Magnus Carlsen: Greatest Chess Player of All Time | Lex Fridman Podcast #315

Last updated: Jun 2, 2023

The video is a podcast interview with Magnus Carlsen, the number one ranked chess player in the world, discussing his opinions on football (soccer) and basketball, including his thoughts on who he considers to be the greatest players of all time.

The video is a podcast interview with Magnus Carlsen, the number one ranked chess player in the world and considered one of the greatest chess players of all time. The conversation begins with a discussion about Carlsen's interests outside of chess, including his love for football (soccer) and basketball. Carlsen shares his opinion on who he thinks is the greatest football player of all time, stating that it is hard to make a case for anyone other than Messi. He also discusses the importance of statistics in determining greatness and the overrated nature of titles like the World Cup. The conversation then shifts to basketball and the debate over who is the greatest of all time.

  • Magnus Carlsen is considered one of the greatest chess players of all time.
  • He believes Lionel Messi is the greatest football player of all time due to his all-around game.
  • Carlsen thinks the intangibles, such as rising to pressure and breaking under pressure, are often oversimplified in football.
  • Carlsen is a fan of basketball and thinks Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time.
  • Carlsen gives a different answer depending on his mood and who he talks to regarding Jordan vs LeBron.
  • Carlsen thinks it would be interesting if the league could randomly allocate players to teams in soccer.
  • Carlsen's chess style is flexible and adaptable.
  • He enjoys playing poker and video games, traveling, and experiencing different cultures.
  • He is motivated by the challenge of improving and staying on top of his game.

Magnus Carlsen: Greatest Chess Player of All Time | Lex Fridman Podcast #315 - YouTube

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Introduction

  • Magnus Carlsen is the number one ranked chess player in the world and considered one of the greatest of all time.
  • He is also a skilled fantasy football player and poker player.
  • Carlsen shares his thoughts on football (soccer) and basketball in this podcast interview.
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Greatest Football Player of All Time

  • Carlsen believes Lionel Messi is the greatest football player of all time due to his all-around game.
  • He admits his Real Madrid fandom predates the Cristiano Ronaldo era and always thought Messi was better.
  • Carlsen thinks it's hard to compare eras and improvements in football technique have been greater than in other sports.
  • He believes the World Cup is overrated and statistics show Messi is the best finisher of all time.
  • Carlsen appreciates the creativity and magic of the game, not just the finishing and titles.
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Importance of Intangibles in Football

  • Carlsen thinks the intangibles, such as rising to pressure and breaking under pressure, are often oversimplified in football.
  • He believes people romanticize the game and the pressure of rare moments, but it's important to appreciate the creativity and magic of the game.
  • Carlsen thinks titles can be influenced by luck and small sample sizes, so statistics are important in determining greatness.
  • He admires Messi's all-around game and believes he is the best finisher of all time.
  • Carlsen thinks it's hard to compare eras and improvements in football technique have been greater than in other sports.
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Magnus Carlsen: Greatest Chess Player of All Time | Lex Fridman Podcast #315 - YouTube

Greatest Basketball Player of All Time

  • Carlsen is a fan of basketball and thinks Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time.
  • He admires Jordan's competitiveness and ability to rise to the occasion in big moments.
  • Carlsen thinks LeBron James is a close second and has a more all-around game than Jordan.
  • He believes Kobe Bryant was also a great player and had a similar mentality to Jordan.
  • Carlsen thinks it's hard to compare eras in basketball, but Jordan's impact on the game was undeniable.
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Opinions on Jordan vs LeBron

  • Carlsen gives a different answer depending on his mood and who he talks to.
  • Statistically, LeBron James is going to surpass Jordan.
  • There's a debate between quantifiable and unquantifiable greatness.
  • Carlsen leans towards the quantifiable.
  • Later generations tend to uplift players who take mediocre teams to victory.
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Random Allocation in Soccer

