Yesterday Magnus Carlsen visited San Jose and gave a simultaneous blindfold exhibition at the Silicon Valley Bank. I only found out about this event three or four days in advance and decided not to go to it, because it seemed that space was going to be very limited and because I am not all that interested in celebrity-gawking.
However, Mike Splane attended and sent out a long e-mail today about the experience. The overall message seems to be that the event was a little bit underwhelming. The simul was played on tiny, cheap plastic sets that no one in the audience could see, and there was no projection system, so the audience ended up having to cluster around the boards.
After the simul, there was a Q & A session at which Carlsen answered questions only from people under 10 years old. This does make some sense in an event that was intended to promote chess for juniors; however, as you can imagine, the questions were pretty general and the answers not all that illuminating. For example, how much do you study every day? Carlsen’s answer (Mike’s paraphrase): “It’s hard to say. Chess is fun for me. Sometimes one hour, sometimes eight.”
Mike sums it up as follows:
I had a couple of takeaways from the event. I was surprised at how poorly organized it was; I would never want [name of sponsoring organization] running chess in my school. Second, I have had a chance to meet with several great people in my lifetime: James Watson, the discoverer of the role of DNA in genetics; Steve Wozniak, the founder of Apple Computers; Arnold Palmer of golf; David Bronstein, etc. Every one of them was bright, talkative, engaging, a pleasure to listen to and talk with. Magnus was the complete opposite, a real introvert. I found that quite shocking.
For those of you who missed this event, they told us Magnus would be back in Silicon Valley next year for some fundraising events.
This might be a good time to mention that I’ve gotten a couple e-mails over the past year or two publicizing events with Magnus Carlsen (always in New York) and suggesting that I could mention them in my blog. I tend to skip over “please write about this in your blog” type e-mails anyway, as I prefer to decide for myself what to write about. I was also less than thrilled because they seemed to be big-bucks events. I’m glad to see that for his San Jose appearance he chose to do something that did not cost any money at all for the spectators.
I’m also thrilled that Magnus is making such an effort to promote chess among kids and ordinary people in America, which is not noted as a chess hotbed. When’s the last time we saw Vladimir Kramnik, or Viswanathan Anand, in San Jose?
So, good for you, Magnus! It does seem, based only on Mike’s account, that this is not something that comes easily to him, and he may perhaps not have found the right group of people yet to advise/assist him on putting his best face forward to the public. I certainly hope he continues to make the effort, and I’m sure that he will get better at it.