Many sports are witnessing their current best players staking a credible claim on the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) tag but few as credible as Magnus Carlsen in chess. Atleast, he himself believes that:
“During a post-game press conference at the 2018 World Championships, Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana were asked to pick their favorite players from the past. Caruana went with Fischer, the late brilliant fellow American who’d challenged the Soviet hegemony in the sport. Carlsen’s answer? “Probably myself, like, three or four years ago.” The seeming hubris isn’t without a few truths.”
Carlsen won yet another World championship earlier this month. Susan Ninan at the ESPN takes at shot at figuring out what makes him so dominant and consistent – “He’s been the No 1 chess player in the world for a decade now and is in his eighth year as undisputed world champion.”
“Carlsen, perhaps the only current chess player with no apparent shortcomings in his game, holds a catalog of strengths – immaculate calculations, rare outright mistakes, superlative positional sense and an eagerness to trade material for activity. He’s also perfected the art of turning the smallest opportunities into major breakthroughs. Former world champion Garry Kasparov once called him a combination of two greats Anatoly Karpov and Bobby Fischer who ‘gets his positions and never lets go of his bulldog bite’.”
Not surprisingly hard work is right up there among Carlsen’s qualities, much like his contemporaries from other sport.
“American GM and chess commentator Robert Hess describes Carlsen as the “hardest worker you’ll find” both at the board and in preparation. “He is second-to-none at evading common theoretical lines and prefers to outplay his opponents in positions where both players must rely on their understanding of the current dynamics,” Hess says. “He has a phenomenal memory and has been vocal about studying as many games as he can get his hands on and his wealth of knowledge and exquisite technique allow him to find multiple possible angles to overcome even the sturdiest of defenses, particularly in an endgame.””
Also a vital quality for a GOAT is tenacity or the ability to bounce back from a difficult situation which even the best find themselves in at some stage:
“Vishwanathan Anand…proffers that unpredictability and flexibility are his two most striking qualities…”Whatever situation, you drop him in, his promptness to react is brilliant…. He takes these unconventional decisions. He’ll make a quick draw one day, the next day he’ll fight as if his life depends on it. He can switch back and forth. He can be very aggressive, like he was in many games with Caruana trying very hard or he can be highly conservative as he is here against Ian with the black pieces. He can turn up as a slightly different person every day, dial his intensity up or down. It makes him unpredictable. Even when he’s not burning all his bridges, Magnus is still dangerous.””
Finally, Carlsen’s diverse interests outside chess:
“The good thing about Carlsen being chess’ most visible face is that he has things to say outside the sport too. At a time when chess is wooing new audiences, testing new mediums of engagement and breaking into fresh territories, he’s a god-send. The 31-year-old is a Twitch star, fantasy football nut, entrepreneur with a flourishing chess empire of businesses, and battery of online tournaments, and his celebrity – young and full of chutzpah – is an instant seller. “He’s a guy with well-rounded and varied interests. He is not merely the best chess player in the world,” Hess points out, “That’s an important distinction. It keeps him relevant as a mainstream celebrity. It feels essential particularly in individual sport. People love to root for names.””

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