Reports | April 25, 2012 10:23

Magnus Carlsen on The Colbert Report: the new grandmaster of rock-paper-scissors

Magnus Carlsen on The Colbert Report: the new grandmaster of rock-paper-scissors

Last night Magnus Carlsen appeared in The Colbert Report. The Norwegian grandmaster was Stephen Colbert's special guest during the second half of the show, and talked about himself, his approach to chess and Bobby Fischer. He also became a grandmaster in a whole new discipline: rock-paper-scissors!

As we reported earlier this month, Magnus Carlsen was the special guest in The Colbert Report last night. This show, which airs Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central, stars political humorist Stephen Colbert, a former correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Big celebrities like Barack Obama and Paul McCartney have previously been guests of Colbert, but also Garry Kasparov, back in 2007.

Before the show, Carlsen tweeted:

Really excited to be on @ColbertReport today. Will try not to do anything really stupid, like missing a penalty

obviously referring to the Barcelona-Chelsea football match in which star player Lionel Messi took a penalty but hit the bar last night, failing to bring the score to 3-1.

After the second commercial break, Colbert traditionally has a guest in a separate part of the studio. Last night this was Magnus Carlsen.

Below we'll give a transcript and some screen shots.

Steven Colbert: My guest tonight is currently the number one ranked chess player in the world. I'm gonna ask him what the little horsy does. Please welcome Magnus Carlsen!

SC: Magnus... thank you so much for coming on. Honored to meet you... [Changing tone.] Magnus Carlsen. [Carlsen smiles.] We're not so different, you and I. We're both geniuses, number one in our field and both very young.

Magnus Carlsen: I can say that too!

SC: Yes. Now you are the third youngest grandmaster of all time. And you were the youngest, aged nineteen, the youngest number one chess player in the world. [Applause.] How old were you when you started playing?

MC: I was about eight.

SC: Eight years old. And by the time you were thirteen you were a grandmaster. What was the affinity you had for chess from the beginning?

MC: I don't know. I just started playing and I liked the game, so I started studying a lot.

SC: But a lot of people like the game. What do you see when you look at a chessboard. Are you seeing, like, you know, little wooden pieces on a board or are you seeing some sort of 4th dimensional tesseracts. Do the pieces turn to you in your mind and say 'move me Magnus'? [Carlsen smiles.] Do you see the board differently than a normal, average, not-genius?

MC: Ehm... no, not really. I just see the board, the pieces, everything and then obviously I think of patterns, what to do next and so on, but the pieces, in general, they're just tools to me.

SC: So they don't talk to you.

MC: No, not...

SC: Not too much?

MC: Not too much, no.

SC: Now you're not just a chess player, you've also done a little bit of modeling. [Photos of Carlsen's G-Star campaign are shown. Cheering in the audience.]

That might be the sexiest chess player I've ever seen. [Laughter, Carlsen smiles.]

In Europe, where they love the chess, you're a superstar, right?

MC: Especially in Norway.

SC: OK, in Norway you've two big sports. You've got chess and, erm... sadness. It's an indoor sport, chess. Does that help in Norway, since you've got the long winters?

MC: Probably. I guess in Norway when it's cold and dark outside people... need something to do.

SC: Do you have any special move, do you psych out your opponent? Like, do you get up and walk around or anything like that?

MC: Yeah, I do sometimes get up and walk around...

SC: And does that psych out the opponent?

MC: No, that's usually just because I'm bored.


SC: Really, you're so good that you're mostly bored in competition.

When you win, do you have, like, a special move, do you, like, spike the bishop and go 'how ya like me now'?

MC: No, not really, I just try to be as respectful as possible to my opponents.

SC: What do you think of Bobby Fischer. He was our great champion. He went... the crazy. Is there a fear that that would happen, that you would think about chess too much and you will lose... your mind?

MC: No, I mean...

SC: Really? Do you like Fischer?

MC: Yes, absolutely. He was one of the greatest players of all time. It's impossible not to like his chess, I mean you can say whatever you want about him as a person but as a chess player I cannot help but admire him greatly.

SC: Any time I have a guest who is a competitor, I don't let them leave this building without competing with them.

