compared to tournaments abroad? Do you feel more pressure?
«Not much really. Of course it is important for me to show a different type of play than I did last year, but apart from that, no.»
This year’s super-tournament takes place without Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So. This trio were committed to playing in the US Championship and had to decline their invites to Stavanger.
Although this weakens the event a bit, it is safe to say Stavanger has a powerful field. Five of the top seven, and nine of the world’s top 16 are in place. World number two Vladimir Kramnik is back after missing the 2015 edition. The 40-year-old can expect an especially determined Norwegian.
«Kramnik!» is the decisive reply when Magnus is asked who he’d most like to beat. «I always want to beat Kramnik.»
«And Giri of course,» he adds.
Giri has been a tough nut to crack. After 13 games, Magnus stands with 12 draws and one loss against the cocky and extremely solid young player from the Netherlands.
In his last 64 games Giri has incredibly only lost once. Fully 52 of these have ended in draws, including the last 20.
«He’s only won two of his last 27 games. He fights hard. He has many interesting games. It will change for him eventually – one way or the other,» Magnus grins.
«Think Jon Ludvig should have gotten a spot.»
Jon Ludvig Hammer had to watch the last spot in Stavanger fall to Swedish Nils Grandelius. The Norwegian number two missed out at the qualification tournament in Fagernes, where he lost twice to the Swede. Hammer also failed to get a spot when Sergei Karjakin chose to pull out, the organizers opting for China’s Chao Li.
Magnus explained his tweet about the selection.
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) April 6, 2016
«It was meant as a joke but, yes, it was a very natural thought. The organizers are concerned about the average rating but personally I think Jon Ludvig should have gotten the spot.»
Matt & Patt received an explanation from organizers earlier about why Chao Li was chosen to replace Karjakin, instead of Hammer.
«Altibox Norway has one spot that has been used for a qualifying tournament. If more spots are used then it becomes impossible to maintain the sufficiently high average that we are obliged to reach for our sponsors. Even if it would have been very nice to have Jon Ludvig, this rating average is quite important,» said Jøran Aulin-Jansson.
«I think the pressure disturbs Magnus.»
Norway’s number three, Simen Agdestein, believes his former pupil will be extra focused in Stavanger, considering his previous poor results.
«I think Magnus is in very good form. And he always manages to come back from a disappointment. He has an extra gear and he is very focused now. He needs to repair his reputation a bit. Of course he is the favorite. He alway is,» Agdestein says.
Why has he not had such success in Norway?
«I think the pressure disturbs Magnus. I know it bothers me. It isn’t so easy to get away from the pressure as you might think. It’s stressful, and it is a real thing.»
Magnus himself says that he doesn’t let it influence him.
«He doesn’t want to make it a problem. When someone says it, it gets defined as a problem. He is very aware of this. He’s a fast learner, as I used to call him. He is conscious of this. He will handle it very well. He’s had to work on it, like he has to work on all sorts of things.»
Simen is confident that Carlsen can set a record undefeated streak and doesn’t believe that a two and a half month break since his last event will be a factor.
«He has always played a lot and likes to. I get tired, he doesn’t. With that in mind it could be an advantage to go from one tournament to another but we’re not talking about a long break here.»
Altibox Norway Chess begins with the blitz event on Monday. The next six rounds will take place at the Stavanger Forum from 16:00. Saturday 23 April and Tuesday 26 April are rest days. The three final rounds will be held in the Stavanger Concert House, which will host the dramatic finale.
TV 2 will again have studio broadcasts from Stavanger, with Fin Gnatt and Kaja Snare hosting the shows, with commentary and assistance from Hans Olav Lahlum, Jon Ludvig Hammer and Erle Marki Hansen. Ellen Carlsen is just one of the expected studio guests.
In addition to the main event there will be school tournaments and a Grand Prix tournament on 22-24 April. There will also be a match between Norway and Sweden on the 23-24 weekend.
World class GM Peter Svidler and Chess24’s Jan Gustafsson will be handling the event’s official online broadcast.
Matt & Patt will be on site in Stavanger for the first six rounds.