Interview with Magnus Carlsen

Carlsen is the number one chess player in the world, at the ripe old age of 19. This interview with him is quite good. Go read the whole thing. Some of my favorite excerpts are below.

SPIEGEL: You are 19 years old and ranked the number one chess player in the world. You must be incredibly clever.

Carlsen: And that’s precisely what would be terrible. Of course it is important for a chess player to be able to concentrate well, but being too intelligent can also be a burden. It can get in your way. I am convinced that the reason the Englishman John Nunn never became world champion is that he is too clever for that.

SPIEGEL: How that?

Carlsen: At the age of 15, Nunn started studying mathematics in Oxford; he was the youngest student in the last 500 years, and at 23 he did a PhD in algebraic topology. He has so incredibly much in his head. Simply too much. His enormous powers of understanding and his constant thirst for knowledge distracted him from chess.

SPIEGEL: Things are different in your case?

Carlsen: Right. I am a totally normal guy. My father is considerably more intelligent than I am.


SPIEGEL: You became a grandmaster at the age of 13 years, four months and 27 days; and there has never been a younger number one than you before. What is that due to, if not to your intelligence?

Carlsen: I’m not saying that I am totally stupid. But my success mainly has to do with the fact that I had the opportunity to learn more, more quickly. It has become easier to get hold of information. The players from the Soviet Union used to be at a huge advantage; in Moscow they had access to vast archives, with countless games carefully recorded on index cards. Nowadays anyone can buy this data on DVD for 150 euros; one disk holds 4.5 million games. There are also more books than there used to be. And then of course I started working with a computer earlier than Vladimir Kramnik or Viswanathan Anand.


Carlsen: Chess should not become an obsession. Otherwise there’s a danger that you will slide off into a parallel world, that you lose your sense of reality, get lost in the infinite cosmos of the game. You become crazy. I make sure that I have enough time between tournaments to go home in order to do other things. I like hiking and skiing, and I play football in a club.


SPIEGEL: For a year now you have been working with Garry Kasparov, who is probably the best chess player of all time. What form does your cooperation take? Kasparov is the teacher, you the pupil?

Carlsen: No. In terms of our playing skills we are not that far apart. There are many things I am better at than he is. And vice versa. Kasparov can calculate more alternatives, whereas my intuition is better. I immediately know how to rate a situation and what plan is necessary. I am clearly superior to him in that respect.