Vincent Keymer and the parallels with Magnus Carlsen

Status: 01/11/2023 07:09

With his second place in the rapid world championship, Vincent Keymer has finally arrived in the extended world elite of chess. Not only does his coach compare him to Magnus Carlsen.

Has he finally reached the top of the world? Vincent Keymer, who usually responds like a gunshot, thinks for a few seconds. “Not necessarily. It was a tournament where it went well”replies the now 18-year-old.

Even shortly after the biggest success of his career, silver at the Rapid World Championship in Kazakhstan at the end of December, Keymer remains modest and reserved. For years he was considered the greatest German chess talent for decades, and at the age of 14 he became the youngest German grandmaster of all time. Now, four years later, it can be said that Rhenish Hesse has not only withstood the pressure as the talent of the century, but has even exceeded the expectations of many.

Win against Caruana and ‘Nepo’: ‘That’s where my run started’

In 2021, he is second at the European Championships, a first exclamation point. This was followed by strong performances in the Grand Prix or online tournament series from superstar Magnus Carlsen. But his masterpiece was that second place last time at the World Rapid Championship, where Keymer beat several grandmasters and only one decisive game scratched with Carlsen.

“Day one went well, but day two I had this huge fight against Caruana and then my run started”, Keymer looks back. He beat American Fabiano Caruana and Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi, Carlsen’s last two challengers to the World Classic Chess Championship. Keymer won every game with the white pieces – proof of his good positional play and security in the openings.

Starting 54th on the seed list, Keymer was level on points with Carlsen entering the final round. He got an easy ticket and was winning from the start. Keymer, on the other hand, was to face the former world blitz champion, the Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. “A draw was the first goal to clinch a medal. I really didn’t want to lose”, Keymer looks back. He succeeded, tactically high-class play was balanced for a long time. In the end, Keymer even had an advantage, being able to almost promote one of his pawns to queen – that would have been victory and the title playoff against Carlsen. “I had the feeling that the game was won, but I couldn’t calculate it in the short time”said Keymer. His French opponent was able to stop the pawn, which was far advanced on line F, and thus ensure a draw – and thus make the Norwegian Carlsen, who had watched the match nervously as a spectator, the world champion.

45,000 cash prizes for Keymer – and lots of praise

The brief disappointment at the failure decisive game quickly gave way to the joy of the biggest success of his career – and $45,000 in prize money, also a record for Keymer. “Vincent’s development hasn’t surprised me personally, as he has steadily improved over the years.”says the president of the German Chess Federation, Ullrich Krause. “I didn’t expect him to finish second in the World Rapid Championship. Rapid is much more about intuition and speed and Vincent seems to have both at a world class level.”

Keymer’s game is very strategic, he makes few mistakes – nevertheless, he has become more aggressive in recent years, also due to many online games, and sometimes takes risks. If you want to compare the German to another chess player, many experts can only think of one: Magnus Carlsen, the (still) Norwegian world champion and top chess figure.

Keymer himself also sees parallels with Magnus Carlsen

“With Magnus Carlsen, it’s always seen as a strength that he always gets the edge in slightly better positions. That’s something you find in me too.”“, says Keymer himself. His coach, former world-class player Peter Leko, as a commentator, recently suspected that Keymer has struggled against Carlsen in matches so far because the two are so similar. “Magnus is clearly better right now”according to Leko.

The gap with the Norwegian megastar is still huge, and Keymer has recently shown Keymer the limits on several occasions. “But Keymer will close the gap and be absolutely world class”German chess streamer Georgios Souleidis aka “the great greek” for sure. “Keymer and Carlsen are both very universal, very versatile players. And they don’t panic on the board, they just do what their position calls for.”

Cheating concerns: ‘It’s about the integrity of the sport’

More recently, Magnus Carlsen’s cheating allegations against American Hans Niemann had occupied the sport of chess for months. The world association FIDE is still investigating the matter, the largest chess site “chess.compublished a 72-page report. An interesting marginal detail from the report: the site looked at the playing strength development of various players to describe Niemann’s supposedly exceptionally rapid development. Of all the players examined, Vincent Keymer had behind the suspect Niemann and the greatest chess genius of all time means that Bobby Fischer achieved the biggest increase in viewership in just a few years – ahead of Carlsen and other young talents such as Gukesh and Firouzja.

Keymer never brags about those stats or good games, which makes him likable and sets him apart from a loudmouth like Niemann. Young Saulheimer doesn’t want to talk about himself in interviews, but he’s been talking about infidelity a lot lately. “Technology is constantly changing. I just guess there are still things about cheating that you aren’t even aware of,” fears Keymer. “It affects integrity. If it spreads, it affects the whole sport.”

A duel between Keymer and Niemann was originally planned for the spring, supported and marketed by the German Chess Federation. Some members of the chess federation would have liked the attention, would have liked to see Keymer, as a clean man, seizing the chance to win the game fairly.

Keymer didn’t want to play against Niemann

But Keymer canceled after allegations of fraud against Niemann. His father, a professional musician, is still in charge of the management – if he hadn’t become a chess professional, Vincent Keymer could have become a pianist. Grenke Bank has been backing the 18-year-old for years, otherwise the search for sponsors is slow. “He is the best German player of all time and no big company sponsors him. I find that incredible.”says streamer Souleidis.

For the next three years, however, the German Chess Federation will provide new funding for top sport. Keymer receives an average five-figure amount per year and can thus finance coach Leko or expensive trips like the World Cup in Kazakhstan.

Average Abitur 1.7 – now the Tata Steel tournament in Holland awaits

One less worry – and Keymer has also had his baccalaureate since the start of 2022. Between training and tournaments, he still managed to obtain an average score of 1.7. He’s been a pro ever since. “Although the school was very accommodating, now I can rest and recharge better at home after the tournaments”according to Keymer. “That way my thoughts can stay with chess. School has always been on my mind and then I’ve forgotten things about chess. Being able to stay in the mode now helps.”

If Vincent Keymer’s journey continues as it has done for the past two years, his goal should soon be the Candidates Tournament and therefore a possible qualification for the World Cup. First of all, from this Saturday (January 14) he will play with the top team Tata Steel Tournament in Holland, notably against sworn enemy Carlsen and World Cup contender Ding Liren. In mid-February, we then move on to the equally high-end one chess masters In Dusseldorf. Two world-class tournaments in two months as a criterion. Goals? “First half-race with these participants” – a classic keymer.

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