When Magnus Carlsen became the world chess champion a few days ago, I don’t think anyone in the chess world lost money. All bets were on the almost-twenty-three-year-old Norwegian’s beating the reigning grandmaster, Viswanathan Anand. With play in Chennai, India, Anand had the home-court advantage, but, at nearly forty-four, he is getting old for top-level chess, and Carlsen gained momentum as the match went on. He didn’t lose in ten games. Perhaps the biggest surprise was in the last one, when Carlsen, with the prize in his grasp, played to win rather than accepting what looked to be Anand’s offer of a draw, which would have clinched it for Carlsen anyway. He could have been the world champion a couple of hours sooner.
Despite his ad-hoc approach, Carlsen seems so good at so many things now, it’s not clear to chess commentators where it’s going to end. He’s like a great baseline tennis player who just keeps returning the ball deep and with power until he forces an error, but rarely makes any of his own. “He’s gotten a little older,” notes Mig Greengard, who works with Kasparov and tweets as @chessninja, “but as far as the actual games, I don’t think he’s really different now. He’s just more.” That Carlsen still hasn’t peaked he finds “frankly terrifying.”