Carlsen’s Meltdown

The main story of the Sinquefield rapid and blitz was Carlsen’s apparent inability to keep his composure.

Carlsen’s problem were his blunders. It has happened before that he starts with a loss or bad form, but this time he simply couldn’t manage to turn it around and in utter frustration he started to do odd things.

It’s not that he didn’t try to keep it contained. He tried to play more solidly (the French with a direct transposition to an endgame against Karjakin and the QGD against Ding Liren – he lost both) and then more sharply (transposing to a Dragon Sicilian against Yu Yangyi – he was brutally mated), but with equal (lack of) success.

Then came the most shocking thing for me – Carlsen’s own admission that he didn’t care anymore. I have never before heard a World Champion openly declare that he didn’t care about the remainder of the tournament (and Carlsen had a full day of blitz ahead of him).

The frustration was obvious, nothing seemed to be working, but to say that he didn’t care? That is giving up. How much did it have to hurt so that he saw no other way out but to give up?

Here’re a couple of examples of Carlsen’s frustration translated to chess moves:

If that was primitive, then this was too optimistic (to say it nicely).

There were other blows as well: getting mated by Yu Yangyi in a bad Dragon and losing to Dominguez in a Sveshnikov (a piece down on move 23). Additional pain must have been caused by his overall losses to Karjakin (2-1) and Caruana (2.5-0.5)

After such a long period of successes this was undoubtedly a shock to Carlsen’s system. Of all the players he is the one least accustomed to failures, but the strength of all champions has been their ability to overcome adversity. Carlsen has shown it before on more than one occasion. That is why I find this giving up so shocking.

Two rounds have already passed in the classical event in St. Louis. There have been 11 draws and 1 decisive result, Anand’s win against Nepomniachtchi. I expect it to continue in similar manner, with Carlsen more cautious than ever, not going after breaking records of reaching 2900. He is also human and a dent in his confidence is as bad as in anybody else’s.

In a way, and I’ll go off on a tangent here and speculate, I think that when the day comes, Carlsen will lose his title in a similar way Kasparov lost his to Kramnik. In frustration. Just to whom that may happen is the question, who will be capable to frustrate him like that? Though, what we can say for sure – nobody from the current players in St. Louis.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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