Learning from the Grandmasters

I loved watching the #1 chess champion Norway’s Magnus Carlsen on the Colbert Report last week. (I had the privilege of playing with him at a charity event against Gary Kasparov in New York last year. You can actually watch our entire match on YouTube here, which features Maurice Ashley’s wonderfully inspired color commentary even if he does call me “a beast” :) ).

You simply have to watch Magnus on Colbert and tell me if you didn’t fall off your chair laughing. Colbert always attempts to take a humorous shot at even his most accomplished of guests. And I was wondering how Colbert, and Magnus, would handle the interview.

In short, Magnus aced it and came off brilliantly, and so did the sport of chess.

Colbert asked Magnus if he saw a different kind of chess board than the rest of us, and if the pieces spoke to him but Magnus offered that there was no special vision, “I just see the board the pieces everything… the pieces are just tools for me”.

When asked whether he tries to psyche out his opponents, Magnus admitted to getting up and walking around, but mostly because he gets bored.  And did make a celebratory move when winning a major match, like “spike the bishop”, Magnus replied that no, he tries to be as respectful as possible to his opponents.

Then Colbert showed a few of Magnus’s fashion shots, which raised appreciative applause from the women in the audience and causing Colbert to comment that Magnus had to be the “sexiest chess player” ever. 

But you have to watch through to the conclusion where Magnus and Colbert go head to head in the best two out of three in rock-paper-scissors. I won’t spoil it except to say that Colbert claimed to be a grand master of rock-paper-scissors and was planning “20 moves ahead” while Magnus admitted it was “100% random” for him. See for yourself. And post back on my blog whether or not you responded like I did.

Moral of the story? Strategic thinking is an art we can all aspire to, having a chess genius like Magnus is proof that we can all improve our games. As for Colbert, well there is a place for comedic genius as well.