And it's not only knee-jerk doubt. I've been telling myself, there are logical reasons to be suspicious that Carlsen is overrated (in the historical sense). The first is that, psychologically, we chess fans are used to living in the era of a Super Champ: that is, a World Champion who topped the rating list, was expected to win every tournament they entered, and retained their crown for a more than just a handful of years. Both Karpov and Kasparov were Super Champs, and so it's natural to expect that a new Super Champ will come along sooner rather than later. Natural, but forgetful too of chess history. There have been many eras of chess without a Super Champ, after all. The most conspicuous was the late fifties and 1960s, which saw no fewer than five World Champions.
And why shouldn't top-level professional chess nowadays be similar to that era? Topalov tops the rating list and his combative style, quick recovery from defeats, and excellent preparation make him a likely front-runner in any tournament he enters. Meanwhile, there is no question that Kramnik and Anand both deserved their World Champion match victories. And plausible future rivals aren't hard to name: along with Carlsen, there's Aronian, Radjabov and Karjakin at the very least, not even to begin to name the Grandmaster children scaring me even further away from competitive chess. Add to that the ever-increasing role of affordable computers in the production of novelties - well, this era could surely produce a new, legitimate World Champion every other year, without a single Super Champ to be found.
And then there are the institutional arrangements, or rather their lack. No stable, revered World Championship to aim at; no gruelling, comprehensive qualifying structure. The consequential cultural devaluation of the ultimate crown. Qualifying for the World Championship once represented climbing Mount Everest, the ascension to the highest peak. But nowadays, who's to say that FIDE just won't parachute its latest favourite to the top for the next match? Everest is being worn down into just another modest chess hillock, the crown losing its shine, shedding its jewels. Why should chess professionals such as Carlsen not just content themselves with a pleasant, predictable life lived along a circuit of plush hotels, shrugging off the world-conquering dreams of their greater predecessors in favour of nights in watching Monty Python?
And so I had been telling myself. But that was before Kasparov revealed himself as Carlsen's second. Before Carlsen obliterated the world-class field in the Nanjing Pearl Spring tournament. Before Carlsen started talking up his intentions. Perhaps the uncrowned Super Champ he is after all. On the other hand, Karpov was a Super Champ for a whole decade, Kasparov for a full fifteen years: if Carlsen is to measure up to the hype, I at least have the consolation that the earliest I will be proven comprehensively wrong is 2019. One thing for sure is that there'll be a lot of interesting chess between now and then.