Had Magnus Carlsen’s parents been assertive on their son pursuing chess, maybe Carlsen wouldn’t have been the world-beater that he now is. He was a reluctant beginner and when his father Henrik initiated him into the game, he sparsely showed any interest so much so that Henrik thought he didn’t have the talent for it.
Vitally though, Henrik didn’t force the game on him. “Right from a young age, he wasn’t someone who could be forced into do something. I first tried interesting Magnus in the game when he was four or five. So even though I introduced him to the game, I left it to his own. I thought if he wants to play the game, let him do it on his own. I just thought he didn’t have the talent for it,” he reflected.
His sister, Ellen, picked up the game faster and seeing his father and daughter play did chess spark Carlsen’s imagination. “It was only when he was eight, watching me play chess with his elder sister, Ellen, that he caught the chess bug in earnest. By the age of nine, he was able to beat me. By the age of 13, he was a Grandmaster,” said Henrik, a reasonable chess player and a chemical engineer. On such accidents of birth can genius depend.
Thereafter, Henrik’s responsibilities too swelled. He had to double up as his manager and father, had to be objective as well as subjective at the same time. Juggling both is as hard as they come. “It wasn’t easy at all, at least initially. But firstly, I am his father, but very often I had to ask him questions as a manager. And often you did not know if you were asking him questions as one or the other,” he recollected.
Until Carlsen, who is known as the Mozart of Chess was 20, Henrik was his manager before they roped in Espen Agdestein. That has eased him of his responsibilities, but still he glob-trots with him. “I am more a father than a manager. I am happy this way, but I still travel as much as I used to when I had doubled up. Of course, the organisational part you needn’t worry about,” he chuckled.
If the life of a child chess prodigy can be quite intense, Carlsen has not been put under relentless pressure by ambitious parents. Instead, he has enjoyed a normal, even outgoing, childhood. They just let him follow his enthusiasm, and chess gradually became his passion. “When he came back to chess again, he was around seven and I could see he had a deep passion for it. It had to be that way for him to stay motivated and enjoy it.”
The precociousness of the child was such that, Henrik realised his son could break it big. “When he was 13, I saw the talent and knew he would be a Grandmaster. I told myself, anything after that will be a bonus. Of late it has just been one bonus after another. Maybe there is another bonus waiting in November, I don’t know. I am glad we are here,” he beamed. At 22, Carlsen’s list of bonuses could only grow longer.