Insights from Witnessing Magnus Carlsen the Chess World Champion and 13 Other Grandmasters Play In Real Life

Insights from Witnessing Magnus Carlsen the Chess World Champion and 13 Other Grandmasters Play In Real Life


If you’d look at some of these players – mind you Grandmasters – they’d look like average Joe’s. Especially the way they dress, jeans, comfy shoes (which has a very specific reason, which we’ll come to in a second), you can imagine the rest. One guy looked like he was going to a BD party at his in-laws.

Inversely, though, there are some who take it more seriously, Carlsen and Anish Giri were two of them – fully suited up and their jackets full of labels, of their sponsors.

Chess can be big bux, and they know it. And this was highlighted the second the games were about to begin and the players walked up, from the stairs down to the playing area – as soon as they sat down, the dozens of camera men and woman, with heavy heavy gear came from all directions and shot pictures and footage, upon footage for like a good 10-20 minutes. Heavy stuff. Hardcore. This only lasted for the first couple moves played – because it can ofcourse be distracting when they play.

Coming back to appearance, not much is to be expected from Chess players, one might think – afterall all their mental energy is reserved and channeled into their brain and mind and thinking capacity and computational power and intuition and memory and creativity, it’s hard work, so it seems logic that there’s not a lot of room left for style – appearances or flair or sauce or presence. (small note about that, in a minute)


Most of them were built like a cliché kinda chess geek, thin, slim and quite lite bodied and seemed like they never touched a weight or can crank any pushups, one guy was fat.

Goes to show, and to thinking how their gameplay, how much it’d improve if they had some foundation of physical training, would that aid their brain power? Would that make them win? That’s up for debate, because the fat guy won – the other guy was a slim, fit looking guy in a suit. In chess, appearances don’t mean shit. It’s just can you play well, and win, that’s it.

Aligned with that, there was almost zero eating. You can look it up, in the course of such games 1000s of calories get burned, and chipped away, just by thinking thinking thinking, yet almost no player was eating. With exception for one Grandmaster, who was eating dark chocolate — sugary, calories, and maybe some esoteric benefit of him aiding brain power because it’s dark chocolate. Just imagine what would happen if you put the whole roster on an insane regime of fitness and health and diet experts, again: would their play improve? They are at the top top, elite level, they need it – definitely something to look into. 


Of course, since the reigning chess world champion, goat, Magnus Carlsen was going to be there, all eyes were on him. And lot can be learned here, about perceived status and power and power dynamics and social dynamics and social hierarchies and prestige and social proof – you know the genre.

The second he walked down the stairs, all eyes were on him. Like where is he, where is Magnus? Some prolly came to witness just the goat play, some came to see the fame, the aureola circling around his head, some came to get the snuff of that divine spark of being the best. Like to get that good solid dense whiff of greatness.

To be fair, there was an air about Magnus – and upon some consideration: it has to do with being the BEST. His ranking the highest, and current reigning world champion. If you think about it, if you’re in the top top elite of any type of (mental) sport, if you’re a sportsman, some kind of elite athlete, and you’re part of the best, that means you’re competent as fuck. And when you’re competent to that degree, you become confident as fuck. Which is IMPOSSIBLE to fake.

Magnus – and many other dweeb looking players had that; they looked shabby dressed, but there was a reserved powerful energy behind their eyes, gait and looks deceived – had that aura, that presence, and it was seen in his erect posture, solid gait, solid strut, the way his double monk strapped shoes hit the floor as he walked — players are allowed to get up and walk, and take a bathroom break (albeit with supervision sometimes; to prevent cheating – digital era; engines, etc), or get a coffee or tea or water; no soda drinks like cola were seen in sight (could be hella interesting).

The Walk

About the walks – players tended to get up and check the boards of the other players playing. Dk if it was competitive drive, camaraderie like interest, support, or from a mental pov – getting their mind of THEIR game, by downloading some data about a completely different situation on the board, it makes sense. The reason they get up from the board, and walk is to clear their head, and walking helps with thinking, makes you think more clearly, helps you visualize, helps you computate, and you stay moving, embodied cognition, and your mind stays moving, and you get energy from walking, since you’re losing energy from playing, this is how you get it back. And then you end up at another game, just to get your mind of your game – a healthy necessary distraction. 

No Smoking

Reminiscing about the boss pics taking from former chess champ Mikael Tal while smoking a cigarette while playing chess – those were days definitely from a bygone era – it would’ve made the games look cool, up close, imagine some of the grandmasters decked out in a full three piece suit, cuff links, handkerchief all dressed up and toasting up a nice fat cigar and all that copious amounts of smoke and checkmating your opponent or making a Queen sac. One imagines. 


