‘Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand have (political) opinions. But they don’t want to share like Garry Kasparov’ – Carlsen’s trainer Peter Heine Nielsen’s interview 


In a freewheeling interview with The Indian Express, Magnus Carlsen’s trainer Peter Heine Nielsen discussed the difference between being Carlsen’s trainer versus working for Viswanathan Anand, why both players are not politically outspoken, why Carlsen likes playing against the younger generation and whether Gukesh playing in the World Championship will coax him to re-consider competing for the crown.

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Gukesh is in the World Championship and there’s every possibility that someone like Praggnanandhaa or Arjun Erigaisi could also be there soon. Do you believe that those things might just convince Magnus to play once again? 

I doubt it. But I haven’t spoken one word with him about it. I don’t know. They (the youngsters) generally try to play chess with him, and that’s interesting. Nakamura did the same recently, so I should say so does the older generation. But not always. They’re more scarred and nervous (trying to play chess against Magnus). He finds it interesting to play against the youngsters because they’re trying to beat him. Generally, it goes quite badly (for them). But what we saw with Praggnanandhaa here, he managed to beat Magnus by playing better. I didn’t like that Pragg beat him (at Norway Chess)!

Magnus should answer this for himself. Maybe he won’t mind playing a World Championship match with them, but what’s problematic is that he would have to actually qualify. That would be quite a (long) route and would feel a bit weird. What you would really like to have is a generational clash where both players still have all of their powers. So a Magnus who hasn’t declined against a Gukesh/Pragg/Arjun. A match against Firoujza would be interesting as well. But it’s a little difficult, like a train which has gone in a completely different way. I’m generally not good at predicting what Magnus is doing. The simplest thing would be to ask him. He usually gives very honest answers. It’s a bit of a joke in our team, I sometimes say I have to go listen to Magnus’s press conferences to listen to what he thinks about the game. People say I could just ask him, but that’s not how we do things.

In all your years that you have worked with Magnus, what has been the most impressive thing you have seen him do?   

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The World Championship against Fabiano Caruana… when he played a draw in game 12, everyone was saying he was having a mental breakdown. But he didn’t. He knew what he was doing and he didn’t care what anyone thought. But in his shoes, I would have been extremely nervous because if you lose the playoff, Caruana is the world champion. I remember when we met on the stairs to go to the lounge, I was very curious which person was going to show up. He was in an excellent mood. He was clear he was looking forward to playing chess. He was like ‘It’s going to be a fun day’. That was very impressive. It would be reasonable to break down at that stage. As a sportsperson you see people crumble under nervousness when your identity is at stake.

Does he relish those situations? When he’s under the gun and needs to win on demand? 

I don’t know if he relishes it. But he tries. He’s failed some times. When he won the FIDE World Cup he was very happy. It will sound strange, but winning the world championship when you’re the overwhelming favourite against just one opponent… he’s done it many times. He had never won the World Cup where you play 128 players. You have to win a lot of knockout matches. This also explains why the World Championship is something he quit playing. But the joy I felt from him after he won the World Cup or from winning the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championship in 2022 was extraordinary and something I didn’t expect.

Winning World Championship matches with Vishy (Anand) felt great, because we never took it for granted. With Magnus at some point we took it for granted.

Nielsen says age and experience were the key differences between coaching Carlsen and Anand over the years. Nielsen says age and experience were the key differences between coaching Carlsen and Anand over the years.

What is it like working with Magnus Carlsen as compared to working with Viswanathan Anand? 

They’re both natural talents, intuitive geniuses rather than very concrete players. The huge difference was age; when I started working with Vishy, he was older then. He was at the top of his career wanting to maximise his chances of becoming the World Champion and then defending it. He was a very mature player with much more experience than myself. With Magnus, I have known him basically from the pre-teenage age, we played table tennis and computer games together. I did have fun with Vishy and considered him as almost family at some point. But it was a relationship built on sporting ambition in a way. As personalities and playing styles, they’re maybe not too different. Perhaps the big difference was not so much them, but me. With Vishy, I was a young player with no coaching experience when he took me in. I wanted to work incredibly hard to sort of pay back his trust. I was completely obsessed with the work I was doing for Vishy. But when I started working full-time with Magnus, I had won four titles with Vishy. I had a bunch of experience. But perhaps less ambition. That fitted perhaps well with Magnus in a way.

You’re someone who’s very outspoken about political issues. But we don’t usually hear that with Magnus. When we look at someone like Garry Kasparov, who became an icon for his political stance away from the board. Does Magnus ever speak about wanting to be bigger than one of the best players in the world in history?

It doesn’t seem like that. Magnus does it with his chess. It’s not like he’s not opinionated. But on this topic of politics, when he was on a podcast with Lex Freidman, he did speak about it. Vishy and Magnus are somewhat similar in character. Kasparov is very different. He’s so full of energy, dominance and opinions in a way. Don’t get me wrong, Magnus and Vishy have opinions. But they don’t want to share them like that. I guess Magnus sees himself more of an ambassador for chess. He’s been doing things like his Offerspill project. I really love what Kasparov is doing, but he’s the exception rather than the rule. Magnus and Vishy are typical sportstars. I don’t think they have the wish or obligation to change the world. That’s their choice. Like Kasparov’s choice is legitimate, Magnus and Vishy’s choices are legitimate. Also, Kasparov’s (activism) happened almost after his career ended. But I would be surprised if Magnus goes in this direction. I don’t know.

What was Magnus like growing up, as a child prodigy?

Yes, he was a child prodigy, but we should not forget that when he was 15, it was not clear that he was the no 1 in his age group. Sergey Karjakin was probably higher rated, in World Youth events, he would end up after Ian Nepomniachtchi. At 17, it was clear (he was the best). It was not instantly a given (in his younger days that Magnus was going to be world champion). I thought I was hanging out with a talented Norwegian guy from a neighbouring country and we had fun. I had absolutely zero belief that this guy would become world champion. That he became a world champion is almost the understatement of his career. I don’t think he’s surpassed Kasparov yet. But just the fact that there’s debate (on who’s the best ever) is good! It’s a legitimate debate. Kasparov was absurdly good.

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