  • It would be interesting if the league could make a decision to randomly allocate players to teams.
  • Every single game could keep relocating or maybe once a season.
  • If players sign a five-year contract for a team, one of them could get randomly allocated to a bottom half team.
  • There would be a lot of corruption around that, so it wouldn't ever happen or work.
  • Carlsen thinks it's the first thing to think about.
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Approach to Chess

  • Carlsen thinks his approach to chess differs from eight years ago.
  • He had two peaks in his career in 2013-2014 and 2019.
  • In 2019, he benefited a lot from opening preparation.
  • In 2013-2014, he mostly tried to avoid his opponent's preparation.
  • His intuitive understanding of chess has always been a little bit better than others.
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Intuitive Understanding of Chess

  • Carlsen's intuitive understanding of chess has evolved over the years.
  • There are things he understands now that he didn't understand back then.
  • His intuitive understanding of chess has always been a little bit better than others.
  • He was younger back then, so he played with more energy, which meant that he could play better in long drawn-out games.
  • Carlsen thinks that intuition is a combination of pattern recognition and calculation.
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Chess Calculation

  • Carlsen struggled with solving chess exercises and finding the best move.
  • He found it hard to concentrate and look deep enough.
  • He is good at calculating short lines and evaluating specific positions.
  • He visualizes the board in his head, but it is not two-dimensional.
  • Blitz chess requires quick calculation and iteration.
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Football and Basketball

  • Carlsen is a fan of football and basketball.
  • He supports Real Madrid and the LA Lakers.
  • He thinks Lionel Messi is the greatest football player of all time.
  • He thinks Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.
  • He admires the mental toughness and competitiveness of both sports.
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Chess Style and Strategy

  • Carlsen's chess style is flexible and adaptable.
  • He likes to play different openings and adjust to his opponent's style.
  • He values intuition and evaluation over deep calculation.
  • He tries to create imbalances and complications in the game.
  • He believes in playing to win, not just to draw.
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Life and Hobbies

  • Carlsen enjoys playing poker and video games.
  • He likes to travel and experience different cultures.
  • He is interested in music and plays the piano.
  • He values his family and friends and tries to maintain a work-life balance.
  • He is motivated by the challenge of improving and staying on top of his game.
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Chess Calculation and Time Management

  • It is common to forget calculated moves after thinking for a long time.
  • Storing information can lead to difficulty in retrieving it during a game.
  • Breaking down the algorithm for a 30-minute calculation is difficult.
  • 10-15 minutes of thinking in complicated positions can be helpful.
  • Endgames are usually brute force calculation mixed with creativity and evaluation.
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Magnus Carlsen's Endgame Mastery

  • Carlsen's endgame is legendary and baffles experts.
  • Endgames are a bit unusual and don't happen too often.
  • Carlsen evaluates well and calculates short variations even in endgames.
  • Short variations matter even in simpler endgames.
  • Understanding and evaluation are crucial in endgames.
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Carlsen's Strengths in Chess

  • Carlsen evaluates well and calculates short variations.
  • He uses his strengths in middle games in endgames as well.
  • He is good at understanding and evaluating positions.
  • He is good at using his strengths in endgames with few pieces.
  • He is good at using his strengths in endgames with many pieces left.
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Endgame Evaluation and Planning

  • Evaluating well at the start of the endgame helps in planning.
  • Knowing what plans to go for helps in evaluating long sequences of positions.
  • Endgames are like a sequence of little games that happen.
  • Endgames have little patterns that need to be recognized.
  • Endgames require evaluating a single position that leads to a checkmate.
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Opening Game of Chess

  • Back in Kasparov's days, he got huge advantages from the opening as white.
  • He worked harder, was more creative, and had a strong team of people with specific strengths in openings.
  • He had some of the first computer engines to work for him to define his ideas and look deeper to verify his ideas.
  • Nowadays, the playing field is more level, and it's much harder to find ideas that actually give you an advantage.
  • It's all about finding ideas that are missed by the engines and using them to gain some advantage.
  • At the start of 2019, neural networks had just started to be a thing in chess, and some players did not use them or did not use them in the right way.
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Surprising Your Opponent

