Magnus Carlsen, the world chess champion, has a great capacity for putting people at ease. Flight delays have made me an hour late, but there he is at the top of the stairs of his Oslo home, holding open the door and saying: “It’s all right, I understand.” Yet this is, probably, the greatest player in the game, mobbed by screaming fans wherever he goes and in such commercial demand that his black cotton jacket is a veritable advertising billboard. On one breast is the logo of a law firm, on another an investment bank, on one arm an electrical company, and on the other a prominent Oslo newspaper — just some of the deals that earn him about £1m a year.
Photo courtesy of Financial Times
Walking through the hall, he seems oblivious to his surroundings. He has just guided me to the sitting-cum-dining room. The walls are beige. We perch on a bright red sofa; just behind him are two empty picture hooks. When I ask about the clash of colours, and whether a painting has gone missing, he looks around as if he is seeing the room for the first time. “I bought this house a year ago and most of what you see was left behind by the previous owner,” he says. “You will have to ask my father.” Later, when I do, his father Henrik laughs. “The painting was taken by the previous owner. What I say is, ‘If it is vulgar and expensive then it is from the previous owner. If it is vulgar and cheap then it is ours.’ The sofa is vulgar and expensive.”
The other “vulgar and expensive” object in the room is the large dining table. Used only when Carlsen entertains, it is dominated by a chess set. Moments before we begin talking, he suddenly goes to the chess set, makes a few moves, discusses them with his manager, who sits nearby, and returns to the red sofa. Having heard he is easily bored, I wonder: “Are you bored already?” He smiles and says: “I have been bored but I am OK now.”
Blindfolded, Carlsen can beat 10 strong players simultaneously as “a sort of party trick. It’s something that all the best players can do. Chess players do blindfold training all the time, always visualising the game in their heads. It is not unusual but, of course, it looks spectacular.”
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Mihir discussed this and other issues on the BBC World Service weekend programme. To hear the full programme please click on part 1 here part 2 here and part 3 here.
Mihir was on the panel for the BBC News Channel programme The Papers on 29th August. To listen to the programme please click here.
Mihir was interviewed on Good Morning Wales this morning, talking about the wonderful success being enjoyed by team GB, and other Olympic highlights. To listen to the interview please click here (interview starts at 10.14).
Mihir was interviewed for The Stack, Monocle 24’s weekly radio show on the world of print, and featuring people and players shaping the future of print media. In the Olympics season he discusses how to produce the perfect sporting title. To hear the interview please click here