Youth and Early Chess Career (1995 To 2004)
Carlsen learned how to play chess when he was five years old. However, he didn’t show much interest at first. He instead amazed other people by completing activities that demonstrated his general intellectual aptitude at an early age.
At two years of age, Carlsen could solve 50-piece jigsaw puzzles. He also played with Lego sets intended for children 10 to 14 years old. When Henrik Carlsen, his father, introduced him to chess, the five-year-old was busy memorizing the areas, population numbers, flags and capitals of every country in the world. Later Carlsen completed a similar task—memorizing areas, population numbers, coat-of-arms and administrative centers—for nearly all Norwegian municipalities (there are 422 municipalities today).
Carlsen’s impressive memory helped as he became more interested in chess. Initially, he simply wanted to beat his oldest sister. But soon he was replaying games that his father had showed him, practicing combinations while playing against himself and reading chess books. His first book was Find the Plan from GM Bent Larsen, the six-time Danish champion and the strongest-ever Scandinavian player—before Carlsen.
The Norwegian phenom became well-known on a world stage after his successful year in 2004. Carlsen began by winning the C group at the elite Corus tournament in Wijk aan Zee. He went 10.5/13 and had a tournament performance rating of 2702. It was good enough for his first GM norm, and his performance made headlines and led to a Microsoft sponsorship.
After obtaining his second GM norm one month later, Carlsen took part in a blitz tournament in Iceland. There he defeated Karpov, the former world champion and often recognized as one of the top 10 players of all time. The next day, in the subsequent rapid knockout event, the 13-year-old was paired with Kasparov, then the number-one player in the world and likely the best player of all-time.
The Youngest 2800 In History (2009 To 2012)
In September and October 2009, Carlsen had one of his best performances at the Pearl Spring Chess Tournament. The annual tournament, held from 2008 to 2010, was a double round-robin event that featured six super grandmasters.
Carlsen won the 2009 tournament with 8/10 points, finishing 2.5 points ahead of the top-rated player in the world at the time, GM Veselin Topalov. But the real story is Carlsen’s tournament performance rating—3001. That’s the fourth-highest performance rating in a tournament since the Elo rating system was established in 1970. At the time, chess statistician Jeff Sonas ranked it against all events in history. He deemed it one of the 20 top tournament performances of all time and the best of all time by a teenager.
The highlight that year wasn’t Carlsen’s tournament performances, which were impressive given the world-class competition in each event. It’s that he recaptured the world number-one position. In FIDE’s ratings list for July 2011, Carlsen overtook Anand. And since that time, Carlsen has remained the highest-rated player in the world. (At the time of publishing, Carlsen has spent 112 months at number-one, second in history to only Kasparov.)
After his performance at the London Chess Classic, Carlsen broke Kasparov’s 13-year-old rating record (2851). In January 2013, it was official in FIDE’s ratings list. Carlsen had earned a rating of 2861—the highest ever.
One month later, Carlsen would face the world champion at the time, Anand, for the most important title in chess. Previously, though, in March and April, Carlsen had competed in the 2013 Candidates Tournament and won the event on tiebreaks over the world’s number-two player at the time, Kramnik. That set the stage for Carlsen vs. Anand in the World Chess Championship 2013 in Chennai, India. Carlsen was rated 2870 while Anand, number-eight in the world, was rated nearly 100 points lower at 2775.
ater in April, Carlsen won the Shamkir Chess 2014 tournament. He finished with 6.5/10 points and one full point ahead of Caruana, who finished in second. The next month, on the May 2014 FIDE ratings list, Carlsen made history. He achieved his highest official rating of 2882. Earlier during the Shamkir event, his live rating hit 2889.2 on April 21, 2014. Both are the highest ratings ever achieved in classical chess.
n the spring of 2020 Carlsen announced the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, a series of five online tournaments consisting of world-class players and a $1 million prize fund. The tour had four high-profile events (Carlsen won three of these events), and then the Finals for the four highest-scoring players. In the Finals, Carlsen narrowly defeated Nakamura on day seven in the last game by holding a draw with Black in the armageddon game. Despite the close match in the Finals, Carlsen yet again proved that he is the most dominant player on the planet.