Young, cool and Number One
At 21, Magnus Carlsen has had a career that equals or even surpasses the brilliance of that of Bobby Fischer or Gari Kaspárov at the same age. He has been number one on 19 of the 22 lists published between January 2010 and August 2012. He also won the Masters Final last year, after an electrifying tie-break against Vasili Ivanchuk. He is a genius and by all indications has not yet reached his peak.
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘genius’ as “exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability”. It is enough just to enjoy Carlsen’s (or Anand’s) matches to see that he lives up to this definition, although he himself gave another definition on January 17, 2008 on the death of the charismatic American, Bobby Fisher, the 1972 World Champion. “What I admired most about him was his ability to make what was in fact so difficult look easy to us. I try to emulate him”, said Carlsen.
But there is also no doubt that Carlsen is an overall genius, not just in chess, although he does not want to know his Intelligence Quotient. Just to mention one example, at age five he memorized the capitals, areas and population sizes of almost all the countries in the world, and similar information for all the towns in Norway.
First and foremost, geniuses are a privilege to their parents, but can also be nightmares if they get bored easily in class and do not adapt to a world organized for people with much smaller mental capacities than theirs. Magnus’ parents made the right decision by taking him and his sisters on a one-year trip around the world when he was thirteen. If it is said travel is always an excellent school of life, it was even more so in a case like his. By then he was already the youngest grandmaster (a title similar to that of a doctor of philosophy) in the world, leading him to attend the 2004 World Chess Olympiad with his national team in Calvía, Mallorca, where the ushers refused to allow him on stage because they could not believe that someone who was just a child could be Norway’s best player.
Geniuses tend to flee crowds and be very shy. Four years ago, Magnus hardly spoke to anyone that did not belong to his most intimate circle. Now, after covering great distances, playing hundreds of matches all over the world and being interviewed by, albeit reluctantly, numerous journalists, the precocious number one has learned that being interviewed forms part of his duties, although he does it sparingly, and he has even been a spokesmodel for the clothing brand Junior G-Star.
Despite the fact that the stereotypes may make one think the opposite, most elite chess players are quite sociable. Carlsen is one of the few exceptions, despite already being a national icon, and he flees when he can from being exposed to people who are not part of his closest circle. Games with other chess players where he does not leave the hotel are usually the only way to see him outside of his room or the tournament hall. He lives in his own world, based heavily on the internet. He appears to be reasonably happy, perhaps because he knows that millions of fans have a great appreciation for the beauty and depth of his matches. Although he speaks perfect English, his native language is chess, and into it he has poured his amazing intelligence, which he really couldn’t care less about, just like Anand.
Magnus Carlsen, current world number one and winner of the 2011 Masters Final earned a spot at this year’s edition by winning the 2011 and 2012 Memorial Tal tournaments.