Carlsen at MIT – Moscow style

by Frederic Friedel
4/12/2014 – The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology – MIPT – is a Russian counterpart of the Massachusetts university. Magnus Carlsen was there for another high-profile PR event: a one-hour interview with TV presenter Tina Kandelaki, plus two simultaneous exhibitions. You will want to read and listen to this interview with the World Champion, who is becoming a great ambassador for chess.

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The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (State University) is a leading Russian university that prepares specialists in theoretical and applied physics, applied mathematics, and related disciplines. It is sometimes referred to as "the Russian MIT." The main campus is located in Dolgoprudny, a northern suburb of Moscow.

The Norwegian World Champion arrives at the Russian science institute

The visit of the reigning World Champion began with an interview, hosted by Tina Kandelaki, a popular Georgian-born Russian journalist, public figure, TV presenter and producer. In the final part of the interwiew she is handed questions from the audience, which she reads to Magnus.

The setup: Tina on a couch with her Android tablet, Magnus on another, assisted by a translator

The audience at MIPT [Image from Photochess.com]

The World Champion answered the questions cheerfully

Video of the entire one-hour session with Magnus

Proceed to 15 min 30 seconds for Carlsen's entry and the start of the interview

Here is a fairly comprehensive transcript of the interview, with the time line in the video given in minutes and seconds. It was quite a bit of work – the things we will do for this guy! But it is well worth reading and watching.

On being so good at such a young age [19:10]: I really don’t consider myself such a young chess player. There are many players now who are coming up, who are much younger than me. I've been playing in the strongest tournaments in the world now since I was 16 years old, and now I'm 23. I think if you've been doing something else at a top level for seven years you are not considered young, you are considered, if not a veteran, then a seasoned player. I've been playing chess for a long time, so I don't consider myself a young player anymore.

On girls [22:30]: "I like friendly, outgoing girls who like to take the initiative sometimes. I am not always so outgoing myself, so it's nice if someone else it.

On computers [24:05]: For my part I never considered the computer an opponent – in chess I thought it more interesting to play against humans. For me it's not really a question. I think it's pretty clear by now that the best computers are vastly superior to the best humans (in this age that would be me). I see computers more as an analytical tool, as something that can help you, rather than an opponent.

What to do about it [25:55]: Maybe at some point the rules will have to change in chess because the computers know too much. I think the most obvious solution is the question of stalemate. I think if you change stalemate from a draw to a win for the attacking part the game will be completely different and harder, perhaps, to work out. But I think for now it is working quite well. Computers obviously know a lot, but it's shown in every tournament that I play, and every tournament that other top players play, that there's still plenty of fight at a chessboard. It's still a sport at the board, not only a scientific pursuit at home.

On players who have influenced him [28:30]: I don't think there was any particular grandmaster of the past or the present that I wanted to model my game after. I think if you try to be like someone then it's hard to be the best – at some point you have to create your own style, your own identity. But one of the players I studied the games of when I was young was Vladimir Kramnik, the strongest Russian player. His play when he was young impressed me quite a bit, when I was little. I think also both for him and for others it would be useful to study the games when he was young.

What about other sports? [30:35]: I was watching, when I was young, TV, football, cross country skiing, Alpine skiing. But I don't know if anyone in particular inspired me. I certainly skied myself, and played football myself, I just wasn't particularly talented at it. It's not really in my character to have idols. I try to learn from whoever is great, at chess or football or anything else. But to say that someone in particular has inspired me I think would not be accurate. For me the motivation to play, the desire to learn, to win and so on, that was motivation enough in itself. So I didn't need any idol to inspire me. The game in itself was plenty.

On how long he will stay in the game [34:00]: I think the answer to that is simple: when I lose my motivation to play chess, when it ceases to be fun, ceases to be motivating, then I will simply have to do something else. Fortunately for now that question has not really been an issue.