  • These days, it's all about surprising your opponent and taking it into a position where you have more knowledge.
  • Short answer is these days it's all about surprising your opponent and taking it into position where you have more knowledge.
  • A lot of positions are being evaluated differently by the neural networks than traditional chess engines.
  • It's okay to make suboptimal moves, but you have to sacrifice the optimal move and position.
  • That's the game theory, taking the opponent into something they didn't prepare well.
  • It's all about finding ideas that are missed by the engines and using them to gain some advantage.
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Technique in Chess

  • Technique basically just means that the moves are simple.
  • These are moves that a lot of players could make, not only the very strongest ones.
  • As long as you're doing the evaluation well, one step at a time, it leads to suffocating the position and eventually to the win.
  • It's all about evaluating the position better and thus accumulating some small advantages.
  • Then you can often make your life pretty easy towards the end of the end game.
  • It's all about arranging your pieces and pawns early in the end game.
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Magnus Carlsen's Strengths

  • Carlsen's strength is his ability to evaluate the position well.
  • He has a good understanding of how to arrange his pieces and pawns early in the end game.
  • He is good at finding ideas that are missed by the engines and using them to gain some advantage.
  • He is good at surprising his opponent and taking it into a position where he has more knowledge.
  • He did a lot of opening preparation in 2019, which helped him gain an advantage.
  • He is good at using technique in chess, making simple moves that suffocate the position and eventually lead to the win.
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Use of Engines

  • Regardless of the engine used, analyzing a game long enough will always end up in a draw.
  • Engines are not used too much in Magnus Carlsen's personal preparation because he wants to rely on his own evaluation skills during a game.
  • Imperfect knowledge about a position or engine knowledge can be worse than having no knowledge at all.
  • Engines are used by his team for research and generation of ideas.
  • Arriving at a position where the opponent plays an unexpected move is often hard to figure out, and looking at engines doesn't necessarily help.
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Alpha Zero

  • Magnus Carlsen was hugely inspired when he saw the games of Alpha Zero.
  • The battle between man and machine was kind of lost for humans even before he entered top-level chess.
  • It was amazing to see how Alpha Zero thought about chess in such a different way and in a way that could be mistaken for creativity.
  • Alpha Zero's willingness to make sacrifices and wait for prolonged periods of time before doing anything is one of the things that's hardest to replicate as a human.
  • When Magnus Carlsen sacrifices, he does it only if he feels like he's getting something tangible in return.
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Human Evaluation Skills

  • Magnus Carlsen relies primarily on his human resources to evaluate a game.
  • He can evaluate a game as a human and know what his opponent finds unpleasant.
  • It's often the case that he arrives at a position where his opponent plays an unexpected move, and he has to think as a human to figure it out.
  • Looking at engines doesn't necessarily help because he's facing a human.
  • He never liked playing against computers much anyway.
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Sacrifices in Chess

  • Bishops and knights are fairly equivalent in chess, but bishops are a little bit better and a bishop pair is a lot better than a bishop and a knight or two knights.
  • Sacrificing a pawn in order to get a bishop pair is one of the most common sacrifices in general.
  • There are a lot of openings that are based on sacrificing.
  • When sacrificing, Magnus Carlsen feels like he's getting something tangible in return, such as a concrete positional advantage or putting his opponent's king under pressure.
  • It depends on the situation, but generally, sacrificing a second pawn is fine.
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Chess and the Bishop-Knight Dynamic

  • AlphaZero sacrifices pieces for positional domination.
  • Carlsen also tries to learn the art of sacrificing pieces.
  • Demis Hassabis made a comment about the creative tension between the bishop and the knight.
  • Carlsen thinks the power of the pieces in chess, especially the queen, makes it fun.
  • Chess has variety in the way pieces move and creates interesting dynamics.
  • The design of chess is a balance of science and art to create a competitive game.
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Chess 960 or Fischer Random

