The New Yorker Profiles Magnus

I have been a subscriber of The New Yorker Magazine for nearly ten years now and have been patiently waiting for an article about chess. There may have been a mention about Kasparov’s political aspirations here or there in that time (snooze…), but apart from that, I recall only a paucity of chess related material, which is surprising considering the demographic to whom the New Yorker is marketed. Perhaps not surprisingly, it took an enigmatic figure like Carlsen to entice the notoriously choosy editors to finally run a profile of a chess player. The article appeared in the March 21st edition, and has already been given ample treatment by the chess blogosphere elsewhere, such as over on Greengard’s “chess ninja.”

I was eager to see how the article would handle chess. Would it describe positions in detail or risk losing most readers by getting bogged down in the vocabulary of opening theory? Would they …gasp…include a diagram? In the first few paragraphs of the article, D.T. Max describes the game in Wijk Aan Zee where Carlsen whipped out the Chigorin against Kramnik, something which most chess players would quickly be able to decipher from the author’s awkward attempt to describe the principals of opening theory in passing to an audience who likely neither understood the ideas as presented nor appreciated how Carlsen was breaking them. In any case, this was my favorite part of the article and from there I have to say it managed to disappoint me, much as Magnus’s career has done.

A year ago, I like many people was smitten with Magnus. I had Magnus fever, a symptom of which was a certain kind of myopia that blinded me to his negative traits, such that to my eyes he basked in a glow of Caissa’s benediction and could do no wrong. It goes without saying that this is no longer the case. Notwithstanding his disappointing decision to back out of the World Championship Cycle just at the moment when it was starting to look like something most chess players have been demanding for years, Magnus has irked me lately for other reasons. His former humility has given way to an arrogance that borders on megalomania. For instance, his comment that Giri could “never be as strong as me” (which was mentioned in the New Yorker article) smacks of something a professional wrestler might scream into a camera to intimidate his opponent, but certainly not something a professional chess player should say about a quickly improving young talent. That Giri destroyed Magnus in a mere 22 moves with black only a short time later only highlights the degree of Carlsen’s misperception of his own strength.

In any case, despite the fact that there is likely nothing in the profile which you do not already know about Magnus, I have to say that it’s worth reading and as you would expect, disgustingly well-written. It will not be on the news stands much longer though, so grab a copy ASAP before the March 28th edition comes out.