Magnus Carlsen: world champion, comedian, party animal

by Stefan Löffler
10/6/2021 – How does Magnus Carlsen spend his time when he is not playing chess? He is quite active, in fact! For example, he is one of the contestants on a Norwegian reality show — in “Ikke lov å le på hytta”, the contestants try to make the other residents of the house laugh while not laughing themselves. And this is only one of his many side activities.

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The many faces of Magnus Carlsen

In recent weeks, the world champion has not only played chess. Stefan Löffler summarizes his appearances off the board before he now retreats into his training camp until the start of the World Championship match in Dubai on November 24.

Party animal

A couple of weeks ago in Oslo. In a bar in the city centre, about eighty guests are celebrating. Managers and employees of the Play Magnus Group, business partners, sponsors, journalists, grandmasters. A few school friends of the world champion are also there. It is the eve of the final tournament of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. Tour director Arne Horvei is moderating. There is food and videos. They show funny blunders from the past months, the kind that probably only happen in online chess in front of the webcam at home.

Arne Horvei | Photo: Champions Chess Tour

Party! | Photo: Champions Chess Tour

Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Champions Chess Tour

The mood is upbeat. Magnus Carlsen seems more responsive than ever. The world champion is one of those who stay the longest. On this evening, he is probably telling the story of how nothing went right for him at the 2012 Blitz Chess World Championship in Kazakhstan, until he went to his hotel room between two rounds and drank a big shot of vodka. He then won eight games in a row to finish second. When he replayed the games later, he noticed that they were full of mistakes. Somehow he had confused his opponents. He has not touched alcohol for three years.


Until the party, Carlsen spent the day in front of the camera. He explained to CNN how to become a grandmaster, how the Champions Tour works and what NFTs are all about — virtual memorabilia that can be won and bought on the tour. He also gave an interview to a German TV station. Together with tour participants Anish Giri and Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who travelled to Oslo, he took part in an entertaining quiz session.

Perhaps the most annoying commitment for Carlsen were the commercials he shot for a new sponsor. Always smiling, he is not an actor. Couldn’t they show him playing football, like in the clip made during the Norway Chess tournament? He shared on Twitter:

Contractual duties

Two days before the party and the interviews, he was still in Struga in North Macedonia, at the European Club Cup, where he played three games for the club he founded in 2019, Offerspill. There, he signed the contract for the World Championship match after months of negotiations. His sponsor Unibet immediately broke the news. It is important for Carlsen’s team that he can now display the logos of his sponsors. Unibet does not mention that the contract is restricted by local laws. Sports betting and advertising for it are banned in Dubai, the venue for the World Championship. FIDE is still trying to get the authorities to accept this as an exception.

And we will probably see the World Champion in Mastercard advertising before the World Championship — other global brand ambassadors include Naomi Osaka and Lionel Messi. There has not been a world brand that uses chess worldwide in marketing since Intel in the 1990s. Chess now has much higher reach due to the success of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, but also thanks to the tour, which has already been watched more than a hundred million times, according to the Play Magnus Group. The credit card company was not approached but offered itself. Mastercard and Magnus Carlsen are a great match. Both MC.


His compatriots are currently getting to know Carlsen from another side. The reality show Ikke lov å le på hytta is currently running on the streaming channel VGTV. Together with cabaret artists, influencers, an actress and a former handball world champion, Carlsen got involved in a competition: their task is to make the other eleven competitors laugh while remaining serious themselves.

When Carlsen saw the first season of the show, he applied to be a contestant for the second season. Years ago, he had once replaced at short notice for cabaret artist Bård Tufte Johansen, who had fallen ill. When filming on a single long day in May, however, he had to rely on his own jokes. The fact that he specifically prepared with another TV comedian, Morten Ramm, did not help him much.

A montage of his scenes with English subtitles shows how the other guests turned on him from the start, united in chanting “Mozart of chess, Mozart of chess”. In the interview, Carlsen says: “None of my jokes hit home. I was surprised how hard it was to make the others laugh”. How did he manage not to laugh at the others himself? Once, he said, he distracted himself by playing bullet chess against himself in his head. The game ended in a draw.


Stefan Löffler writes the Friday chess column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and succeeds Arno Nickel as editor of the Chess Calendar. For ChessBase the International Master reports from his adopted country Portugal.


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