by Ian Rogers
Laurent Fressinet, who won the 22nd Sigeman tournament in Malmo last week, is hardly a household name and some would prefer that the 32-year-old French Grandmaster remained that way.
For Fressinet was one of Magnus Carlsen’s secret helpers during the Norwegian’s successful world title challenge last November.
Carlsen had refused to reveal the names of the seconds with him in Chennai, and after the match it turned out that he had no seconds in Chennai, only friends and family.
A team led by fellow Norwegian Jon-Ludwig Hammer was working long-distance from their homes on the technical side of Carlsen’s world title challenge.
Clearly the Skype experiment worked, yet the logistics of how the seconds operated remained mysterious. However in Malmo Hammer and Fressinet (both pictured front cover and above) agreed to talk, about their experiences as long-distance seconds.
“It’s very nice being Magnus’ second,” said Hammer, 23. “Your job is not to get an advantage in every line but to get something playable – a position which takes his opponent off the beaten track.”
Fressinet (pictured below) explained, “In general Magnus is so much better than the others that he does not want to compare who has the best computer, he just wants to play chess.”
Working in Europe while the match was in India might appear to be tricky, but Hammer and Fressinet took it in their stride.
“The time difference was not catastrophic,” said Hammer.
“After the game Magnus would say, “I am thinking about doing this tomorrow” so we would do some work. I got into this rhythm where we started preparing at around 10 pm – 2.30am in India. We were working to maybe 6am and we were sending things off [to India].”
Hammer was surprised that the secrecy was maintained for so long. “I wondered if a journalist would come knocking at my door just to see if I was there, but it never happened. And Magnus never confirmed that Laurent was his second but it was a very badly kept secret.”
“I had to be there at all times for Jon-Ludwig,” added Fressinet. “At the beginning I was watching the games [and not sleeping much] but when Magnus [won games five and six] I was able to relax more.”
Neither player felt that they could take too much credit for Carlsen’s decisive win over Anand.
“Magnus is playing just incredibly well – it is the main reason why he won,” said Fressinet. “We were not doing badly in the opening – both players were struggling to get anything with White. But Magnus just played better.”
Hammer regarded breaking even against Anand in the openings as a success in itself. “Magnus didn’t win all the openings but he didn’t have to. What I thought going into the match was, just as long as he doesn’t lose with Black he is going to be fine. [So] our preparation was focused on Black.”
Hammer (pictured below) could not say if assistance by Skype might become a trend. “It’s difficult to say if it will continue like this. Magnus was trying something new and it worked. He won the match, right?”