Model grandmaster plans his next move to change the face of chess

Luke Blackall talks to Magnus Carlsen about his two careers

Even its staunchest defenders would struggle to describe chess as sexy, but the growing stature of Magnus Carlsen could change all that. Not only is the 20-year-old Norwegian the number two ranked chess player in the world, but he is also carving out a highly successful career in the world of fashion modelling.

Once known as the Mozart of chess, for his prodigious talent and astonishingly rapid ascent to the top of the game, today his brooding yet boyish looks and contract with the G-Star RAW fashion label mean he is just as likely to be compared to the teenage singer and heart-throb Justin Bieber as he is to the Austrian composer.

Garry Kasparov, one of the greatest players of all time and the young Norwegian's former coach, has said of him: "Before he is done, Carlsen will have changed our ancient game considerably." Ordinarily, Carlsen might visit the UK to compete at events such as the London Chess Classic, but this time he is here in his other professional capacity, as the face of the aformentioned clothing label.

Within the game, the response to his newfound celebrity has been "quite positive", he says. "There are always going to be some jokes and laughter, but I think a lot of them appreciate that it might be very positive for chess."

Carlsen's association with G-Star RAW came a couple of years ago when he was spotted playing chess on Dutch television by an executive at the fashion label. Since then he has become the face of the brand, appearing alongside actresses such as Liv Tyler and Gemma Arterton on billboards and at New York fashion week.

The modelling career came as a "surprise", having never thought of himself as a model. "It's been interesting, so different from chess," he says.

Despite the differences, he has been able to draw similarities between the two during the long modelling shoots and also find an outlet for his desire to win. "Just to stand in the same position for a lot of time, it takes some concentration," he says. "There is a certain competitiveness because when I'm told to do something, I want to do it right. I don't want to do a bad job."

Few players have received the sort of attention outside the game that Carlsen has in recent years. Carlsen is single and still lives in the basement of his family's house near Oslo in Norway. His yearly average of between 70 and 80 matches is fewer now than before, as there just aren't that many tournaments for players of his calibre. Modelling shoots are arranged for when he is neither playing nor preparing for a match. And unlike the others he competes against at the very top level, he doesn't have a coach, having parted company with Kasparov last year. Now he works on his game on his own.

For the most part, he comes across as an ordinary 20-year-old, genuinely surprised by the new level of interest in his life and career.

For someone who is reported to earn over a million dollars a year from sponsors and endorsements, he says that while it is nice to enjoy financial security, "money is never my motivation".

Even the Bieber comparison seems to leave him a little embarrassed, admitting that while his sisters like the singer, he's "not a particularly big fan".

He is, however, a fan of English football. He spent Saturday afternoon at Wembley watching Manchester United play Manchester City in the semi-final of the FA Cup, and seemed well-informed about the two teams and their strengths and weaknesses. In fact, he appears more au fait with English football than he is with the UK chess scene.

Despite his rising profile, he remains shy. To interview him feels like you are engaging him in a match, albeit a friendly one. Ask him a question and he considers it carefully for a while, as though planning his next move, before giving a concise, though casual answer.

If he does struggle with one question, it is what makes him such a good player. "I think I have good intuition for the game, I understand it better than most people, but I cannot express exactly why that is, it's not really something tangible." Tangible or not, his star certainly is rising.

Young masters

David Howell Became Britain's youngest chess grandmaster in 2007, aged 16.



Sergey Karjakin The Russian holds the record as the youngest grandmaster in history, aged 12 years and seven months, in 2002.



Bu Xiangzhi Became China's 10th grandmaster, aged 13, in 1985.



Bobby Fischer He was the US Junior champion at 13 and became a grandmaster at 15.



Boris Spassky The Soviet became a grandmaster aged 18 in 1955.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor