Greatest Chess Player of All Time (#315) | Magnus Carlsen on the Lex Fridman Podcast

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Key Takeaways

  • With the help of artificial intelligence, neural networks, and computer engines, the chess playing field is much more level
    • How to win in today’s game: Since “the best moves have been analyzed to death,” surprising your opponent is the greatest advantage—sacrifice the optimal in favor of the unexpected.
  • In a World Championship setting, the fear of losing is more motivating than the love of winning
    • “Being World Champion has been a core part of my identity for a while, so there’s not an option of losing that” – Magnus Carlsen
    • Magnus is not participating in the next World Championship because he doesn’t like that relief is the first emotion he feels after winning (rather than joy)
    • But he takes more pride in his #1 rating (since the Summer of 2011) than his World Championships anyway
  • Magnus doesn’t actually practice chess, he just researches and visualizes
    • He is the best in the world at evaluating the board and calculating the next few moves in real time
    • Evaluation = all pieces are in harmony with optimal placement and your accumulating small advantages
  • Different ways chess translates to life:
    • Chess sharpens your decision-making by increasing your ability to make informed guesses in a limited amount of time
    • Doing nothing is often a much better strategy than doing something – “You have a choice: in certain situations, you should not try to win, you should just let your opponent lose” – Magnus Carlsen

Intro

  • Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) is the highest-ranked chess player in the world, and is widely recognized as the greatest of all time
  • Magnus and Lex discuss his life as Chess World Champion, how technology has leveled the playing field, how chess is a metaphor for life, and plenty of strategies and insights
  • “I’ve always had imposter syndrome. So please do judge me and I hope you enjoy it.” – Magnus Carlsen
  • Host: Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

Chess Strategy & Insight

  • Opening preparation vs. avoiding his opponents’ preparation
    • Strategies varied throughout his career
    • You’ll have a huge advantage if you have a good opening move
    • You would get more interesting (and decisive) chess games when symmetry is banned on the first move
  • Magnus has always been bad at practicing chess exercises. But he is great at evaluating the situation and calculating the next few moves.
    • Evaluation = all pieces are in harmony with optimal placement and your accumulating small advantages
    • Magnus hates when a piece is suboptimally placed and he can’t easily improve it
  • If his move takes more than 30 minutes, it means he is trying to find something that isn’t there
    • 10 to 15 minutes is typical to evaluate a complex situation – “If I haven’t seen it in 10 minutes, I’m probably not going to see it all” – Magnus Carlsen
    • “If you analyze long enough, it’s always going to end up in a draw” – Magnus Carlsen
  • Magnus is most well known for his endgame
    • Proper arrangement of pieces + apply technique (simple moves) + constant evaluation
    • When you control the middle of the board, you control the game
  • There is a creative tension between the bishop and the knight
    • “They are almost equally strong with such different qualities” – Magnus Carlsen
  • “[The beauty of chess] is when your opponent can predict every single one of your moves and they still lose”Magnus Carlsen

Man vs. Machine

  • With the help of artificial intelligence, neural networks, and computer engines, the chess playing field is much more level
    • Magnus’ team uses computer engines for idea generation but he personally tries not to because, at the end of the day, you will not have them in a match
    • Sacrificing pieces (to gain an advantage a few moves down the line) is one of the hardest computer engine strategies for humans to replicate
  • It’s hard to find new ideas that will actually give you an advantage
    • “The best moves have been analyzed to death” – Magnus Carlsen
  • Surprising your opponent is the greatest advantage in modern-day chess
    • Sacrifice the optimal in favor of the unexpected (or what your opponent is unprepared for)

Being the Chess World Champion

  • Elo rating system: a method for calculating the relative skill levels of players in zero-sum games such as chess
    • Magnus wants a perfect score of 2900 (right now he is the world’s most highly rated player at 2861) – since he can’t really get any better at chess, he will have to completely eliminate all “bad days”
    • It’s unlikely he will ever get there, but it gives him motivation to always be at his best rather than just playing for fun
    • Magnus is more proud of his #1 rating (since the Summer of 2011) than his World Championships
  • In a World Championship setting, the fear of losing is more motivating than the love of winning
    • “Being World Champion has been a core part of my identity for a while, so there’s not an option of losing that”Magnus Carlsen
    • He is not participating in the next World Championship because of this. Finds more joy (rather than relief) in smaller tournaments.
    • Since he’s not participating, Magnus thinks Ding Liren has a slight edge over Ian Nepomniachtchi in becoming the next World Champion
  • Would like to see the World Championship played with more games and less time
    • Defensive techniques are much harder to execute with less time
    • More games provide a true representation of who the best player is

Chess Variations and Preferences

  • Magnus wants to play more Chess960 (or Fischer Random)
    • A chess variant where the pieces have been randomly shuffled on each player’s back rank
    • “Pushes you to play pure chess rather than memorizing lines”Magnus Carlsen
  • Magnus wishes he could try playing anonymously
    • Feels like there is a human element of timidness when his opponents sit across from the #1 player in the world
  • Magnus likes to occasionally play chess drunk
    • Could be seen as an advantage when playing Blitz, which requires short calculations and intuition (you’re thinking less and have more confidence)
    • Although, numbing your mind can only be helpful when you’re already really good at chess
  • Juggling a soccer ball (or doing some other skillful sports activity) before a chess match helps him focus
    • “It flexes the same kind of muscle, but in something, you’re much worse at” – Lex Fridman
  • Enjoys researching and visualizing the game of chess rather than deliberate practice
    • Chess book categories: openings, strategies, and history
    • Lex: “What fraction of the day do you have a chess board floating somewhere in your head?”
    • Magnus: “Probably would be a batter question of how many hours I don’t have a chess board floating in my head”

Chess as a Metaphor for Life

  • Chess sharpens your decision-making by increasing your ability to make informed guesses in a limited amount of time
  • Doing nothing is often a much better strategy than doing something
    • “You have a choice: in certain situations, you should not try to win, you should just let your opponent lose” – Magnus Carlsen
    • No plan > bad plan

Queen’s Gambit

  • Queen’s Gambit found chess games and positions that Magnus didn’t even know about
    • He wouldn’t even follow along with the storyline, he was too captivated by the chess strategy
    • The main character’s playing style evolved from aggressive to universal—reminded Magnus of himself

The Meaning of Life

  • In Magnus’ opinion, there’s no meaning to life and we are here entirely by accident
    • But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and strive for your goals!

GOATs

  • Who is the greatest chess player of all time (in Magnus’ eyes)?
    • Depends on the era, especially when considering computer engines, but he says Garry Kasparov for his longevity
  • Who is the greatest soccer player of all time?
    • “It’s hard to make a case for anyone other than Messi”Magnus Carlsen
    • The World Cup is overrated in the GOAT debate, Magnus appreciates statistics more
  • Who is the greatest basketball player of all time?
    • Depending on his mood, he can argue for either LeBron or Jordan
Lex Fridman Podcast : , , , , ,
Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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