How Carlsen thinks: an interview

by Johannes Fischer
6/19/2019 – On May 22, 2019, before the Lindores Abbey Tournament and Norway Chess, Energi Danmark invited Magnus Carlsen to come to Copenhagen, Denmark, to play a two-game exhibition match against 14-year old Danish IM Jonas Suhl Bjerre and a simul against 24 opponents. Carlsen won the match 2-0 and the simul 24-0 but between simul and match he still found time for an interview in which he talked about his development, how he got better, strategy, planning, and the way he thinks. | Photo: Screenshot from the interview | Energi Danmark

Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen

Scarcely any world champion has managed to captivate chess lovers to the extent Carlsen has. The enormously talented Norwegian hasn't been systematically trained within the structures of a major chess-playing nation such as Russia, the Ukraine or China.


An interview with Magnus Carlsen

Throughout the interview with host Peter Lund Madsen the World Champion comes across as focused, articulate, and intent to share his views and thoughts on chess, motivation, learning, pattern recognition, memory, and a number of other topics.

Carlsen also gives insight into his thought and decision processes during games, showing surprising skepticism towards traditional ideas about planning and strategy.

The interview

The simul

In the simul Carlsen did not have much trouble and won all 24 games.


The match against Jonas Suhl Bjerre

Jonas Suhl Bjerre was born June 26, 2004, is an International Master and Denmark's greatest talent. In 2017 he won the European Junior Championship U14 and he currently (June 2019) has a rating of 2503. With this rating he is number nine in Denmark and one of the world's best players of his age but in the match against Carlsen he was, of course, the underdog – like any other player on earth. Bjerre indeed lost the match 0-2 but played focused and made Carlsen fight.

Game 1


Game 2


Energi Denmark...

Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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TomE57ach TomE57ach 7/8/2019 10:58
My takeaway was that Carlsen was being partly interviewed, partly psychoanalysed, and partly lectured to by the interviewer, whom I didn't particularly like (perhaps because he wasn't a chessplayer?). Through it all, he was honest, insightful, and polite, but it was only at the end, when he switched to Norwegian, did he seem at all comfortable.
MortenMH MortenMH 6/24/2019 04:21
@ Raymond Labelle - I agree with most of your statements. I just want to add that Denmark has 3 main dialect areas and these can be subdivided into 32 dialects throughout the country. It's almost like if every island has their own dialect. Dialects are slowly dying out because of the impact from TV and other media but still we can easily say if you come from North, East, South, West or Central part of the country - and it can be really hard for us to understand each other say from extreme East to extreme West - sometimes so impossible that you have to just nod politely and wish the other person a good day because you can't keep up a meaningful conversation...!
Justjeff Justjeff 6/24/2019 12:22
Nearly the entire interview is in English but just after 33:40 Carlsen switched to Norwegian. Suddenly he was no longer choosing his words carefully and haltingly.

It's obvious that although he knows English shockingly well he is still not entirely comfortable with the language as, say, Peter Svidler. Once he shifted to Norwegian I didn't understand a damn thing other than the fact that he was very much in his element, nothing stilted at all.

>>I just watched the video interview and the whole thing was in English.

No, eric b, you didn't watch the whole thing.
PurpDriv2 PurpDriv2 6/21/2019 06:55
Actually, Larsen's quote was the opposite: "Even a bad plan is better than no plan at all! "
Green22 Green22 6/20/2019 07:49
I watched the whole interview it was painful. The host asked the same questions that Magnus has answered 1000x you could just see Magnus getting cranky as he often sometimes does in interviews lol
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 6/20/2019 07:40
I speak Spanish close to fluently as a second language, and I did hear and see some Portuguese here and there, which I do not speak. I am quite certain that a person speaking Spanish and the other one Portuguese would not understand each other as easily as Peter and Magnus understood each other, and as the Danish audience understood Magnus.

I have seen from various testimonies from the video suggested by Tambourine Man, that apparently in Sweden and Norway, there are many dialects. Danish would be more standardized throughout Denmark. And these three languages (Finnish is from a totally unrelated family language but there is an important Swedish-speaking minority there) would almost be kind of a continuum of dialects of a same language.

So, at least the Swedes and the Norwegians have the habit of communication with people speaking a dialect different from one's own and the usage is that each would speak his/her own dialect and make an effort to understand the other one. That practice extends in some way to Scandinavians from different countries. Some dialects are further from one another - in these cases, they are tempted more than in a certain past to switch to English, which is quite well known as a second language in Scandinavia - For example, the dialects close to the borders of Sweden and Norway are close one from another - but a dialect from Western Norway would be less close to a dialect of eastern Sweden.

I think this is precisely what Magnus regretted at the end of the interview - the fact that they used English to communicate instead of the (not that) old Scandinavian practice of each speaking one's own language and enedeavour to understand the other - especially that in that case, mutual intelligibility was quite easy apparently.

If I am saying inaccurate things, those who know better (like Morten or Tambourine Man), please feel free to correct me.
michael bacon michael bacon 6/20/2019 07:38
It is written: " the match against Carlsen he was, of course, the underdog – like any other player on earth."

This is ridiculous because Fabiano Caruana, according to Magnus Carlsen himself, is co-World Champion at CLASSICAL Chess, the only kind of Chess that matters. Therefore, without quick play Magnus would no longer be the "favorite" against Fabiano Caruana. The only way for Magnus to prove he is truly the Human Chess Champion of the World would be for him to defeat Fabiano in a REAL match! I am calling Magnus out. Carlsen should be the one itching for a rematch with Fabiano because unless and until he defeats Caruana in a CLASSICAL match Magnus can only be considered the PRETENDER!
Jacob woge Jacob woge 6/20/2019 06:26
“Also, there were several times when Carlsen made a comment where laughter seemed the most appropriate reaction but the audience didn't laughed, rather they would clap instead. It was very strange, as if the audience was kind of stupid or something. Sorry for putting it that way”

As is tradition, signs were held up, telling when to laugh and when to applaud. You ca’n’t tell from the video, but they got it mixed up.
MortenMH MortenMH 6/20/2019 11:28
@eric b - from 33:50 and the last 5 minutes they are speaking Danish & Norwegian.

