He’s awkward. He’s charming. At age 23, he’s the new chess champion of the world. And in a Silicon Valley speaking appearance, Norway’s Magnus Carlsen unleashed enough of his dry wit to keep his audience tittering or applauding.
Carlsen spoke Thursday evening, Jan. 16, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., before an audience of several hundred engineers, venture capitalists and other techies. He was nominally being interviewed on stage by Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor and co-founder of PayPal. But as a practical matter, Carlsen unleashed one-liners on whatever topics struck his fancy.
Among Carlsen’s observations:
- He briefly took martial arts lessons a few years ago but says “it didn’t do much for me.” Other people may be impressed by the example of Josh Waitzkin, a one-time chess prodigy who has largely walked away from chess in favor of becoming a black belt in jiujitsu. Carlsen demurs, explaining: “Josh didn’t have enough of a killer instinct to be successful in chess. That’s probably why he switched to something more peaceful.”
- Chess has been Carlsen’s main focus since age eight, but he says he did enjoy other interests earlier in life, including Legos and cars. “My parents had brainwashed me to pursue higher education after high school. I thought that was reasonable. But then I was doing well enough at chess to be making some money.” (He became a grandmaster at age 13 and kept improving.}
- Diet matters. “Earlier today I had a burger. It made me feel awful. If I tried to play serious chess tonight, I’d play awful.”
- “I think in 15 to 20 years, you will see India and China as the greatest chess powers in the world.”
- Playing ultra-fast, or blitz, chess “can help you develop as a young chess player.” Carlsen says that when he plays blitz, he relies mostly on intuition. In a standard, slower match, he can check his hunches with detailed calculations. But in blitz, “you don’t have that luxury. Usually I do whatever comes to my mind first.”
- “In chess training, I do the things I enjoy. I don’t particularly enjoy playing against computers, so I don’t do that.”
- “Chess I think will never be fully solved by computers.” There are databases already for all possible moves with six pieces on the board, Carlsen says. “But I don’t think we’ll see seven pieces resolved in our lifetime. And as for all 32 pieces, that’s probably never going to happen.”