29 July 2013

Magnus Carlsen Interviews

'What makes him so good?' is The Carlsen Question, a question the Norwegian GM's many fans (and a few detractors) ask constantly. Asking the question is easy enough, but how to find an answer? I started by making a survey of his interviews. Perhaps an intrepid interviewer has already popped the question, or perhaps the GM himself has volunteered the answer.

As with many ideas, someone else has already thought of it. See, for example, Chess Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen Fansite - Interviews, a collection of links to interviews where the latest is from March 2010. The two most recent interviews on the list are from respected weekly news magazines and both touched on his work with a former World Champion.

Meet Magnus Carlsen, The New King of Chess(Q:) Your coach, former world champion Garry Kasparov, says your strength is not calculation, but rather your ability to intuit the right moves, even if their ultimate purpose is not clear. Is that right? (A:) I'm good at sensing the nature of the position and where I should put my pieces. You have to choose the move that feels right sometimes; that's what intuition is. It's very hard to explain. [Time.com]
Magnus Carlsen on his chess career(Q:) 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? (A:) 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. [Chessbase.com, quoting from Der Spiegel]

Let's start a list: intuitive. • A more recent interview was conducted just after the 6th Tal Memorial, in December 2011.

Magnus Carlsen – 'I don't quite fit into the usual schemes' • I’m a professional chess player, and if that’s the case then I should do all that I’m capable of to fulfil my potential. I like to win and I strive for the best possible results… At the same time, I still manage to get a lot of enjoyment from playing! During a game I cease to think about the result as I become so enthralled by what’s happening on the board. [...] Above all I like to resolve unconventional tasks at the board. Perhaps that’s why I don’t really like studying the opening – everything starts from the one position. [Chessbase.com, quoting from ChessPro]

Got it: professional, likes to win, enjoys playing, likes unconventional tasks. • The next interview, appropriately titled A Magnus Carlsen Interview, points to the real interview, which is no longer available on the original domain. It was conducted after the 7sth Tal Memorial, June 2012.

Magnus Carlsen: Am I tired? What a stupid question!(Q:) In the last few years haven’t you already got tired of all these interviews and photo sessions… How many of them have you done this year? (A:) I don’t even know. A lot. Am I tired? Giving an interview is simpler, after all, than playing a game or preparing. I see it as just as much a part of my work as playing chess. It isn’t a strain… Moreover, nowadays I’m clearly told: you have to speak with such and such a person, travel to do this program or be filmed. [Whychess.com via Archive.org]

File that under: professional, but for more than chess alone. • The next interview is from a non-chess resource, conducted less than a year ago, September 2012

The Top Chess Player In The World Impressed The Heck Out Of Everyone At This NYC Exhibition(Q:) What made him so good? (A:) Well I think an important part of broadening my understanding of the game, senses of positioning, tactics and so one was just playing and also I had sessions with my trainers in Norway. Either it would be me or a few others just sitting at the board, analyzing. I think those analyzing sessions gave me a lot, actually. Just moving the pieces around helped everyone improve their understanding of chess so much.' [Businessinsider.com]

Likes group sessions? I recall seeing somewhere that this was a hallmark of Soviet chess training. • The next interview is from another, much respected non-chess source, dated December 2012.

Lunch with the FT: Magnus Carlsen • Self-confidence is very important. If you don’t think you can win, you will take cowardly decisions in the crucial moments, out of sheer respect for your opponent. You see the opportunity but also greater limitations than you should. I have always believed in what I do on the chessboard, even when I had no objective reason to. It is better to overestimate your prospects than underestimate them. [ft.com]

Undoubtedly a characteristic of all great players: self-confident. One of the comments sums him up another way, 'Carlsen continually answers in the same way, that the freedom he was granted to do as he pleased, the supportive environment, the absence of dogma and even overweening ambition have let him follow where his attention pleasurably leads him. To the place where he "still has fun."'

The last interview is undated, but informs, 'Today, Magnus Carlsen made history [...] when he became the highest ranked player in the history of the sport.' That would be Chess prodigy, 22, beats Gary Kasparov’s 12-year record to become game’s highest-rated player of all time, December 2012.

Magnus Carlsen Interview(Q:) Do you see yourself as being unique among your peers? (A:) No, I am mostly friends with other chess players. It's easy for me to get along with chess players. Even though we are all very different, we have chess in common. People are usually quite nice, so it's easy to get along.

There's a trait I haven't observed in many top players: friendly. • It should be obvious that I've only extracted one passage from each interview. There's much more to be gleaned, but there are other resources to be addressed. Next stop: video interviews.

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