Learning creative and critical thinking
Two years ago Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen – the reigning king of chess and the sport’s indisputable linchpin – sat down at his office in Oslo in a G-Star RAW ‘For the Oceans’ jacket to play one of his fiercest opponents yet: Magnus 14 years, 4 months.
“He’s going to trick me today,” quipped Magnus, then 25, with his thick, chestnut hair standing out perfectly imperfect and movie-star smile unconsciously threatening a chess coup d'état.
The match began electronically via Play Magnus, an extraordinarily creative and popular chess mobile app that allows users to play at nineteen different skill levels based on Magnus’ ability at given ages. The skill levels are culled from a database of thousands of Magnus’ recorded games from the age of 5 on.
At 14 years, 4 months, Magnus was already an International Grandmaster, the youngest in the world and the second youngest ever at the time. He had placed in the top 30 of the European Championship to qualify for the World Cup and was well on his way to becoming the number one ranked chess player in the world (an achievement he secured at age 19) and world champion (age 22).
The match between young-man Magnus and man Magnus was ugly, eliciting reactions from the World Chess Champion like “beast” and perhaps an expletive or two. When it ended Magnus, 25, had this to say: “That was very unpleasant; I did not anticipate that.”
Oh how the world never anticipated Magnus at any age.
Born in Tønsberg, Norway on November 30, 1990 Magnus was like many little boys in some regards, playing with Legos and puzzles and buzzing around his sisters like the busy, tow-headed moppet he was. The difference was Magnus was solving 50-piece puzzles by age 2 and assembling Lego kits intended for teens by kindergarten.
Then came the rooks.
“My father introduced me to chess when I was around 5 years old,” recalled Magnus in an exclusive interview. “It did not immediately catch on, and for 2 to 3 years it was one of many pastimes of me and my family until I developed a keen interest just before I turned 8. I wanted to beat my elder sister and after having played my first children tournament in the summer of 1999 chess really became a passion.”
He was hailed as a chess prodigy from a very young age, playing in his first chess tournament – the Norwegian Chess Championship – at age of 9. When looking at potential moves on a chess board, Magnus said in the 2016 documentary Magnus by Benjamin Ree, “I can see these things immediately, while other people see chaos.”
However, despite his seemingly innate talent and meteoric rise in the sport due to masterfully blending that talent with incredible grit and training, winning was never Magnus’ overreaching or singular goal.
Words: Caurie Putnam
Visuals: Marie Boyard