I'm a grandmaster of my own, I am the second youngest grandmaster of rock-paper-scissors of all time. Would you play me best two out of three?

MC: Of course!

SC: OK, alright, let's be clear here. It's one-two-three 'shoot', you don't shoot on the third, it's one-two-three and then you shoot. OK, ready?

MC: I don't have to say 'shoot', right?

SC: No, I'll say 'shoot'.  OK, are you ready?

MC: Yes.

[Slight pause.]

SC: How are you strategizing right now? [Laughter.] Because I've got a strategy already, I'm seeing like twenty steps ahead. And there's only one step!

MC: For me it's a hundred percent random.

SC: See, you have no opening.

MC: Yes. I'm not a grandmaster.

SC: OK ready? One-two-three shoot.


SC: [Bleep. Laughter.] OK, two out of three, two out of three!


[Bleep. Colbert steps away from the table, laughter, cheering, Carlsen smiles. Colbert comes back and sits down.]

Magnus Carlsen, thank you so much. The new grandmaster of rock-paper-scissors, Magnus Carlsen!

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


columbo's picture

the pictures of Magnus do not make good publicity for the chess world ! And they certainly dont make good publicity for Magnus himself !!!

Tristan's picture

Please. Shut up. Just. Shut. Up.

Stereo Larry-O's picture

columbo, you surely must be kidding with that comment! It is excellent to have a chess player getting inolved with more mainstream exposure opportunities!

hairdresser's picture

He might have been talking about his haircut. Definitely not cool.

columbo's picture

haircut, right right

Zeblakob's picture

There is a big confusion and people do not see clearly the position of things.
TV publicity does NOTHING for chess, chess is not Coca-Cola nor a Macdonald product.

columbo's picture

agree with you, i was talking about the PHOTOS, not the show ... It seems to me that the still photos don't make jsutice to Carlsen ... He looks " weird " for the less ... Since it's great to have this show, why not trying a little aesthetic cherry on the top ?!

Zeblakob's picture

I hoped that the questions are not dumb as usual, such as:
Q: "How do you feel when you win?"
A: "Good".
Q: " .. and when you lose?".
A: "Bad".
Q: "Why?"
A: "Coz it is not good".

Bobby Fiske's picture

This is great PR for chess and chess players!
Magnus' repeated appearence in mainstream media recruites more amateur players, and makes it easier for elite players to get private sponsors and to get tournament sponsors.

In spite of chess having as many players as golf, it has been almost impossible to get mainstream media attention and to find sponsors outside the chess sphere (apart from official sponsors).

Hopefully, this is about to change.

noyb's picture

A little goofy (not a fan of Colbert), but at least chess got some publicity.

Coco Loco's picture

I thought it was great! And I'm glad Colbert was extra nice.

Centovic's picture

Well said Bobby Fiske. Right on the money. People who don't want chess to become a world wide sport with major television coverage are stupid beyond belief. Major television coverage of this great game is the one thing chess actually needs!!!

Richard Fireman's picture

Although most of it was kind of silly, that's what it was supposed to be; and at least it showed Carlsen to be a nice (and relatively normal) guy, which may help dissipate the image many non-chessplayers have (e.g., thanks to Fischer). He was quite personable and didn't come off as particularly weird or arrogant or brash, and that's a plus for the general impression in people's minds. All in all, a plus for chess media coverage, I'd say.

Rob's picture

The most important thing of this item was Magnus winning at rock-paper-scissors (some people will certainly think it was fixed..;)! Maybe in some next show he should explain why he is bored; he wants to play! Now al the people hear the best player is bored.. I hope some day a YOUNG (grand)master will show some simple but nice geometrical motives which the mass can understand on television instead of the repetition of the same questions asked in a different order..

Victor's picture

I think it's nice to see the noble game of paper-scissor-rock on television. May be some day we'll make it professional. Thank you Carlsen for supporting the fans! Just kidding ;)

Angel's picture

"Will try not to do anything really stupid, like missing a penalty"
...obviously referring to the Barcelona-Chelsea football match in which star player Lionel Messi took a penalty but hit the bar...

Guess he didn't know what was coming for Madrid.
Sweet irony...

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