  • Chess 960 has 960 maps instead of one.
  • The pawns are in the same way, but the major pieces are distributed randomly on the last rank.
  • There have to be bishops of opposite color and the king has to be in between the rooks.
  • Castling still works in the same way.
  • Carlsen thinks Fischer chess is good because the maps will generally be balanced.
  • Carlsen has forgotten about castling in his games before.
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Football (Soccer)

  • Carlsen supports Real Madrid.
  • He thinks Lionel Messi is the best player of all time.
  • He thinks Cristiano Ronaldo is also a great player.
  • He thinks the best team he has seen is the Barcelona team with Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta.
  • He thinks the World Cup is the most important tournament in football.
  • He thinks Norway has a chance to qualify for the World Cup in the future.
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Basketball

  • Carlsen thinks Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.
  • He thinks LeBron James is also a great player.
  • He thinks the Golden State Warriors team with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant was the best team he has seen.
  • He thinks basketball is a very physical sport.
  • He thinks the NBA is the most important basketball league.
  • He thinks Norway has a long way to go to compete in basketball at a high level.
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Playing Chess 960

  • The starting position in Chess 960 is as close to ideal for creating a competitive game as possible.
  • There are 960 different options for starting positions, but not all of them create interesting games at the highest level.
  • Engines have an even greater advantage in Chess 960 than in classical chess.
  • Players get 15 minutes before the game to think about the position, but then they really need to figure it out.
  • Some positions are a lot more interesting than others, and some require playing symmetrically at the start.
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Non-Symmetrical Openings in Chess

  • Symmetry is a good default in chess, but it can be a problem because it's too easy to prepare for.
  • Non-symmetrical openings that are also fairly equal have been devised over time.
  • Playing symmetrical armed with good preparation in regular chess is a little bit too easy and dryish.
  • By playing Chess 960, players are forced to play symmetrically because of the random starting position.
  • There are other variations of chess that are interesting, such as no castling chess.
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No Castling Chess

  • No castling chess has been promoted by former world champion Vladimir Kramnik.
  • Castling is a defensive move, so removing it forces players to be more offensive.
  • No castling probably forces players to be a little bit more defensive at the start.
  • It may make the game a bit slower at the start, but eventually, it will make the games less drawish.
  • There are weirder variants of chess, such as where pawns can move both diagonally and horizontally.
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Engines in Chess

  • Engines have changed the way chess is played and prepared for.
  • Engines have made it easier to find the best moves and to prepare for opponents.
  • Engines have also made it harder to surprise opponents and to play creatively.
  • Engines have an even greater advantage in Chess 960 than in classical chess.
  • Engines can be used to analyze regular positions and to get a different perspective.
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Chess Variants

  • Self-captured chess is a variant where pawns can commit suicide.
  • There are many different variants of chess, but none are better than the traditional one.
  • Replacing a knight with a queen can be an interesting move.
  • Chess variants add an extra element of clearance.
  • Clearance is sometimes necessary to make a good move.
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Chess Ratings

  • A player's rating is calculated based on their performance against opponents.
  • A player is expected to score 50% against an opponent with the same rating.
  • A player's rating converges towards an estimate of how likely they are to win or lose against different opponents.
  • Magnus Carlsen's rating is currently 2861.
  • Reaching a rating of 2900 is unlikely, but it gives Carlsen motivation to try his best.
  • To reach a rating of 2900, Carlsen would need to optimize his preparation and never have any bad days.
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Motivation in Chess

  • For the World Championship, Carlsen is motivated by the fear of losing.
  • For other tournaments, Carlsen is motivated by the love of winning.
  • Carlsen enjoys winning most tournaments more than winning the World Championship.
  • Carlsen is more relaxed now and appreciates every win more because he knows it won't last forever.
  • Setting goals gives Carlsen motivation to try his best.
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The Anxiety of Losing

  • Magnus Carlsen is afraid of losing, which is why he won't play in the world championship.
  • He doesn't enjoy playing in the world championship because it's all about avoiding losing.
  • He feels that losing is not an option because it's the world championship and there are only two players.
  • He is disappointed when he loses in other tournaments, but he can move on to the next one.
  • Being world champion is a core part of his identity, and losing is not an option.
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The Stress of High-Stakes Matches

