General Aug 24, 2017 | 11:59 AMby Colin McGourty

Jan Gustafsson's 15 minutes of NBA fame

Proof, if proof were needed, that Jan Gustafsson’s Banter Blitz shows here at chess24 are must-watch TV! In his latest episode he not only took on chess24 Premium Members and dropped chess knowledge but managed to predict a sensational transfer deal that has rocked the basketball world - Kyrie Irving’s move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to rivals Boston Celtics. A clip was retweeted by Sports Illustrated, while Vice Sports interviewed our man.

We recognise that guy! | screenshot: Vice Sports

Much as we love Jan here at chess24, it has to be said that his chess predictions are something of a running joke. A recent highpoint came before Round 4 of this year’s Altibox Norway Chess:

Of course what followed was the wildest round of chess imaginable, with a 100% decisive day only spoiled by Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So missing what seemed like certain wins:


Imagine our surprise, then, when he got something right!

Jan had correctly predicted that Cleveland would trade Kyrie Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and a draft pick, only missing one extra player who was included in the deal. You can watch the whole Banter Blitz show from which that clip comes below:

For those who, unlike most elite chess players, don’t follow the NBA, it should be pointed out that:

1. Kyrie Irving is a 25-year-old at the height of his game, a four-time NBA all-star who played alongside perhaps the NBA’s best player, LeBron James, in the Cleveland team that has made the last three NBA finals.

2. Unlike in football (soccer), you can’t just buy up the best players if you have the most money. There are salary caps and a transfer has to involve players going the other way.

3. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics are huge rivals, with Boston finishing ahead of Cleveland in the recent Eastern Conference but losing to Cleveland in the playoffs.

4. Isaiah Thomas is also an all-star, but an older and more injury-prone player, and hence he had to be packaged with other players and options to complete the deal.

5. The deal is big news! 

6. Kyrie Irving believes the earth is flat...

That last point is required to understand some of the jokes!

Jan’s psychic powers were soon picked up by the mainstream US media:

So how did Jan end up hooked on basketball and what chess pieces could you compare the players to? He revealed all in the interview with Vice:


VICE Sports: How did you become an NBA fan?

Jan Gustafsson: I started watching games regularly thanks to our boy Dirk Nowitzki when Dallas was in the finals against LeBron in 2011, when a lot of people in Germany were watching all the finals. Ever since, I've been watching League Pass and listening to all the podcasts and reading all the sites, so I'm well informed on stuff.

Chess players are very much into basketball, like much more than the average population. If you look at the top ten chess players, all the guys are heavily following basketball, and looking at stats. They're all serious experts. Like, World Champion Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, all the world's best players—they're serious basketball nerds. So it's funny that we're all really into it, while people aren't that much into soccer, as you're supposed to be as a European.

VGTV film Magnus playing basketball during his New York World Championship match

How on earth did you craft this prediction about I.T. and Kyrie Irving?

I'm just a basketball fan, so I do all these regular chess streams, and I enjoy going off on some tangents and talking basketball. Had I not played a dude with a Celtics avatar, I don't think I would have talked about it during the show. But of course, I was as surprised as anybody when I woke up this morning and saw that this trade had actually happened. It was fun to see.

Are you worried about becoming Paul, the wildly successful, German World Cup match-predicting octopus, stuck in a tank and choosing the fates of NBA teams for the rest of your life?

I was just talking to my friend about Paul after my video got shared. The funny thing is that I'm a professional chess commentator, but I'm famous for being terrible at making predictions for chess games. So this is a new, welcome change.

Jan's competition

At the risk of overdoing it, do you have any other NBA predictions?

I think I should rest on my laurels for a couple of days before I stretch my neck out with the next one. It's sort of a low-percentage game.

If Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving were chess pieces, which ones would they be?

They gotta be the same piece, right? Both attackers, that defend very poorly. They're both not very tall. I gotta say, they're both pawns. And that's not meant offensively. But pawns can't move backwards in chess. I feel like these guys, they're not very good at defense. You have to choose guys who only move forward.

I thought you were going to say they were bishops or knights or something—unpredictable, x-factors...

No, a knight can jump over their opponents, and I've never seen Isaiah or Kyrie jump over anything.


Can’t wait for more chess and basketball wisdom? Stay tuned for Jan’s upcoming Banter Blitz at 16:00 CEST on Friday 25 August. If you Go Premium you have the chance to challenge him to a game of 5-minute blitz, or pester him for more basketball predictions!


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