@cazpivarov - I once asked a group of people in Portugal this question and they said that it was very hard for them to understand Spanish. I speak a little Spanish myself and I was having a hard time communicating with them. So we switched to English... So my guess is that Danish/Swedish languages are much closer related than Spanish/Portuguese.
sjakkhall sjakkhall 6/20/2019 09:00
caspivarov Norwegian, Danish and Swedish are all very similar. Probably like Spanish and Portugese , although I dont speak those languges.
eric b eric b 6/20/2019 08:34
What is all this talk of different languages? I just watched the video interview and the whole thing was in English. I did find that the response from the audience sometimes seemed weird or a bit off. The audience would often clap at moments that really did not seem to require applause. Carlsen even seemed to notice that and at one point said so. Also, there were several times when Carlsen made a comment where laughter seemed the most appropriate reaction but the audience didn't laughed, rather they would clap instead. It was very strange, as if the audience was kind of stupid or something. Sorry for putting it that way.
cazpivarov cazpivarov 6/20/2019 03:16
Are Norwegian / Danish languages like Portuguese / Spanish, in terms of similarity?
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 6/20/2019 01:32
Morten has already summarised the contents of the conversation. Already a big favour to us. A transcript is a lot of work.
SeniorPatzer SeniorPatzer 6/19/2019 10:26
Anybody care to post a transcript in English? :-)
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 6/19/2019 07:54
The video recommended by Tambourine Man is excellent - here is the link: - the video is in English.

The person making the video also asked for comments by native speakers to communicate their experience on mutual intelligibility and many complied with very interesting comments. Most confirmed what the author of the video said but also made very interesting added-value comments.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 6/19/2019 07:35
Thank to very much to Tambourine Man also, to give yourself the trouble to answer. It is very interesting to know that someone who speaks Swedish could also follow that conversation quite easily.

PS: It is incredible how much you look like Bob Dylan :0).
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 6/19/2019 07:25
Thank you so much Morten for your great contribution. I am sure that many readers, in addition to myself, will greatly appreciate it.
MortenMH MortenMH 6/19/2019 05:01
PS: I'm Danish and speak both Swedish and Norwegian. I even worked a few years as a Danish-Swedish translator as there are many people who find it somewhat difficult to understand and communicate between these two languages. Roughly speaking I think the difference is around 500 words btw Danish/Norwegian and 5000 words btw Danish and Swedish.
MortenMH MortenMH 6/19/2019 04:54
@Raymond Labelle - yes they are speaking Danish and Norwegian. The two languages are closely related since the vikings travelled around while speaking "Viking scandinavian" and the two nations were even part of the Danish Kingdom between 1536-1814. Actually Magnus and Peter are discussing how easy it is - or should be - for them to understand each other. They agree that some dialects are very hard to understand for norwegians/danes and Peter suggests that it's a bit easier for norwegians to pick up Danish than the other way around. The audience are split on this view. In the end Magnus states that he is pleased to be part of a generation which trained with boards and pieces compared to those who only sit in front of a computer as he feels it's easier to get a grip of the game and 'geometry of chess' if you sit down and practise/analyse with a board in front of you - and even better if you can discuss the game and analysis with someone else.
R3G3NT R3G3NT 6/19/2019 04:34
Some have asked if Magnus was autistic or they have stated how "off" he seems because of his awkward speech patterns. This is the first interview I have watched where he spoke in his native tongue and what a difference. He seemed more alive, energetic and expressive when speaking Norwegian. I now know why the question of whether or not he is autistic or off in some way. Obviously it is not the person who is off, but the people and their perception who are off.
Keith Homeyard Keith Homeyard 6/19/2019 04:08
Raymond Labelle - I was curious about that too.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 6/19/2019 03:01
Thanks yesenadam - helpful. Important mutual understanding. Seems that Norwegians understand better the other Scandinavian languages than the other way around. And that Norse-Danish - a bit stronger mutual understanding than Swede-Danish.

It would be interesting to have some intuitive opinion of someone speaking one of these languages, or even better, both (Norwegian and Danish) and who would have seen the interview. What struck me is how the Danish audience seemed to understand everything (laughs, applauses or diverse reactions) when Magnus talked what I think was Norwegian - or maybe Magnus speaks Danish also? But he said before speaking non-English that he felt like speaking Norwegian, so...) And clearly, the interviewer was understanding what Magnus was saying - they were having a conversation.
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 6/19/2019 02:51
Raymond: Yes. And I, as a Swedish speaking, also understood every word that was said in this video. However, it can be a bit difficult with dialects in the languages ​​that you don't have as your first language. So people usually have a hard time understanding what I say hahah! Tip: Youtube on "The North Germanic Languages of the Nordic Nations (UPDATED)" and you get a good and funny explanation!
yesenadam yesenadam 6/19/2019 02:35
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 6/19/2019 01:58
At the end of the interview, it seems that Magnus was speaking Norwegian and that the Danish audience understood him well. I assumed the animator was speaking Danish, because we are in Denmark in front of a Danish audience.

Are Danish and Norwegian languages close enough so that people speaking each other in these languages can easily understand mutually?

In any case, by the reactions of the Danish audience, it seemed that the audience understood perfectly well the conversation.

If someone could confirm whether that is correct or not that would be interesting.
siamesedream siamesedream 6/19/2019 12:35
Why you still use glassed Magnus photo?