Magnus Carlsen: “We’re trying to grow chess”

by ChessBase
11/13/2020 – In a lengthy interview with Jon Tisdall for the US Chess Federation website, world champion Magnus Carlsen touches on a number of topical issues in the world of chess — his role as promoter and organizer, playing online and the future of classical chess. Carlsen also talks about his deal with Unibet and how this sparked problems between him and the Norwegian federation. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Altibox Norway Chess

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Excerpts from an interview by Jon Tisdall for the US Chess Federation official website

Magnus Carlsen’s endorsement of a proposed deal for federation funding from a cooperation with gambling giant Kindred sparked massive national controversy, and this was eventually followed by him becoming an ambassador for Unibet. Gambling is run by a state monopoly in Norway, and is both a thorny and touchy subject. Magnus remains active, supportive and a representative of the Norwegian federation. His lack of ‘membership’ was a protest against the heated and hostile rejection of what he felt was a unique and unmissable chance to finally fund the chronically impoverished organization.

As always, Magnus speaks his mind and pulls approximately zero punches. He also repeatedly reveals the high standards he demands of himself over the board, virtual or physical.


About being a Unibet ambassador - is it going to focus on fantasy football because of your success? It seems to be the perfect medium for the sponsor, you applying mental skills that aren’t chess to a different kind of contest.

It’s as simple as it [being] something that I find very interesting to talk about, and to some extent promote as well. And there is a lot of overlap with people who like to gamble and like to play fantasy football. There’s a very obvious connection to make there.

You say on the fantasy football podcast that you’re not much of a gambler, which might surprise people when you’re a Unibet ambassador. How much ‘math’ is involved in what you play?

I think fantasy football has a lot of similarity with poker and with betting, in that you make decisions based on stats and then that gives you a better chance to be lucky. So to me it’s not the gambling aspect of these things that makes it interesting for me, it is more about trying to make good decisions, to make better decisions than others do, basically based on having a lot of the same data.

Obviously in the short term there is a huge amount of luck, there is no denying that, but I think that over time these are definitely — I think fantasy football is definitely in the same category as betting or poker, [which is] to a huge extent a skill-based game.

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen giving a simultaneous exhibition blindfolded during this year’s Altibox Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The future of chess

The format of your (online) tour (sets of rapid matches) — a lot of people are talking about it being a testing ground or public demonstration of what you would like to see the actual world title format change to. Any truth to that?

Yeah, I guess I have been pretty open about, not necessarily for the championship title, but about my opinion about how you would determine the best player in the world, and certainly this goes some way to showing that.

Do you think the COVID-19 situation has permanently changed the status of rapid and blitz events now?

I think so. But I also think it’s just not realistic to expect people to play long games online. I also think it is not realistic to expect people to watch it with great interest. So I think the rapid format is excellent for online play because you keep at least some semblance of high quality chess and it also doesn’t take too long. You get more games in a day and that way you get more excitement possibly.

You don’t think it will impact over-the-board play when it comes back? That things will speed up more in general?

I don’t know. I think in general the future of classical chess as it is now is a little bit dubious. I would love to see more Fischer [Random] Chess being played over-the-board in a classical format. That would be very interesting to me, because I feel that that particular format is pretty well suited to classical chess as basically you need a lot of time in order to be able to play the game even remotely decently. And you can see that in the way that Fischer [Random] Chess is being played now when it is played in a rapid format.

The quality of the games isn’t very high because we make such fundamental mistakes in the opening. We don't understand it nearly enough and I think that would increase a lot if we were given a classical time control there. So I would definitely hope for that.

For classical chess over-the-board, I guess it has a future, but I think you have to accept it as it is. There are going to be a lot of draws when the best players in the world play classical chess over-the-board. There is no way around it, if you don’t change something fundamental that is simply not going to change. It is a little bit sad but I think it is very, very hard to do something about.

Read the full interview on the US Chess website

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.


Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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