He makes millions of dollars in sponsorships each year, was voted one of Cosmopolitan Magazine’s sexiest men of 2013 and has 53,000 followers on Twitter. No, he’s not a movie star or a sports icon. He’s a chess player.
How do you think of a chess player? You might think of old men as likely candidates. That’s not Magnus Carlsen. Born in 1990, the Norwegian Carlsen learned how to play chess at the age of five. He excelled at the sport, and even had people line up in malls just to play him. By 13 he was a Grand Master and played World Champion Gary Kasparov to a draw in Iceland. He signed his first modeling deal with the Dutch company G-Star Raw in 2010, appearing with actress Liv Tyler. Finally, in November 2013, he beat Viswanathan Anand to become the World Champion. Despite his World Champion status, Carlsen is still a down-to-earth guy. He likes to play soccer and tennis with his friends, but he still spends much of his time thinking about chess. “Once you’re a chess player, you spend a lot of time thinking about the game and you can’t get it completely out of your head.” “I spend hours playing chess because I find it so much fun. The day it stops being fun is the day I give it up.”
Chess can be physically draining as well. Carlsen spends much of his time at the gym, and plays many other sports. It takes a lot of concentration to play chess and Carlsen will often get up and take a walk in the middle of a match. Games can become long, and it takes endurance to see them through. Chess also tests your ability to think ahead as well as your imagination. You need ingenuity to think of new moves and to adapt to setbacks. It can sometimes be hard for some people to sit still and think for so long, and that is why players train.
The perception of chess is changing. It used to be a game for nerds and old men, but Magnus Carlsen is showing us why that no longer holds true.