Magnus Carlsen gives up world chess title for lack of motivation

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Magnus Carlsen, the reigning World Chess Champion, has announced that he will not defend his title next year because he is simply “not motivated to play another game” at the World Chess Championship.

“I just feel like I don’t have much to gain,” Carlsen said on Wednesday.

The Norwegian child prodigy made the announcement – a monumental one to the industry he has dominated for a decade – on International Chess Day on his new podcast, the Magnus Effect.

Carlsen has held the title since 2013, when he wrestled it from Indian chess grandmaster Viswanathan Anand at the age of 22. Carlsen has won every World Chess Championship since then, but had already expressed his frustration with the format of the competition.

Carlsen, now 31, said on Wednesday that winning the championship for the fourth and fifth times “meaned nothing” to him. “I was satisfied with the work I had done. I was glad I didn’t lose the match. But that was it,” he said.

While fans and chess officials have regretted Carlsen’s decision, it’s not unprecedented. Carlsen joins several other chess champions who have exited the competition at their best, including Garry Kasparov.

Arkadic Dvorkovich, president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), said staying motivated can be difficult for those at the top.

“Many other great champions, in other sports, have experienced something similar: as the years go by, it’s harder to find the motivation to train and compete at the highest level, while the reward for winning never feels so intense like the first day,” he said in a statement.

Psychologists have argued that it can be difficult for people to stay motivated after a major achievement if they don’t have a lasting sense of growth or if they experience burnout.

Chess officials said they had offered to change the championship format in talks with Carlsen in Madrid last month. But the player was not tempted – two other chess grandmasters, Ian Nepomniachtchi from Russia and Ding Liren from China, let battle for the title in 2023.

Carlsen may also have been struck by a lack of enthusiasm for his opponents. He had previously said he was not interested in the next world championship game unless Alireza Firouzja, the current world number three, was his opponent, as the 19-year-old’s meteoric rise impressed him. However, Firouzja was knocked out by Nepomniachtchi, who had previously defeated Carlsen, at the Candidate Tournament in Madrid in June.

FIDE said in a statement that Carlsen had not yet officially withdrawn, as preparations for the championship match – including deadlines and Carlsen’s contract – had not yet been completed. Still, the World Chess Organization said it was aware that the player’s decision was final.

Dvorkovich said Carlsen’s departure would leave a “big void” and “a disappointment for the fans and bad news for the spectacle”, though he stressed that the sport remains “stronger than ever” and the championship continues.

However, fans can be happy to know that Carlsen is not retiring – in fact on Wednesday he said he went to Croatia to compete in the Grand Chess Tour and that he played chess tournaments “much more” than championships.

He also left open the possibility that he might one day return to the World Chess Championship – although he didn’t sound particularly enthusiastic. “I’m not ruling out a return in the future, but I wouldn’t really count on it,” he said in the podcast.

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