My Secrets About Magnus Carlsen

My Secrets About Magnus Carlsen

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First let me introduce myself: My name is Kaja Snare. I am a sports journalist from Norway.

When asked by if I can write this column, I said yes, because 1. It is great to be able to share with you my experiences following chess—Magnus Carlsen in particular—and 2. because it makes me feel like the Carrie Bradshaw of chess (the main character and a columnist in Sex and the City).

Lead photo: In the studio with Magnus during the Norway Chess 2015 Qualifier Event.| Photo: Linnea Syversen.

Before reading further you deserve to know this: I do not play chess (contrary to Carrie Bradshaw who has a lot of sex).

I do own a chess set, but only because it is really beautiful and looks great on my coffee table. And I did recently become a member of a chess club, but mostly because I imagine myself in a Chesterfield chair being all smart playing chess with interesting people who tell me their life stories (Atle Grønn’s book "Chess or Life" will do that to you). Maybe I will bring you along as I try to get better at the game.


Interviewing Sergey Karjakin during the world chess championship in New York. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

But this column will give you a look behind the curtain where the most brilliant and famous chess players are hiding. For the past three years, I have traveled the world covering chess for Norwegian television, and I have gotten to know the people who make the sport so exciting. The gentleman and great dancer, Vladimir Kramnik. The duckling who turned out to be a swan, Sergey Karjakin. The one who gave me the silent treatment, Hikaru Nakamura. The one who embarrassed me on live TV, Vassily Ivanchuk. The one who stays up the latest, Veselin Topalov. Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. And Magnus Carlsen.

What are my secrets about the world champion?

I will have to take you back to the first time I met him at the 2014 Sinquefield Cup. Actually that is not true. I saw him at a nightclub in Oslo some time before his first world championship match. He was already a big enough celebrity to have his own area in the club, and I remember he was surrounded by girls. I think my drunk and starstruck self stumbled over and asked for an autograph. Classy! I like to believe I was a bit more gracious a few years later in St. Louis at the Sinquefield Cup.

I had never worked with chess and barely knew how to move the pieces. I spent my time on the flight from Norway memorizing world champions and A1, A2, A3 (still struggling). My cameraman and I stayed in in the "chess house" together with all the chess journalists and I braced myself for two very awkward, not-so-fun weeks.



Mike Klein teaching my how to set up the board (the queens always have matching shoes with dresses) in St. Louis.

We followed the games in the historically strong tournament (Caruana crushing it with seven wins in a row! Will we ever see something like that again?), we worked, we played chess, and we partied. I fell madly in love with the intense sport, the mysterious game, and the original, warm people.

It was challenging to interview the chess players. Especially Magnus. It is like this with him: If you come unprepared and ask stupid questions, he will not hesitate to make you feel like an idiot. If you surprise him with good, original questions—and they are more than welcome to be of the tabloid kind—he delivers headlines like no one else, even if he knows it will attract massive attention,and not necessarily positive. I mostly have the impression he hates being in the spotlight, but the kind of attention he creates for himself, with his own words or genius moves, seems to amuse him.

Sometimes I get the feeling he is bringing the game into real life. Is he just playing with us?

During those two weeks in St. Louis, I got the opportunity to hang out a little bit with Magnus outside the tournament. We took him golfing on the rest day to get some cool footage, and he invited us to play football. The game took place at a field with a running track around it, and when most of us were too tired to even walk, Magnus wanted to test how fast he could run 100 meters. I wish I could remember the exact time he clocked in, but I recall being quite impressed. It makes me wonder who would win a sprint between all the world champions? My bet is on Kramnik because—fun fact—according to Wikipedia, he is exactly the same height as Usain Bolt (195 centimetres). Or maybe Bobby Fischer would win, because at least metaphorically he had a lot to run away from. Haha.


Playing football (soccer) with Magnus in St. Louis.

Bobby Fischer actually brings me closer to the point.

Growing up my only reference to chess was the American genius I had heard some crazy stories about. When Magnus became a grandmaster and the media started talking about him, he was often compared to Bobby Fischer. Which is why I do not blame people for asking me the horrible question, "but something is wrong with Magnus Carlsen, right?" Socially they mean. I am sorry to say that this is by far the question I get the most.

In the documentary Magnus, he talks about his demons. They make him think about chess all...the...time! He is the second-youngest chess world champion ever. It would be easy to accept it if he had severe social issues. It seems harder to comprehend that he, as far as I can see, does not.

I do not know him personally, but Magnus Carlsen was for some time my job; I followed his every move, and I will say this: The guy strikes me as extremely street smart. Just as he is so often one step ahead of his competitors on the chessboard, he seems to be ahead of the media.

That he in fact is playing with us. You know that feeling of realizing too late what smart thing you should have said? I bet Magnus never gets that. His head calculates something clever or sensational to say so quickly. It makes my job a lot of fun.

Just like everyone else, Magnus Carlsen has his flaws. The only really abnormal thing about him in social settings is that he must be the only person in the world born after 1970 who does not know how to dance the Macarena. I know this because after the last round in the 2014 Sinquefield Cup we hosted a party in the chess house and all the players attended.

We played every fun variety of chess you can imagine, and they were all so sweet and cheered out loud when I made a move that was not immediately losing. Then we all went out to a Latino club, and at some point the Macarena was played and almost all of us danced.

Those were good times! Got to love my job. Looking forward to bringing you along

nullKaja Snare, 27, lives in Oslo. She is a sports journalist for NRK and has been covering chess and hosting chess shows for Norwegian television for three years. She worked on the international broadcast during the world championship in New York. Kaja has been to the Olympics in Brazil covering handball, and has traveled covering winter sports, cycling, tennis and football (soccer). When at home, Kaja is a sports anchor. 

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