Magnus Carlsen's cousin in America

by ChessBase
4/1/2010 – Two weeks ago we published an interview by the German magazine Der Spiegel with Magnus Carlsen, with a picture that one of our readers found familiar. "He looks remarkably like my son," thought Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige of Lesley University of Cambridge, Massachusetts. After a little research we discovered that the two are second cousins. Guess who the American relative is.

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Magnus and Matt

Nancy Carlsson-Paige is a professor of early childhood education at Lesley University where she has taught teachers for more than 30 years. Since the mid-1980’s, she has written and spoken extensively about the impact of violence, especially in the media, on children’s lives and social development, and how children learn the skills for caring relationships and positive conflict resolution.

Nancy is the author or co-author of five books and has written numerous articles on media violence, conflict resolution, peaceable classrooms and global education. Her most recent book is called Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids. Nancy is an advocate for policies and practices that promote children’s well being and encourage skills and attitudes that further peace and nonviolence. You can read more about her work on her home page.

There is another thing of interest about Nancy: in her college days she used to be an avid tournament chess player, one of the ten best female players at the time in the US. Of course chess had to take second place to her academic career, but of course anyone that strong will never fully lose interest. Which is why she keeps visiting our newspage, "at least once a month in normal circumstances."

And so it was that she noticed the picture of Magnus Carlsen in the Spiegel interview. "This lad looks just like my son," she thought, "especially when he was around the same age." It was also Magnus' demeanor that caught her eye. A feedback letter to us started the investigative wheels in motion.

To cut a fairly long story short: it turns out that Nancy's father, Sven Henrik Carlsen, hails from Norway and is the older brother of Magnus' grandfather Kurt Magnus Carlsen (father of Henrik). However, Sven Henrik was an adventurer and left Norway at an early age, much to the disapproval of his family. He ended up in the United States and changed his name to Carlsson, ostensibly to anglicize it. But in reality it was in order to sever connections with the rest of his family back in Norway. That is why the relationship was not immediately obvious.

We now come to the identity of Nancy's son, the second cousin of Magnus Carlsen. It is none other than Hollywood blockbuster star Matt Damon, actor, writer, and philanthropist, who is twenty years Magnus' senior (Sven Henrik was sixteen years older than his brother Kurt Magnus).

Matt Damon came to fame as the star of the movie Good Will Hunting, which he wrote together with Ben Affleck (to whom he is also related). It is about a mathematical prodigy from South Boston who works as a janitor at MIT. The film was a financial success, earned two Academy Awards, and launched Damon and Affleck into prominence.

Come to think of it, a number of readers had noticed the resemblance between Magnus and Matt. In October 2009, for instance, Daniel Brandao of Florianópolis, Brazil, wrote us: "It's very amusing to see chess players on TV shows, like other stars of more popular sports. Maybe in Norway, Ukraine or Armenia people are already used to see chess as a sport, but for chess players from countries where chess is not taken so seriously by outside-chess people, these things are really pleasant. By the way, is there any relation between Carlsen and Matt Damon??" We are ashamed to say that we did not follow up on such clues but had to wait for Nancy Paige-Carlsson's letter before we investigated more thoroughly.

In the meantime contact had been established between the cousins and Matt has invited Magnus to visit him on the set of his next film about a Shogi champion who inspires a nation to put aside its differences and unite in celebration of his sport.

In return Magnus has invited Matt to visit this year's Arctic Challenge tournament in Tromsø.

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