Mozart of Chess: Magnus Carlsen

At age 21, chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen is the number one player in the world and says he loves to see his opponents squirm.

Friedel: I mean, that's an impolite term, but it's probably appropriate.

Except when he's not. Magnus plays soccer whenever he can break away from the board, he's got a mean backhand and he is also moonlighting as a model. There's never been much money in chess, but Magnus is changing that. Sponsors are lining up to endorse him. He's making about a million and a half dollars a year.

But it's a solitary life. Magnus is on the road two hundred days a year now. Between matches he is alone in his hotel room getting ready for tomorrow's game. He works out almost every day...knows he can't concentrate for what's often seven hours unless he's in shape. Magnus says he wouldn't be able to tolerate this life if it weren't for his father who is always there for him.

Simon: When you travel with Magnus, what's your role?

Henrik Carlsen: I'm a servant. And a chess fan.

Simon: You enjoy the games?

Henrik Carlsen: Yes.

And so, he says, does Magnus.

Simon: Boy, when you look at him, when I look at him, "enjoyment" is not the word that comes to mind.

Henrik Carlsen: It should. Maybe you have to compare it to a writer or a painter. I mean, probably if you see them at work, they're not smiling or having an easy time. They're exploiting their mind to the utmost. And the same with the chess players.

But that level of concentration is not danger free. A fair number of grandmasters have gone mad, which is what happened to Bobby Fischer in his later years.

Simon: Do you ever think about that?

Magnus Carlsen: Yes. I do. And that's you know, when I was watching the recent film about Bobby Fischer I was thinking, you know, is this going to be me in a few years? I don't think that's going to happen. But, you know, it made me think a little bit that, you know, I have to be aware of this, at least.

Simon: People have described you as the Mozart of Chess. How do you react to that?

Magnus Carlsen: Yeah. Maybe. But was Mozart ever asked how he does this? I don't-- I would be very impressed if he had a good answer to that. Because I think what he would say is that just-- it just comes natural to me. It's what I do.

Simon: Which is what you say?

Magnus Carlsen: Yeah.

It's what he does for fun, too. . .at the Oslo chess club where he started. He is playing a Norwegian grandmaster here. It's called Bullet chess and Magnus has a handicap. His opponent is given three minutes to make his moves. Magnus has one. It's just a friendly match. But Magnus always hates to lose so he doesn't.

Simon: You got him?

Magnus Carlsen: Yeah, I got him.