I sat and watched 14 grandmasters play for seven hours straight. I did not get up and take a break. I do have to say, I’m nowhere near GM lvl, and I was not playing I was merely watching. But of the couple hundred spectators not everyone had the focus to do this.

Just reminded of the TT, YT short, IG reel gen Z reality we’re dab smack in the middle of with short attention economy and spans and where, if you can focus for more than 20-30 minutes and go all the way into deep flow, you’re king. Reading books, playing chess or any other hard game like Go can help you with that. Even watching a LONG movie or Netflix tv show can help with regaining your focus.

Some people brought their kids. Their babies. Of course they’re gonna lose interest after couple minutes. Chess is not flashy, externally, not optically. It’s all internally, mentally. —

Ethics / Aesthetics

—Chess is more in the realm of ethics and less about aesthetics, yes it’s a classic game, which hearkens back thousands of years, all the way to the origin of its name etymology shah-mah has Indian or Arabic roots (correct me if mistaken, zero interest in googling this or anything) — it has a rep; so it’s G to snap a pic or two and with a cigar in your mouth and look like you’re intellectual — — But that is missing the point of Chess, the game, the realm, the lifestyle, Completely!! (brilliant move!)

Chess is not about aesthetics. It’s not about look at me, it’s about here I am, it’s about how good you are, not how good you look. It’s about being better than your opponent, the world. It’s about being the best, not looking the best. It’s about winning, and losing, or fighting for a draw, or capitulating to a draw, and giving up when the other person got you beat, it’s about being the better man (or woman sometimes) – it’s about dedication to one singular thing, your life’s work, it’s about focus and energy and training and thus it’s about your values in life, what you care about it’s more about ethics. (could whip out a whole Kierkegaardian dialectic expansion about chess, but that would fill a book…)

Which brings us to who you’re doing it for — tying it back to that quiet confidence of Carlsen and many of the other players. It’s most definitely not for the women, money and or fame. You do it for some self sought glory, it’s about Internal Validation. There are no bunny cheerleaders all sexied up, circling the playing arena like a hyena (not like other sports…). There are no heroic applauses. Yes, there’s an applause in the beginning, and maybe once more here there, but there’s no, Ohhhhhh shhhh, he rocked him – at the specific killer move (there was one loser grandpa tho that exclaimed an *Woooah* at the exact moment a player did a Queen sacrifice, which was childish, yet funny, and proves a lot of the above points made).


One of the first games to finish was the fat guy beating the guy in the suit, who did the Queen sacrifice. The guy in suit resigned — but what happened next, that was a sight to behold. A very, very special bubble gets erected, and the person beside my his eyes got drawn to this spectacle, his eyes lighting up, and he became more energized and it is because there was an energy to what was transcribing. The players did the post mortem – latin for after death; comes from detective work when a person has died you do a post mortem you dissect the body on the slab to divinate what has happened and why and so and so – this is normal in chess and especially at these levels. Because over the course of 6-7 hours you were in another person’s head, you were in each other’s fucking heads. That’s intimate as hell. That’s personal. And that forges a bond. And that radiates, and people get drawn to that. And they had smiles on their faces, even – yes including – the guy that lost and resigned and after they shook hands, fast and brisk and professional and accustomed to, they waved their hands over the board, while they gathered the pieces to put them back in place. All the while talking and gesturing and being animated; suddenly come alive, after being like chess machines statues for hours. As if a mask had dropped and slipped and had been set aside and they could be themselves for a bit. And it is within this authentic immersion, this authentic being they are very much like; One, after two fighters beating the living shit out of eachother in the arena, all bloodied up, and after the bloodfest they become best buddies for life; Two, two little children playing in a sandbox.

There’s something quite bonding about chess. Because it’s about focus, lifestyle, sport, dedication, ethics, and values and time and you put all your time into this and you enter flow together; time dissolves and you’re in there together all intimate – in a sense like lovers (in this sense, not talking about something homoerotic, but lending towards the sensual and (actually about the erotic); in the sense about the passionate undertaking; but this would be another Kierkegaardian detour). These are men who have been in eachothers heads for seven hours straight, pretty sure some of them know eachother better than their lovers. (same can be said for MMA fighters who just shook hands after trying to bash eachothers skull in).

And after the first game over, first post-mortem followed. Like a string of wonderful conversations, with the same energy and spark and joy. Almost like a pay-off; a climax of sorts (re: the lovers notion) – and cathartic.

Of course for the players themselves, it’s over.

But also for the spectator, and this here journalist, to get up, and leave, and let what had transcribed all sink in. 

Leave a Reply