General May 2, 2015 | 6:16 PMby Tarjei Svensen

Carlsen: "I can stay at the top for another 20 years"

Magnus Carlsen had a busy week back home in Norway after his triumphant return from Shamkir. It started with a press conference on Tuesday, where his debut as a TV host was announced, and included a talk show appearance on Friday, from which we have an exclusive transcript. That wasn't all, since on Saturday the World Champion launched his new chess set in Oslo and on Sunday he flies to New York for more promotional work. We've gathered together some of his best quotes.

Carlsen will be joined by TV 2's Kaja Marie Snare for his new role as a chess commentator! | photo: Ole Kristian Strøm, VG

Debut as a commentator

Norway Chess, from June 15-26, is going to be the inaugural event of the 2015 Grand Chess Tour, so with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave confirmed we know nine of the players' names:

  1. Magnus Carlsen
  2. Fabiano Caruana
  3. Alexander Grischuk
  4. Veselin Topalov
  5. Viswanathan Anand
  6. Levon Aronian
  7. Anish Giri
  8. Hikaru Nakamura
  9. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

A month ago it was announced that Norway Chess will have a qualifier for the last spot in the tournament. The event, called EnterCard Chess Qualifier after the credit card sponsor, will be a six-player round-robin combining classical and rapid chess, with wins in the classical section worth double.

Sergej Karjakin, who won Norway Chess for the last two years, isn't in the Grand Chess Tour and turned down the chance to play in the EnterCard qualifier for the wildcard place. Hou Yifan and Peter Heine Nielsen also declined offers | photo: Even Emberland, Norway Chess website

For the first time, the biggest commercial Norwegian TV channel TV 2 will broadcast a chess event without Carlsen actually playing. It will be a unique event, aired during prime time with the players’ pulses monitored during the games.

And that’s not all. Although it won’t be mandatory, players are also encouraged to enter the “confession box” while playing to speak about their game – chess meets Big Brother!

The most exciting part, though, is arguably that the World Champion himself will co-host the show along with TV 2’s Kaja Marie Snare. Carlsen told VG:

The Norwegian players in particular need to watch out. I’ll be thorough in asking them why they made the moves they made.

The players themselves - Hammer, Agdestein, Tari, Hansen, Grandelius and Fressinet – will face each other inside TV 2’s studio in Oslo, but the commentators will be sitting in a glass cube outside in Oslo’s main street, Karl Johans gate.  IM Espen Lie and Hans Olav Lahlum will also be in the studio commentating during the event.

Is this the first time a World Champion has commentated on a chess event? Magnus himself addressed that question for VG:

Well... Mikhail Botvinnik supposedly commentated on the Soviet Championship in 1940, but that was before he became World Champion.

A new secret helper?

In an interview with NRK, Magnus Carlsen revealed a mysterious extra assistant came along for the training camp in Qatar before Shamkir Chess. The following quotes were translated into English by the interviewer Mads Nyborg Støstad for

It was Peter Heine, Fressinet and one more. He was pretty good at basketball, actually. I have a video of me beating him one-on-one, so he can't be that good!

How good of a chess player is he?

He is a very good chess player. Over 2700.

If the secret helper is visible in this photo he has a good disguise!

Update: It turned out Carlsen's "secret" had been revealed by the helper himself, world no. 11 Ding Liren, a couple of weeks earlier in an interview with Wenzhou Evening News

Carlsen also spoke about his success in Shamkir, the gap to his rivals and why the others fail to remain consistent.

What does it mean to you to be cruising on top of the rating list?

It might not be very exciting for the others, but for me it’s good to see that I can play on a clearly higher level than my opponents. So that’s nice.

Why are your contenders so far behind?

I don’t know. I’ve been thinking for years that someone is going to stabilize well above 2800, but it hasn’t happened. People are too inconsistent, but I don’t understand why. Caruana, for instance, played very badly at the start of Shamkir, and in the second half he was very good. Anand will probably wonder why he isn’t playing like that all the time. So it’s hard to say.

Do you wish you had a clearer rival?

Sometimes I get almost disappointed that my competitors… I mean, pull yourself together. But I know they can still give me great problems in single games, but I think it’s weird that they’re not more consistent, because I know there are others than me who have skills.

New sponsorship deal

This week his company Play Magnus signed a “global partnership deal” with the airline SAS.

The sponsorship includes the “Play Magnus Live Challenge” that will take place next week in New York, where 12 chess players from all over the world have been selected from those who played against Carlsen using the Play Magnus app.

The deal also lets SAS passengers play chess on the app and earn bonus points. The best players will eventually get to play a match against the World Champion himself later this year.

TV show appearance

Magnus Carlsen appeared on the popular Norwegian talk show Senkveld, which was recorded in Oslo on Thursday and aired on Friday.

The hosts got in some chess preparation before the World Champion's arrival...

Carlsen had some interesting comments about Shamkir, his motivation for staying at the top and much more. Here's a transcript of the show:

You won the World Championship right before Christmas, but last weekend you added to that by winning a prestigious tournament in Azerbaijan. Is your form better than ever?

It’s difficult to say based on just one tournament, but it’s been going very well recently. I play chess, so it’s fun winning.

So you like winning?

Yes! (grins)

Do I like winning? | photo: Senkveld/TV 2 Norway

You’ve been World Champion twice now. How long can you expect to stay at the top?

I think it has a lot to do with motivation. At the moment I’m very motivated. I don’t consider myself a very young player. I feel that I’ve been among the world’s best for almost 10 years...

Carlsen grins and is then interrupted by applause in the audience:

That’s just sick!

