The Wisdom of Magnus Carlsen

Der Spiegel did an interview with the #1 chess player in the world, Magnus Carlsen. He's 19 years-old. He comes off as incredibly normal. And very wise.

On the downsides of being too smart:

Of course it is important for a chess player to be able to concentrate well, but being too intelligent can also be a burden. It can get in your way.

On the advantages of being young and curious today — you have so much info available at a young age:

my success mainly has to do with the fact that I had the opportunity to learn more, more quickly. It has become easier to get hold of information. The players from the Soviet Union used to be at a huge advantage; in Moscow they had access to vast archives, with countless games carefully recorded on index cards. Nowadays anyone can buy this data on DVD for 150 euros; one disk holds 4.5 million games. There are also more books than there used to be. And then of course I started working with a computer earlier than Vladimir Kramnik or Viswanathan Anand.

On his thinking style, which will resonate with anyone who doesn't like formal schooling:

I’m not a disciplined thinker. Organisation is not my thing; I am chaotic and tend to be lazy. My trainer recognised that and as a rule allowed me to practise whatever I felt like at the time….When I am feeling good, I train a lot. When I feel bad, I don’t bother. I don’t enjoy working to a timetable. Systematic learning would kill me.

And perhaps the perspective that shows he will remain king of the hill for awhile:

Chess should not become an obsession. Otherwise there’s a danger that you will slide off into a parallel world, that you lose your sense of reality, get lost in the infinite cosmos of the game. You become crazy. I make sure that I have enough time between tournaments to go home in order to do other things. I like hiking and skiing, and I play football in a club.


George Friedman's clear overview of the U.S. geopolitical interests in Israel is an example of why I subscribe to his weekly newsletter.

Here's a good overview of the effectiveness of nutritional supplements. I take fish oil and a multi-vitamin.

Here's a "how to write" post, including: "Find the weak points in your argument and acknowledge them. Hell, celebrate them." 

6 comments on “The Wisdom of Magnus Carlsen
  • You’re right, Ben, Magnus Carlsen is very wise, and he does seem amazingly normal for such a young chess grandmaster.

    Like him, I’ve never been a disciplined thinker. Organization is not my thing and I’m chaotic, as well, and I like it that way. I’m glad I never took the Ritalin the doctor prescribed.

    Magnus needs a manager, or someone, who will make sure that no more such badly lit photos of him are published in magazines like Der Spiegel.

    I think he has star potential. He could become the Matt Damon of the chess world and develop a base of fangirls.

    You should do that, too.;-)

  • I can really relate to the undisciplined thinking concept. I guess I just haven’t yet found the thing I can do when I am feeling disciplined that will make me super successful. Maybe then I could get away with my laziness without feeling guilty.

    Good stuff! Thanks for sharing.

  • WOW. I guess he made a very important confession about his success. All this guy has is a learning attitude and access to information which can take him to the top.
    I do not think he is different from most of us. I do not think I am much different from him. Except the fact that I am a lazy, procrastinator who does not have the discipline to focus on priorities.
    This is really a good article and I have learned that willingness to learn can do wonders. Also, the role of a coach cannot be ignored.

  • I’m guessing that when he devalues his intelligence, it has more to do with the fact that he’s been inside of his own head for his entire life, so, not having anything to compare that with, he understandably doesn’t realize how smart he really is.

    I’m sure he’s brilliant.

  • Interesting article, but either he’s leaving something out, or this is a massive piece of psychological warfare against his opponents.

    He is the world champion after all…

  • I find there is a correlation between chess and drawing. Have I gone mad? In chess any experience player will tell you one recognizes patterns and for me there are patterns in drawing as I explain in my chess blog “Nerves Galore”. Every time I move my pen to draw it is like moving a chess piece for an attempt for the right move for victory. This is the way I see things as incredible as it sounds.

    Robert H

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