Just in time for the 2013 world championship match, New in Chess has republished Simen Agdestein's Wonderboy Magnus Carlsen: How Magnus Carlsen Became the Youngest Grandmaster in the World with a new foreword. Agdestein, a Norwegian GM who served as Carlsen's coach as of the first publication, recounts the story of Carlsen's development in a thoroughly supportive Norwegian family. His development as a chess player can even challenge our stereotypes about chess improvement:
* Young Magnus did not follow the strict training regimen of "the Soviet school," but pursued his own interests in his own style, with but a modicum of guidance from his trainers.
* He studied many thousands of classic games before he achieved his GM title. On the other hand, he didn't seem to study tactics much, at least by the standard method (solving lots and lots of puzzles).
* From early on he has never used a set to analyze, but just reads a text or game notation and uses his board vision.
Agdestein doesn't directly challenge the conventional wisdom on chess improvement and training, but after I finished the book I found myself questioning whether my fairly orthodox training methodology might need some revamping.
The author sprinkles in over 100 lightly annotated games throughout the narrative that illustrate the development of Carlsen's chess ability. The early games exhibit many brilliancies but plenty of flaws, too: tactical blunders, unsound sacrifices, and a susceptibility to "hand-waving" rather than the hard work of calculating concrete variations. Naturally these flaws diminish as the book continues, until at the end we see Carlsen playing consistently at the GM level.
While the games have plenty of good material, most are accompanied by only a single diagram, and Agdestein's light annotations tend toward hand-waving. For example, he might say "the pawn cannot be captured" without any explanatory analysis. He also criticized some moves without offering a superior alternative. So I found myself scribbling lots of variations in the margins to justify Agdestein's sparse comments. Of course, such exercise is probably better for my chess than being fed the analysis on a spoon, so maybe there is method to Agdestein's madness! And every reader who has not yet reached the FM level can certainly benefit from seeing how Carlsen learned how to clear the hurdles that stand in the way of chess improvement.
While you may enjoy the book either as a pretty good game collection or as an intriguing biography of a preternaturally talented prodigy, I had the most fun when I encountered passages that were, with the benefit of hindsight, either prescient or ironic. For example, soon Carlsen would need a coach more advanced than Agdestein--well, does Kasparov qualify? Or at the age of 9 Carlsen "already liked to sacrifice pieces for exciting play"--but today he just looks for a tiny but stable advantage with which he can grind away.
If you own the first edition, there's no reason to get this one. But if you don't have it, it's a good read and a good game collection. You'll enjoy having read it as you watch the match against Anand, so why not give it a go?
The publisher provided a review copy of this book to me in exchange for my honest review. My ratings of the publisher's books have ranged from 3 stars to 5 stars.