Home / Industry / Media /  Magnus Carlsen says keeping focus versus Anand was a struggle

Sochi, Russia: Early in the just concluded world chess championship match at Sochi, world champion Magnus Carlsen almost got bored and was asking himself why the contest was taking place at all.

In an exclusive interview, Carlsen said he was struggling to focus on the match after dominating the first two games because he thought there was hardly any competition.

Less than a year ago, he had beaten his challenger Viswanathan Anand once in the championship, and he had again got off to a confident start.

“I am so much better, so why am I playing this match?" Carlsen said he asked himself after winning the second game.

But the Indian grandmaster struck back immediately, scoring a “brilliant" win over him in the third game, and that helped Carlsen drive the distracting thoughts from his mind. Edited excerpts:

What lessons from the match in Chennai did you use this year?

I learnt last year that it is very important to be ready from the start—not to be tentative in the beginning. (The first four games in Chennai had ended in draws.) So, I got off to a confident start this time and even managed to take the lead by winning the second game.

That’s when some thoughts started to creep into my mind and I was asking myself, ‘why am I playing this match?’ I was kind of drifting away from the match when Anand quickly sprang back with a brilliant win in the third game.

You have described your performance this time to be inconsistent. What went wrong?

Though I got off to a strong start and dominated the first two games, I made some mistakes which were avoidable. I don’t know why they happened.

I made some mistakes even in the first game. Though I didn’t get much out of the opening, I got a good position but then I wasn’t able to make much use of it.

Again, in the seventh game (which ended in a 122-move draw after a six-and-a-half battle), I lost my concentration.

I guess it’s very difficult to play well all the time. Also, the pressure of playing in the championship final makes it harder to think clearly at all times.

But in two years, when I have to defend my title, I hope I make fewer mistakes.

How was your preparation this time different from last year though you were playing against the same opponent?

We both played differently from last time every game of this match, so it was almost like playing against a different opponent.

Also, we both had a different team of seconds (players who assisted with preparations) from Chennai. So I guess both Anand and I had to account for that when preparing for this year’s match.

How significant was Danish grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen’s contribution to your preparation this time, considering that he was on Anand’s team for almost 10 years till 2012?

As the leader of my team, his contribution was very significant, but not so much because he knows Anand’s playing style.

To have him on my team also meant Anand knew what Nielsen can deliver for a match preparation. It is not so easy to train based on what someone knows about Anand. This time there were new people on Anand’s team as well.

Nielsen was important because he has stayed out of this circuit and was an unknown quantity for many years. Plus, I get along very well with him, which makes a lot of difference.

What does your information technology start-up mean to you?

Making money is not the most important thing for me, but yes, we have developed this fantastic app called Play Magnus. The bigger aim for me is to bring chess closer to people around the world. And for me to play a role in promoting the sport across the world, I have to try to be the best I can at all times. And that’s not easy.

Is it somewhat awkward for you to receive the prize for winning the championship from Russian president Vladimir Putin, considering that you were reluctant to play in Russia because of your ideological stand over Ukraine?

It is a difficult situation... Russia was the host, so it is not unnatural that the president is to give away the prizes.

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