If this had been a different field I would be considered a veteran. My motivation is at the highest, so as long as my motivation is good I can stay at the top for another 20 years.

There are top players who've played until they’re over 60. You don’t expect to be working hard for another 40 years, do you?

I believe that the older you become, the harder you have to work. It won’t all be as easy any more. You make more mistakes and you notice that the things you thought were easy become difficult. But just to be clear: I wouldn’t say I’m quite there yet! But at least that’s what everyone says. If your motivation is good and you work hard, though, you can maintain a very high level for... the rest of your life! (grins)

Carlsen hanging out with rap duo Madcon | photo: Senkveld/TV 2 Norway

Carlsen also spoke about his routines during the World Championship and other big events – “basically just eat, sleep and prepare”.

I do use the opportunity, whenever possible, to be a sports nerd. Of course there isn’t always time for that, but it’s good to unwind and do things that don’t require as much energy to follow.

And you get to work out a bit too, don’t you?

Not much during tournaments. It’s difficult to get yourself to go to the gym after a game.

You prefer to just relax?

Yes, like in Azerbaijan. In the basement they had one spa and one training room. I was tired after the games, so the choice was an easy one and I chose the spa! (grins)

Was it aromatherapy you were getting there?

Naah, just the sauna or chilling in the pool.

Before tournaments I guess confidence is important in your sport too. How do you get psyched up before playing a game? Do you have any tricks?

Well, before tournaments I tend to have training camps with people that I make sure are good chess players and also able to play football and basketball... but I make sure they’re a little worse than me in everything!

That’s smart!

So then we can compete, but it gives me confidence beating them. And I was told by one of those I worked with before the tournament, “Well, Magnus. This time you’re in great form!” That made me think, “Yes, maybe I am!”

The next big tournament you’re going to play is taking place in Norway – “Norway Chess”. But you’re going to do something completely new there. You’re going to be a TV show host?

Yes, well, I will play in the actual “Norway Chess” tournament myself, but for the qualifier I’ll be a host. I’m not only a chess player, but a chess fan. I like to talk about chess so I’ll try to share my chess joy with others in that way.

Carlsen was signing his new board and piece sets in the centre of Oslo on Saturday | photo: Tarjei J. Svensen

The program is called “SjakkNatt med Magnus Carlsen” (“Chess Night with Magnus Carlsen”), here on TV 2.  It sounds like Senkveld - like a talk show!

Yes, in the future that’s what I hope for. But for now I’ll be the host.

Do you feel that you have it in you to be a talk show host?

Yes, absolutely! I do.

The co-host then gets up from his chair, leaving it available for Magnus, who switches places and takes his seat in the chair, to huge audience applause.

I like to talk, I really do! So it only remains to be seen whether people like to hear me talking as well. And this will be a test.

So what will you ask Harald Rønneberg now? You can ask him anything!

You’ve been doing this show for many years now. How many years do you intend to go on?

Is that some kind of invitation? I promise you can have this show before you die! When you sit in the studio and follow the players will you be searching for blunders?

Well, I’m not sure if I’ll be searching for blunders, but I’ll try to put myself into their shoes and their thought processes. And then think one step further ahead than that - to try and explain how they think and how it may not be enough. But these are also great chess players, don’t forget. There are good chess players other than me. There are!

When you’re playing are you able to see when your opponent’s pulse increases?

Carlsen-Anand in the first round in Shamkir | photo: official website

Well, I’ve thought so, but I eventually realised that I can’t really see the difference between people who become nervous and those who become excited because they think they’re going to win. The reaction can be quite similar. I see that sometimes, for example in the last tournament in Azerbaijan. I was playing Anand in the first round. His position was very good and he actually thought he was going to beat me. But then I had a trick that made me save the draw. I could see the exact moment when he realised he wasn’t going to win. He started to shake a bit. That’s exactly when I saw it.

And that’s quite fun, isn’t it?

Yes, I think it’s fun! (grins)

After audience applause Carlsen continued:

I’d been suffering the whole game!

Later, Carlsen got to play fast blitz games against the hosts – and the two members of the popular Norwegian rap group Madcon. 

Carlsen's speed chess practice against Bill Gates came in handy! | photo: Senkveld/TV 2 Norway

The World Champion had only 20 seconds on his clock, but managed to give checkmate in both games (after several illegal moves by both) with 6 and 8 seconds left on his clock.

The outcome wasn't unexpected | photo: Senkveld/TV 2 Norway

You can watch the encounter below:

Before the games were played, Carlsen was asked one question:

You had great success already as a teen and have lived this life ever since you were quite young. How do you think that has affected you?

It’s been quite different for me because I knew from an early age that I was going to make my own living by playing chess. There was never a question of whether I would become good enough.

What? You knew it right away? Tell us, when did you know that?

Well, from around 12 to 13 I knew that I was going to be good enough.

Yes, you were a grandmaster at 13 already.

Yes. It’s been a bit like I had to behave like an adult in chess circles since I was quite young. But I still had the opportunity to behave like a kid while at home. That’s been nice. And for me, it’s been good not to have the years when you wonder what to do, whether I should continue playing chess seriously, or whether I should do something else. I’ve been very privileged and lucky that I never had to think about it.

Before heading for New York there was just time for Magnus to launch his official PlayMagnus chessboards in Oslo. Of course he drew a crowd:

There were also some Magnus sweaters on display! | photo: Tarjei J. Svensen 

Tarjei J. Svensen

Tarjei is a keen amateur chess player, arbiter and organiser who, with the rise of Magnus Carlsen, quickly became indispensable as the interpreter of all things Norwegian. He commentates on chess for Norwegian TV and is a must-follow on Twitter.

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