Carlsen: “Passion Must Be The Main Driver”

“It is unlikely that I will play another match unless maybe if the next challenger represents the next generation,” wrote GM Magnus Carlsen today in a blog post for one of his sponsors. The world champion once again mentioned GM Alireza Firouzja as his desired next opponent in order to generate another “passion-driven” title match.

In his blog post for the law firm Simonsen Vogt Wiig, one of his sponsors, Carlsen confirms what he said a week ago: that he may not defend his title another time if his opponent is not Firouzja. This time, Carlsen phrased it more generally, saying he is hoping for a challenger that “represents the next generation,” although he mentions Firouzja’s name in the very next sentence:

“I have by now played against the previous generation and three leading players of my generation. Being result-oriented has worked out for me in these matches, but it doesn’t feel sustainable long term. Passion must be the main driver. It is unlikely that I will play another match unless maybe if the next challenger represents the next generation. (Alireza Firouzja is at 18 already ranked 2nd in classical chess and has qualified for the next candidates.)”

A big chunk of Carlsen’s blog post is dedicated to further explaining why he is not keen on facing just any opponent that will come from the 2022 Candidates. The keyword he uses is “passion,” something he last felt in a world championship back in 2013 when he took the crown from GM Vishy Anand.

World Championship matches differ significantly from tournaments. From early youth I have always liked to compete, but chess was for me mainly driven by passion for the game. I didn’t have any longterm ambitions except for learning and developing as a chess player. Later, as a tournament favorite, I was of course focused on winning as often as possible. Still, this ambition felt mostly as enhanced focus and passion, and less as pressure. Thinking about matches prior to Chennai, I thought it would be possible to apply the same approach as to tournaments of one game at the time, try to beat your opponent, avoid being distracted by losses. (Angry yes, but not distracted.)

From Chennai 2013 onwards the value and challenge of matches has gradually grown on me. It is very special. The dynamics are so different from tournaments, you cannot pretend otherwise. I managed to stay relatively process- and passion-driven against Anand in 2013, while in the last four matches it has been all about results. The potential downside is significant. You are working heavily for months with a team of dedicated seconds/coaches and in the end it may all be for nothing. For the loser, the same could have been achieved without any efforts. In a tournament there is just one winner. In a match there is just one loser.

Besides the aforementioned Caruana, Firouzja, Karjakin, and Nepomniachtchi, the other players who have qualified for the 2022 Candidates thus far are GM Teimour Radjabov and GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda, the latter definitely also representing the new generation. Two more participants will come from the FIDE Grand Prix (February-April 2022), where Giri is one of the participants.

Carlsen also discusses the match with Nepomniachtchi and gives his perspective on how the first and second half of the match ended up being so different:

“Prior to the match one important pillar of phycological defense was the knowledge gained from previous matches that my opponent will gradually become the person I know so well from many years of tournaments together. While he may be extremely well prepared and present the best version of himself, under sufficient pressure we all show the same strengths and weaknesses as prior to the World Championship preparations and training regimen. Ian has historically often done well in the first half, while he struggles to maintain his level throughout.”

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