  • Some sports create more anxiety about losing than others.
  • Mixed martial arts are better with losing because it's understood that everybody loses.
  • Boxing and chess create extra pressure to maintain the championship.
  • The first time Magnus Carlsen won the world championship was fun, but everything after that was stressful.
  • He enjoyed the 2018 world championship against Fabiano Caruana because they were equal in rating.
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The Excitement of Playing Against a Good Opponent

  • Magnus Carlsen enjoys playing against someone who is as good as him or better.
  • He finds it exciting to play against an opponent who is equal to him in rating.
  • He feels frustrated when he plays draw after draw and knows that he's better than his opponent.
  • He can sense during the game that he understands it better than his opponent, but he can't get over the hump.
  • He feels that not playing in the world championship makes it less important.
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The Weight of Being World Champion

  • Being world champion is a core part of Magnus Carlsen's identity.
  • He feels that losing the world championship would be a disaster.
  • He would have to carry the weight of having lost for at least a couple of years.
  • He enjoys playing chess, but the stress of high-stakes matches makes it less enjoyable.
  • He feels that not playing in the world championship is a way to avoid the anxiety of losing.
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Increasing Sample Size and Decreasing Time Control

  • 12 or 14 games for the world championship is a low sample size.
  • More games are needed to determine the best player.
  • Long time controls with deep preparation can mask deficiencies as a chess player.
  • Decreasing the time control emphasizes pure chess.
  • Rules that emphasize pure chess are needed.
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Number of Games and Time Control

  • Two games per day with 45 minutes per game plus 15 or 30 seconds per move would be a good start.
  • Four games a day with 15 minutes plus 10 seconds per move would be more interesting.
  • More games and less time are needed to reflect who is the best overall chess player.
  • A sample size of 20-30 games over a long period of time is good.
  • Playing 12 days with two games a day is already quite a bit better.
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Playing in the World Championship

  • Playing one black game and one white game each day is okay.
  • Endurance-wise, playing 12 days with two games a day is fine.
  • Preparing two sets of openings for each day makes it more difficult for the teams preparing.
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Magnus Carlsen's Decision to Play in the World Championship

  • After the last match, Magnus Carlsen talked about the fact that he was unlikely to play the next one.
  • Right before the world championship match, there was a young player, Alireza Firouzja, who had a dramatic rise.
  • There was at least a half realistic possibility that he could be the challenger for the next world championship.
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Motivation for playing in the next world championship

  • Carlsen was motivated to play in the next world championship after hearing doubts from Nakamura.
  • He wanted to create more hype about the candidates and motivate himself and Nakamura.
  • Carlsen also wanted to give people a heads up for the candidates that they might be playing for more than first place.
  • Nakamura didn't believe Carlsen's announcement, but Carlsen had already decided not to play.
  • Carlsen had previously turned down the candidates in 2011 but decided to play in 2013 because he liked the changed format and thought it would be a good challenge.
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Walking away from the world championship

  • Carlsen had previously turned down the candidates in 2011 because he didn't like the format and didn't want the pressure.
  • He was content being ranked number one in the world and didn't need a title to show others.
  • Carlsen decided to play in 2013 because he liked the changed format and thought it would be a good challenge.
  • He never had any thoughts of keeping the title for a long time and spoke against the fact that the champion is seeded into the final.
  • Carlsen made a proposal for a different system where the champion doesn't have privileges, but the chess community didn't want that.
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Analysis of Ding vs Nepo

  • Carlsen considers Ding to have a slightly better overall chess strength.
  • He doesn't provide a detailed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each player.
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Assessment of Nepo and Ding's Chess Skills

  • Nepo is better at calculating short lines than Magnus, but sometimes lacks depth.
  • Ding has an excellent understanding of dynamics and imbalances in chess.
  • Nepo has improved his openings quite a bit and has a lot of good ideas.
  • Ding is not as well-prepared, but he is very good at understanding imbalances and dynamic factors.
  • Nepo got the better of Ding in the candidates, but individual past results are not necessarily a great indicator of world championship results.
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World Championship and Football

