Carlsen in TIME and the art of good journalism

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
TIME interviews Magnus CarlsenYesterday TIME featured a short interview with the new world's new number 1 Magnus Carlsen. Despite the fact that there were only ten questions with relatively short answers, I liked it so much that it got me thinking about chess journalism in general. Why can't interviews with chess players always be this sharp?

The main reason why I thought the interview was so good is that it's got something for everyone: both complete chess ignorants, casual chess enthusiasts and hardcore chess fans  can probably relate to it. The first few questions could, I guss, be called rather obvious to dyed-in-the-wool chess lovers but that would be a wrong interpretation. In fact, it's not so easy to ask personal questions to chess players that are still relevant to their chess profession.

All too often, personal questions to chess pros are of the type 'What's your favourite colour' or 'Do you get a lot of attention from girls?'. Well, I'm sorry, but I couldn't care less! On the other hand, it is interesting (at least to me) to realize Carlsen, too, gets a lot of 'stupid' questions all the time - just like the rest of us chess amateurs - and it's good to hear he deals with them in a sensible way. Next time someone asks me how many moves I can think ahead, I, too, may answer that it's the evaluation that counts most.  

Actually, a good interview is made not only by the journalist but also by the person being interviewed, and Carlsen does a fine job in TIME. He clearly had to be very brief in his answers, but he still manages to mention a few relevant things, such as the complexity of chess intuition and the fact that he isn't afraid computers will kill human imagination in chess. This last point, especially, is worth thinking about. Nigel Short apparently fears computers will take away the mystery of chess - this argument is reminiscent of Keats' famous complaint about natural philosophy (i.e. science) in his poem Lamia (1819):
Philosophy will clip an angel’s wings,

Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,

Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine—

Unweave a rainbow...
This complaint inspired the biologist Richard Dawkins to write an entire book called Unweaving the Rainbow, in which he argued that the more we understand of nature, the more - not less - we should be amazed and awed by it. Magnus Carlsen seems to hold the same opinion when he says he's not afraid computers will 'leave no room for imagination'. And he's quite right, in my view. The more computers show us how wrong we were before, the more fascinating our little game will surely become.

Equally insightful are his answer to the question whether he sees chess as a combat or as an art (this question should be asked more often to chess players anyway - it tells a lot about how they think about their work) and his explanation - or more accurately: his lack of explanation -  for why there are so few women in super-grandmaster chess. He dismisses pseudo-pschygology and even refutes it with an example from his own experience. Finally, he admits not being obsessed by chess - and all this in a Q & A of just ten questions. I'm impressed. Why can't all chess journalism be like that? And why can't all chess players answer so clearly to chess questions? Let's hope in 2010 we'll see more of it.
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