Ahead of 2010, Carlsen said that he would be playing in fewer tournaments the coming year. The cooperation with Kasparov continued until March that year.
Carlsen won the Corus chess tournament played 16–31 January with 8½ points (five wins, seven draws, one loss). His ninth-round loss to Kramnik ended a streak of 36 rated games undefeated. Carlsen appeared to struggle in the last round against Fabiano Caruana, but saved a draw leaving him half a point ahead of Kramnik and Shirov.
The March 2010 FIDE rating list showed Carlsen with a new peak rating of 2813, a figure that only Kasparov had bettered at that time. In the same month it was announced that Carlsen had split from Kasparov and would no longer be using him as a trainer, although this was put into different context by Carlsen himself in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel stating that they would remain in contact and that he would continue to attend training sessions with Kasparov.
Carlsen shared first place alongside Ivanchuk in the Amber 2010 blindfold and rapid tournament. Carlsen scored 6½ points in the blindfold and 8 points in the rapid, giving 14½ points from a possible 22 points.
In May 2010 it was revealed that Carlsen had helped Viswanathan Anand prepare for the World Chess Championship 2010 against challenger Veselin Topalov, which Anand won 6½–5½ to retain the title. Carlsen had also helped Anand prepare for the World Chess Championship 2007 and World Chess Championship 2008.
In his first tournament since his announced departure from Kasparov, Carlsen played in the Bazna Kings Tournament in Romania on 14–25 June. The tournament was a double round robin event involving Wang Yue, Boris Gelfand, former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov, Teimour Radjabov, and Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu. After drawing his first three games, Carlsen won his next four and set a personal livechess rating peak of 2825.1. He finished with 7½/10 and a 2918 performance rating, winning the tournament by two points over Radjabov and Gelfand. The victory ensured that Carlsen remained at the top of the Elo rating list. His official rating hit 2826, a figure exceeded only by Kasparov and just 25 points shy of tying Kasparov's all-time record.
Carlsen then played in a rapid tournament 28–30 August at the Arctic Securities Chess Stars tournament in Kristiansund, Norway. The field featured world champion Viswanathan Anand, female world No. 1 Judit Polgár, and Jon Ludvig Hammer. In the preliminary round robin, Carlsen scored 3½/6 to qualify for the final, second behind Anand. In the final, Carlsen defeated Anand 1½–½ to win the championship.
Following this event, Carlsen suffered setbacks in his next two tournaments. In the 39th Chess Olympiad from 19 September to 4 October, he scored 4½/8, losing three games, to Baadur Jobava, Michael Adams and Sanan Sjugirov; these were his first losses with the black pieces in more than a year. His team, Norway, finished 51st out of 149 teams.
Carlsen's next tournament was the Grand Slam Masters Final on 9–15 October 2010, which he had qualified for automatically by winning three of the previous year's four Grand Slam chess events (2009 Nanjing Pearl Spring, 2010 Corus, 2010 Bazna Kings). Along with Carlsen, the finals consisted of World Champion Viswanathan Anand and the highest two scorers from the preliminary stage held in Shanghai in September, which featured Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, Alexei Shirov, and Wang Hao; Shirov and Kramnik qualified. The official September 2010 ratings of Carlsen, Anand, Kramnik and Shirov made the Grand Slam final the strongest tournament in chess history, with an average ELO of 2789. In the first round, Carlsen lost on the black side of the Queen's Indian Defense to Kramnik; this was Carlsen's second consecutive loss to Kramnik, and placed his hold on the world No. 1 ranking in serious jeopardy. In his second round, Carlsen lost with the white pieces to Anand in the Ruy Lopez; this was his first loss as white since January 2010, and dropped him to world No. 2 in the live rankings behind Anand. Carlsen recovered somewhat in the latter part of the tournament, finishing with 2½/6, including a win over Shirov; the tournament was won by Kramnik with 4/6. Carlsen finished this tournament with a rating of 2802, two points behind Anand at 2804 who officially ended Carlsen's reign at world No. 1. These setbacks called into question from some whether Carlsen's activities outside chess, such as modelling for G-Star Raw, was distracting him from performing well at the chess board. Carlsen said he did not believe there was a direct connection, and that he was looking forward to the Pearl Spring tournament, where he had scored 8/10 in 2009.
Following the Grand Slam Masters Final, Carlsen's next tournament was the 2010 Pearl Spring chess tournament on 19–30 October in Nanjing, China, against Anand, world No. 2 Veselin Topalov, Vugar Gashimov, Wang Yue, and Étienne Bacrot. This was the only tournament in 2010 to feature Anand, Carlsen and Topalov, at the time the top three players in the world, and was the first tournament in history to feature three players rated at least 2800. With early wins over Bacrot, Yue, and Topalov with white, Carlsen took the early lead, extending his winning streak with white in Nanjing to eight. This streak was halted by a draw to Anand in round seven, but in the penultimate round Carlsen secured first place by defeating Topalov with the black pieces. This was his second victory in the tournament over the former world No. 1, and improved his score to 6½/9. The victory clinched Carlsen a place in the 2011 Grand Slam Chess Masters final, his final score of 7/10 (with a performance rating of 2903) was a full point ahead of runner-up Anand, and moved him back to world No. 1 on the live rankings.
Carlsen next played in the 2010 World Blitz Championship, in Moscow on 16–18 November, attempting to defend his 2009 title. With a score of 23½/38, he finished in third place behind Teimour Radjabov and winner Levon Aronian. An odd footnote to the tournament was the private 40-game blitz match Carlsen played against Hikaru Nakamura after the tournament was over. It was later revealed that Carlsen won the informal match 23.5-16.5.
Carlsen won the 2010 London Chess Classic on 8–15 December in a field comprising world champion Viswanathan Anand, former world champion Vladimir Kramnik, American number one Hikaru Nakamura, and British players Michael Adams, Nigel Short, David Howell, and Luke McShane. Carlsen had a rocky start, losing his Black games to McShane and Anand in rounds 1 and 3, but winning with White against Adams and Nakamura in rounds 2 and 4. He joined the lead with a Black win over Howell in round 5, and managed to stay in the lead following a harrowing draw with Black against Kramnik in round 6, before defeating Short in the last round with White. Since the tournament was played with three points for a win, Carlsen's +4=1−2 score put him ahead of Anand and McShane who scored +2=5 (a more traditional two-points-for-a-win system would have yielded a three-way tie, with Carlsen still on top having the better tiebreaker due to four games with black – Anand and McShane had to play only three times with black).
Carlsen won the Chess Oscar for 2010 by narrowly beating Viswanathan Anand.
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