  • The world championship is a low-scoring game, similar to football.
  • The better player or team generally wins in championships.
  • The slightly weaker team is good enough to defend and make it difficult for the other team.
  • Matches are often close, but one team or player is more likely to break away and win.
  • Matches that are close give people the illusion that the matchup was very close, but it just means that the nature of the game makes matches close very often.
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Magnus' 2016 World Championship Match Against Karjakin

  • Before the match, some people thought Magnus was massively overrated as a favorite.
  • The match went very wrong for Magnus, but he still won.
  • Some people saw this as an indication that the pre-match probabilities were probably a bit closer than people thought.
  • Magnus believes that everything going wrong and still winning probably means he was a pretty big favorite to begin with.
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Karjakin's Disqualification from the Candidate Tournament

  • Karjakin was originally a qualifier for the candidate tournament but was disqualified for breaching the FIDE code of ethics.
  • He publicly expressed approval for the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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Geopolitics in Chess

  • Geopolitics still plays a role in chess.
  • The president of the world chess federation is connected to the Kremlin.
  • The Kremlin considers it a semi-important goal to bring the chess crown home to Russia.
  • There is a debate on whether Karjakin should have been banned or not.
  • Magnus Carlsen is generally not particularly against banning Russians, but he doesn't love banning wrong opinions.
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Camaraderie in Chess

  • There is still a camaraderie between chess players, even if they hate each other.
  • After every match, players briefly discuss the game with their opponent.
  • Kasparov was quoted saying that he talks to his opponent after the game because he's the only one who understands him.
  • Magnus Carlsen would love to see this camaraderie in other areas as well.
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World Championships

  • Magnus Carlsen used to think that the world championships don't matter anymore.
  • He believes that as long as you're not the best player, the world championship title doesn't mean anything.
  • He is more proud of his streak of being rated number one in the world since 2011 than his world championship titles.
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Anxiety in Chess

  • Magnus Carlsen's anxiety and fear before making a difficult decision on the chessboard really depends on the situation.
  • He has been the most nervous during game 10 of the world championships in 2018.
  • There is always a possibility of a blunder or mistake, which can cause anxiety.
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Playing Chess

  • Carlsen recalls a game where he had to attack his opponent's king side and was nervous about losing.
  • He trusts his instincts and skills when playing and is not afraid of losing.
  • Carlsen believes that people would play better against him if they didn't know they were playing against him.
  • He sometimes gets intimidated by his opponent if there is something unknown or not fully understood.
  • Carlsen believes that some players play more timidly against him than they do against each other.
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Playing Style

  • Carlsen describes the two camps of chess players: those who are good at longer lines and those who are good at shorter lines.
  • He believes he is a hybrid of both and can think rapidly and deeply.
  • Carlsen is good in every position, including the middle game and end game.
  • He sometimes gets intimidated by his opponent if there is something unknown or not fully understood.
  • Carlsen believes that some players play more timidly against him than they do against each other.
Magnus Carlsen: Greatest Chess Player of All Time | Lex Fridman Podcast #315 072

Toughest Loss

  • Carlsen recalls his toughest loss was during the world championship match against Karjakin in 2016.
  • He was winning in games three and four but couldn't convert due to good defense on Karjakin's part and his own mistakes.
  • Games five, six, and seven were uneventful and Carlsen was getting impatient.
Magnus Carlsen: Greatest Chess Player of All Time | Lex Fridman Podcast #315 074

Recognizing Playing Style

  • Carlsen believes that AI bots can recognize a player's style of play.
  • He thinks that a sample size of 20 games per person would help recognize playing style accurately.
  • Carlsen believes that people play more timidly against him without realizing it, and he uses this to his advantage.
  • He tries to find a balance to shake up his opponent and take more risks.
Magnus Carlsen: Greatest Chess Player of All Time | Lex Fridman Podcast #315 075

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