Learn from Magnus Carlsen - Strategic Planning
Preview by GM Mihail Marin
For years I (and I believe many others also) have failed to understand what I now see as the core of Magnus Carlsen's strength: His strategic long-term vision. This is a conclusion that many of his direct opponents also have come to. I would like to start with a remarkable statement by Judith Polgar: "Carlsen sees things that we do not see. He knows in advance what will happen 10 moves later!" Another interesting observation was made by Vladimir Kramnik: "Magnus obviously has the ability (or gift) to determine the opponents to play below their usual level." Kramnik relates this aspect to psychology and he is probably right, at least partly. But psychology is a tricky territory and I do not feel prepared to step into it. I would rather stick to objective matters related to the quote above. Tal once wrote that one should help his pieces and then the pieces would help him in return. Turning the whole thing upside down, it would become: "Be mean with the opponent's pieces and they will be mean to him in return!"
The current database consists of 10 extensively commented games (each one different chapter) and 30 tests which are taken from the practice of Magnus Carlsen.
Restricting the Opponent's Pieces - Part 1
Carlsen has the fantastic ability to restrict the pieces of his opponent. Very often, the opponents of Magnus start feeling the danger of having a restricted piece when it is already too late. In his game against Viktor Bologan, Magnus Carlsen demonstrates his long-term vision by restricting his opponent's bishop.
Restricting the Opponent's Pieces - Part 2
This chapter deals with the game Francisco Vallejo Pons - Magnus Carlsen. From a positional point of view, this example is much more complicated than the previous one. This time Carlsen's opponent did not realize in time which of his minor pieces was going to be dominated.
Pawn Domination in the Center
In the next game (Teimour Radjabov - Magnus Carlsen), we will witness a different form of restriction, which will not be applied to a certain piece, but to the whole enemy pawn structure! In the process of achieving the minimal but stable advantage, Carlsen's was helped by his opponent's ignoring the principle that capturing towards the center strengthens one's structure (with the exception of those cases when this creates the obvious weakness of isolated doubled pawns). Later on, the game shows how we should exploit the domination in the center.
Mysterious Regrouping Moves
In the game Magnus Carlsen - Sergey Karjakin, the World Champion will carry out long regroupings aimed at improving his own pieces' placement in view of launching a strong (or decisive) attack.
Regrouping for an Attack in Queenless Middlegames
In the game Magnus Carlsen - Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, he early queen exchange will not exactly lead to an ending, but rather a queenless middlegame, in which accurate regrouping will allow White to obtain a decisive attack by simple means.
Breaking the Restrictions of One's Own Pieces
The game Dragan Solak - Magnus Carlsen features an interesting situation related to the aforementioned ideas. Carlsen apparently exposed one of his pieces to the risk of being buried alive, inducing his opponent to make considerable efforts in this direction. But when that piece was freed from its isolation, his opponent's previous play appeared to have only weakened the position.
Consistency in Executing a Plan - Part 1
Some years ago, IM Micrea Pavlov, who has been my first trainer and for years accompanied the Romanian women team to the Olympiads as a captain, told me the following story. He was analyzing with Tal a position with mutual attacks when the former World champion expressed his lost interest for continuing with: "Why are we looking at this? Don't you see that you are a few steps behind with your plan?" Indeed, those were the times when a leading grandmaster would know how to prove that being one or two tempi ahead in the race of carrying out the opposite plans was decisive, but, quite possibly, something of the attacking clarity has been lost in the computer era. If so, Carlsen surely is an exception and this is why he wins so many "completely lost" positions.
The game Hikaru Nakamura - Magnus Carlsen is a typical example.
Consistency in Executing a Plan - Part 2
In the game Magnus Carlsen - Julio Granda Zuniga, we will see a similar pattern in a slightly better position for Carlsen, which will make the outcome of the game more logical from an objective point of view.
Switching from Light Squares to Dark Squares
When speaking about strategic thinking (especially long-term), pawn structures and squares are an essential issue. Carlsen seems to have an excellent feel for the positional nuances involved in taking over control of the essential squares and the ability to switch from light squares to dark squares or vice versa. My favorite example of this theme is the game Viswanathan Anand - Magnus Carlsen.
Fighting for Essential Squares on Both Wings
Carlsen's innate ability to combine threats on light and dark squares is even clearer in rapid games, where most decisions are taken intuitively. A very nice example is the game Veselin Topalov - Magnus Carlsen.
In the test section, you will find 30 positions which are taken from the practice of Magnus Carlsen. It is important to know that giving the right answer is not that important. Since the lines are not forced, sometimes, the choice is a matter of taste. These tests will help you to better understand how Magnus deals with strategically complicated situations. Below, you will find 5 test positions.