The IPL Moment for Chess and Embracing the New Generation of Indian Talent: Magnus Carlsen Exclusive

Credit: Magnus Carlsen

He will forever go down as one of the greatest that played the sport. And at the moment he is clearly the biggest brand that chess has. Not alien to controversy either, Magus Carlsen very rarely opens up for a long conversation. Currently leading the SG Alpine Warriors in the Global Chess League in Dubai, he took time out for a long conversation on his career, the new league, issues of sexual discrimination in chess, and most importantly on how it is to play and train with the new generation of Indian talent in Gukesh, Pragnanandhaa, and Arjun Erigasi.

Extracts from the conversation:

Boria- For the first time a franchise league for chess on a global scale. The Global Chess League seems to have captured fan imagination in season one. Your thoughts on the mixed gender format, on promoting new talent and if this is the ‘IPL moment’ for Chess?

Carlsen- You are absolutely right when you say it is the IPL equivalent for chess. Franchise teams, which include men and women from various nationalities, an exciting format, different points system, the league has indeed added to the sport. It is a good start and it is to be seen how the competition evolves in the future. But yes you can say it is the IPL moment for Chess with more people watching and a new buzz around the sport.

Coming to my own team the SG Alpine Warriors, we have enjoyed playing together. It is a very good team environment and we have trained together and played against each other during training. To have some very talented players in the team has helped and we hope to finish the tournament well.

Boria- That was actually my next question. Your teammates in SG Alpine Warriors, Gukesh, Pragu, and Arjun must have benefitted from this experience. And I found it fascinating when I heard you are actually training with them.

Carlsen- Yes we played some games in training and it was exciting. Each one of them are very exciting player and have a lot of talent. It says a lot about the future of the sport in India. It is now my turn to learn from them. The important thing is each has a very different style of play and when you train and play with them you get to learn a number new things. That’s what has been the highlight for me. In sport, there is always the quest to learn and get better and that’s what has happened here while training with my teammates.

Boria- From the time of the pandemic we have seen a huge boom in chess. How do you look at it and is this league a result of the success of the online Chess Olympiad?

Carlsen- Yes the sport has expanded rapidly and we see a lot of people playing the sport at the moment. It has spread to a lot many more countries and if you see from the popularity of shows like The Queen’s Gambit you will have an idea how quickly the game has grown. With online becoming a viable option a lot many more people took to the sport during the pandemic. And now with the GCL for example it can only grow further. The game is being televised, being made more fan-friendly and the whole idea of the metaverse has always helped the expansion plans.

Boria- At the same time it is a still a male preserve. There have also been issues of sexual discrimination in chess. Do you think women need to be given far more opportunities than they have now? One of the best things of the GCL is the mixed-gender format and your own team, the SG Alpine Warriors, have the US and German number 1 women players in the team.

Carlsen- Yes I agree that traditionally it has been a male-dominated sport. And I absolutely believe that more and more women need to be given opportunities. You need to strive towards equality. It will never happen in a day but you need to make the effort to get there. In my own family, two of my sisters played the sport and we played a lot of chess together. I wish they had more opportunities to take up the sport as a career. In fact, this is one aspect where I wish to see a lot more done going forward. It is certainly an important aspect of the GCL and one of the best things about the SG Alpine Warriors, the camaraderie among the players.

Boria- You are clearly the biggest brand in chess at the moment. And at one point you had mentioned that 2900 rating points is something you will target. Thoughts.

Carlsen- No that’s no longer a priority at the moment and I am more focused on growing the game and winning the next few events I am part of. As I said before, this is the time when the game can reach out to new sets of fans and become a far more popular sport. I wish to focus my energies in helping it do so.

Boria- People call you the Mozart of Chess.

Carlsen- I don’t think I want to be called Mozart! He died fairly young and I am just 33 so if you call me Mozart it means I will not live long. So I don’t think I wish to be labelled the Mozart of Chess. (laughs).

Boria- You have won almost everything that there is to win. What is your earliest memory of playing the sport?

Carlsen- The earliest memory is that of playing with my father. And I also remember that despite being in the best possible position I wasn’t able to win!

Boria- What’s the one thing that you still want to achieve? Is there one such thing in your bucket list?

Carlsen- When you say that I have to make a distinction between the personal and the professional. In the professional space, yes I have achieved a lot. But not so in the personal space. So there is plenty more to do and achieve in the personal space going forward.

Boria- Unlike many others, you do a number of things. For example, NewinChess, your endorsement deals, and so on. How do you divide between the professional and the personal? And how is Magnus Carlsen backstage, as a person?

Carlsen- I am not a very outspoken sort. Unless you spend a lot of time with me I rarely do open up. That’s how I am. As a person, I am a very normal person you see. There is nothing really special. As a professional chess player, I have certain commitments to the sport. And it is difficult to separate between the professional and the personal. Having said that I am no different to most other people in my private space.

Boria- If I ask you to choose one game that you will forever remember can you do that?

Carlsen- My best ever game. My best ever game.

Pause for at least 20 seconds.

No, it is impossible to pick one such game. There have been many memorable ones but it is impossible to pick one.

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