Go back to frontpage

Part 5: The confidence of a champion

By Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen

To play well, you have to believe in yourself!

A sign of being out of form is that you spend too much time on almost every decision. Is that really better for me? Have I calculated correctly? In the end, you might even end up not doing what you want to do.

Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen believe in themselves. I think it’s safe to say that you can’t be the best without trusting your abilities.

I remember Magnus lost to one of the best players in the world. After the game, he was looking uncomfortable and said that the possibility of losing never occurred to him. Imagine that! I am sure most of you have a fear of losing back in your mind.

You can see if a person is confident by the way he or she walks or talks, but you could also see it in the way they play chess. I’ll illustrate this is by showing a few of their intuitive positional sacrifices.

Magnus Carlsen – Fabiano Caruana, Biel 2011

Diagram-1--2--1

This game fascinates me because from this position Magnus managed to win in only nine moves. At first sight, it even seems a bit difficult for White, due to the pinned knight. Magnus’ decision is simple 19.Nd4! Who cares about the rook? The game continued 19…Bxf1 20.Kxf1

Diagram-2--2-

It's true, I see that White’s bishops are strong, and yes, Black’s structure is damaged. Still, I’m sure I would have doubted White’s compensation. Well, Magnus is different. He has the knowledge, but also the attitude. By believing in his position, he managed to outplay his opponent quickly. Would you have sacrificed the exchange?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying you should sacrifice recklessly and not care about obstacles. What I mean is that you will probably play better if you tell yourself that you know how to play this game and that you are there to take control of what’s happening on the board.

The next game is very different, but the confidence Magnus shows is remarkable.

Magnus Carlsen – David Howell, London 2011

Diagram-3--2-

Black is threatening the pawn on b2. What to do about it? Sacrifice it, and why not give another pawn as well. 16.e5!

Diagram-4--1-

Black has to take it. 16…dxe5 17.Ne4! There goes the pawn on b2 as well. 17…Qxb2 18.f5!

Diagram-5

Two pawns down but a dominating position. Black’s bishops have problems finding something useful to do, while White has many ways to increase the pressure. Magnus went on to win.

I remember a fellow Norwegian Grandmaster once gave me a compliment I appreciated. He said: “Torbjørn is one of few Norwegian players who dares to make a sacrifice, even if he is not sure of the consequences.” I think that is important to make the moves you want to make. And I don’t think it has to conflict with what’s practical and even the best move to make. It’s about being mentally ready to take committal decisions.

The best thing about the World Championship is that we have two confident guys going after each other. I am sure they both consider themselves strong enough to win. When players like this face each other, we are guaranteed a great fight. I will round off by showing you what Caruana is capable of doing.

Fabiano Caruana – Hikaru Nakamura, London 2016

Diagram-6--1-

Caruana has an extra knight, but with three pieces hanging, something is bound to fall. But the question is which one. Maybe the knight? Or perhaps the bishop? Caruana had a drastic solution. 19.Qxf6! He sacrificed the queen. 19…Bxf6 20.Nd5 Qd8 21.Nf5

Diagram-7

White has two knights for the queen, but White’s pieces are dominating completely. White has more than enough compensation and went on to win.

I hope I didn’t create a battalion of over-confident chess players by writing this, because I like the friendly atmosphere at tournaments…

Only one month left. I can’t wait!

Want to gain confidence? Check out our Magnus Trainer app and improve your chess skills!

Photo by Lennart Ootes