Daily routine [34:35]: It's really a bit up to me, I don't have any particular schedule. I obviously spend some time every day going over games that have been played, checking some little ideas. But apart from that most of the time I spend working for chess is mostly in my head, my brain is constantly working on different positions. I'm sure most good chess players will tell you the same thing, that if you are a chess player you are always a chess player – your mind works on chess all the time.

About dreaming about chess [36:38]: I don't very often dream about chess. If I dream about chess it's usually in nightmares. I usually lose – I've lost to a lot of people in my sleep. I think it's a good thing for me that sometimes at chess tournaments I can play a very tough game for six hours, and then I can wake up the next day – I dream about something completely different, and when I wake up I have forgotten that I am at a chess tournament. When I sleep I can sometimes completely switch off, I don't have to relive all the agony of the games in my dreams.

What are his worst nightmares and fears [38:45]: To lose to a particularly unpleasant opponent. For now I have a fairly positive outlook on chess, so I don't believe that anything in particular is going to go wrong in the near future. If something goes wrong, whatever it is, I'll have to deal with that. I think I don't have any particular fears about losing my brain powers or something, if that's what you are asking.

Superstitions [40:11]: It's interesting what you mentioned about football players fearing to get injured: one of my first coaches, Simen Agdestein, who is a Norwegian grandmaster and the best Norwegian player for a long time, he was a football player who played for the national team. When he got injured in his knee and had to end his football career he also said that his chess career also went wrong after that, because he didn't have the same energy when he could not play football every day. I have heard the same about Hungarian grandmaster Peter Leko, who was a world championship finalist some years ago, he also injured his knee playing football. He loved to do sports every day, and once he could not do that he did not have the energy anymore to play chess well. So I think that maybe for me as well to injure something would not be so good.

Favourite movies? [44:30]: I don't have the patience to watch a whole movie. [Spider-Man?] No, I don't particularly identify with super-heroes. Favourite actress? Dunno.

Working for companies like Microsoft or Facebook after chess [46:10]: I believe that however smart you are, how quickly things come to you, you still need to spend some time to learn, the get the knowledge on the subject. I think that if one of the big companies were to hire me today it would be a mistake. I think I could do something else well, but I would have to spend a lot of time learning first. I don't believe that if you are good at chess, or good at physics or something like that, you can just automatically be good at something else. I think whatever you do you need to take time to learn and to get the knowledge to understand everything.

On opponents deliberately trying to disturb him [48:46]: I remember at a tournament many years ago my opponent tried to psych me somehow by staring very intensely at me...

... but I just stared back and he stopped immediately.

Anything more important than chess? [49:48]: I don't actually take too much time thinking about such difficult questions. I think at some point if I were to choose between playing chess forever and having a family I would probably choose family.

On problems with stardom [51:06]: Obviously it's a luxury when people want to meet you and to take your picture and so on, but sometimes it's a little bit too much, and whenever you say no to these questions then someone is going to be unhappy. But in general I try to do these things as long as it's not too much trouble.

Mathematics in school [52:54]: I was very interested in math when I was little. I guess as time passed by chess took more and more of my time, and school took less and less time, and I think math is not one of those subjects where you can never be present and never study and expect to get top scores. I guess towards the end my scores were fine but not top level. I would also say the most difficult subject was maybe science – that was hard for me to understand.

Favourite books [54:49]: I like chess books comic books, I like books on history. Right now I’m reading a book on the Second World War, which is very interesting. In general history is something that interests me.


On the same day Magnus proceeded to play two simultaneous exhibitions, one against 14 players, mostly university students and teachers, and a second against youngsters.

Against the students and teachers Magnus scored eleven wins and...

... three draws, one against Aisa Imeeva (Russian U16 girls champion) ...

... and two against Arman Geivondyan (Moscow Cup winner) and Sergey Trofimov

Magnus with some bright kids from the Institute of Physics and Technology [Photo Twitter]

Photos provided by Maria Emelianova, screengrabs


Topics Carlsen

Editor-in-Chief of the ChessBase News Page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.
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