Sometimes it’s the most disarming of questions that elicit the best answers, and so it was at the World Chess Championship pre-match press conference today.
The contenders, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana were asked, while sat in the full glare of a hoard of media, whether they have any female support behind them for the match.
It was the last question of the presser and to me it sounded a bit old fashioned. Magnus responded first, raising a laugh by joking: “I don’t think so. Women hate me, I repel them.”
It is the eve of the World Chess Championship and Magnus Carlsen, who is facing his biggest challenge yet, is joking about his relationship status.
At the #carlsencaruana2018 venue in Holborn, waiting for Magnus and Fabiano pic.twitter.com/w6ZMjzCSCI
— Leon Watson (@LeonWatson) November 8, 2018
There has always been a bit of tittle-tattle interest in his private life because, in part, he is so private and more recently because it has been said that his girlfriend is now off the scene somehow (we know no more, I promise you!).
Fabiano, however, played the classic straight bat by saying: “Yeah, the main female support I have is from my mother, which I think is the most helpful.
“I also have support from a lot of friends, including female friends.”
Magnus Carlsen jokes
Magnus also got a laugh when the pair was asked by a journalist from Al Jazeera the perennial question about whether their profiles and age can help make chess cool.
“Personally, I’ve found chess the coolest thing in the world since I was eight-years-old,” he said. “So… I think it’s always been this way.”
Fabiano again probably said what the organisers would have liked him to say: “Yeah I think that chess is definitely becoming cooler and there are a lot of people in the celebrity world, movies and music who have an interest in chess so I think it is definitely gaining more exposure and I also think chess is a great thing and be very beautiful and cool and accessible to a wider audience.”
It was a standard answer to a question he will have been asked hundreds of times.
The responses betrayed a theme in the build-up to the match of Magnus being more relaxed Fabiano taking a more serious approach.
Magnus has posted on social media recently about his prep being centred around the “three Ps”: poker, pizza and Premier League. The implication being that healthy food and sport is out.
So this is what my World Championship preparation looks like…
There will be more WC match material coming up on the @PlayMagnus Facebook page. pic.twitter.com/qP15mo61R9
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) October 26, 2018
Fabiano, meanwhile, has been very quiet – almost monastic. At the press conference today he was confident and assured and at several points showed off his dry sense of humour, but at the end of the day he remained serious, focused and ready.
Magnus, however, was freewheeling. He even admitted feeling “apathetic” in the build-up when asked if he had been working on controlling his emotions after his 2016 match against Sergey Karjakin.
Again, Magnus was very droll in his initial response: “Well… your question very upsetting to me…”
But then he took a more revealing turn: “No, I think I’m a bit calmer than I was back then but The question remains to be seen if I play any better.
“Recently I haven’t, but I’m confident I am capable of more and probably recently I have been almost apathetic almost sometimes, so yeah it’s taken a turn in the other direction so I need to find some middle ground I suppose.”
When asked if he still considers himself an underdog Magnus said: “It’s been a while since I’ve considered myself an underdog.
“To be honest if you’ve been the number one player for the past 7 years and consider yourself an underdog you have problems in your psyche.”
We will see how this plays out over the match – will Magnus remain cool and relaxed, or will his emotion overspill like we have seen before?
And can we see some real emotion from Fabiano? That would be very interesting.