Beating Magnus after a month of training?

by Frederic Friedel
11/18/2017 – Max Deutsch is an obsessive learner, a product builder, and guinea pig for a "Month to Master" project: the 24-year-old entrepreneur who lives in San Francisco has shown that he can train himself to memorize a deck of cards in two minutes, hold a 30-minutes conversation in Hebrew and develop perfect pitch, in each case after just 30 days of training. After eleven tasks he set himself for 2017 the twelfth was to beat World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a game of chess. The experiment, described in the Wall Street Journal, took place in Hamburg earlier this month. Tell us what you think.

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Starting on Nov 1st, 2016, Max decided to spend the a year trying to master twelve expert-level skills, devoting one month to each skill and writing daily about the process. He called the project Month to Master (M2M). The reason for this was to that he has, by his own admission, an obsessive personality and enjoys pushing the limits of his brain, body, and genetics.

So these were the challenges, all meticulously described in his Medium blog:

It is of course the last challenge that we are particularly interested in. Max only plays chess occasionally – a prototypical amateur. But he believed that with his one-month preparation regime he could actually beat Magnus. The original idea was to only beat the computerized simulation Play Magnus. But then the Wall Street Journal stumbled across his “Month to Master” and offered to put him in touch with the real-life version. After a month of training he travelled from San Francisco to Hamburg, Germany, to play a game against the reigning World Champion. As our readers probably know Magnus was there for a Play Magnus Challenge – we brought you Scenes from Magnus Carlsen's Hamburg swing last week.

It was undeniably a stunt, but it was also billed as a grand experiment in human performance. Can we hack our brains in a way that radically accelerates the traditional learning curve? So did Max have a chance? "I have agreed to this challenge because I am genuinely curious about what he is able to do in a month," Magnus said before the game. Did he think that Max might beat him? "No – but I have been surprised before."

Here's the massive description of the Wall Street Journal experiment

And here's a six-minute video report by George Downs for the Wall Street Journal:

And finally here is the game we have all been waiting for:

[Event "Wall Street Journal"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.10.08"] [Round "?"] [White "Deutsch, Max"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C60"] [PlyCount "78"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nge7 4. O-O g6 5. d4 exd4 6. Nxd4 Bg7 7. Be3 O-O 8. Nc3 d6 9. Nd5 {Magnus called Max's play up to this move “very, very good,” but called this knight move "questionable". It is not technically a mistake, but definitely "the move of a novice."} Nxd5 10. exd5 Ne5 11. Re1 Ng4 12. Qf3 $2 {The first serious error:} ({It was necessary to play} 12. c3 {to protect the knight on d4.}) 12... Qh4 13. h3 Nxe3 14. Qxe3 $4 {Capturing with the queen simply loses a piece (and a pawn). After this error the games is simply lost.} Bxd4 15. Qd2 Bxb2 16. Rab1 Be5 17. Rb4 Qf6 18. Bd3 Bc3 19. Qf4 Qxf4 20. Rxf4 Bxe1 21. c4 Bb4 22. g4 Bd7 23. Kg2 Rfe8 24. h4 Bd2 25. Rd4 c5 26. Re4 Rxe4 27. Bxe4 Bxg4 28. Kg3 Be2 29. f3 Bxc4 30. Kg4 f5+ 31. Bxf5 h5+ 32. Kg3 gxf5 33. Kf2 Bf4 34. Ke1 Re8+ 35. Kf2 Re2+ 36. Kf1 Rxa2+ 37. Ke1 Be3 38. Kd1 Bd3 39. Ke1 Ra1# 0-1

Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen

Scarcely any world champion has managed to captivate chess lovers to the extent Carlsen has. The enormously talented Norwegian hasn't been systematically trained within the structures of a major chess-playing nation such as Russia, the Ukraine or China.


We would be genuinely interested to hear your opinions on Max's chess challenge and the other Month to Master feats this very enterprising young man has performed.

Editor-in-Chief of the ChessBase News Page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.
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kurumban kurumban 11/18/2017 04:33
Chess is too complex for such stunts!
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 11/18/2017 04:19
Mr. Deutsch made also very basic mistakes after his 14th move. On the 18th move he exposes himself, unforced, to a Q-R Bishop fork. When you are down a piece and know that you will lose another one (a R – without compensation), you do not propose an exchange of Q like he did on the 19th. On the 30th move he exposed himself, without being forced, to a K-B fork with a pawn. And we are not sure he saw the mating combination at the end – a variation of the bank rank mate.

And these are very very basic mistakes, generally not done in such a great number in a single game by players rated 1300, maybe even 1200, and over. Even though the 1200 and 1300 may not have known the first 13 moves by hearth...

Maybe his method is not that bad and could permit improvement – but more something like: for 1200-1500 players, raise by 100 Elo points in one year or so. Even then, I am not so sure.

In one month, you have the time to see some essential basic tactics – and we have seen it was not really there in this game. And these basic tactics are absolutely essential – you do not skip that when you prepare to play against Magnus Carlsen.

No Mr. Deutsch, you cannot do better than Aronian, Karjakin in one month, and others who trained for years but who can still pull out one game or a draw from Magnus once in a while.

We must still salute Mr. Deutsch for having had the courage to test his pretension and thank Mr. Deutsch for proposing an experiment which participates to demonstrate that time, patience and work over a certain time are necessary ingredients to become a good chess player – which cannot be replaced by quick fixes.
cyronix cyronix 11/18/2017 04:12
ridiculous ego ... there is a famous quote by bruce lee that more or less shows how ridiculous this experiment described by the wall street journal is: I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
Bright Knight Bright Knight 11/18/2017 04:02
In none of his other feats did he pit himself against the world's best. If he did, I'm sure he would have lost as miserably. He solved the Rubik's cube in 20 seconds? The world's best does it in 5. With his 1-month chess training, he could not have drawn with any WIM. Chess masters spend years getting good in the game, so it's quite a disrespect to think you'd beat the WC with a month's effort.
Darrett Darrett 11/18/2017 03:44
Magnus was backpropping his 9 year old chess neurons when Deutsch was doing..(something else)... There is not that much plasticity in neuronal programming. Shows that chess is more than one thing Deutsch doesn't know about.
Justjeff Justjeff 11/18/2017 03:37
A World Champion in anything has been obsessively working on his game for many years, one month simply isn't close to being enough. But it is probably enough to get decent results against non-masters. A human who learns the most basic endings and otherwise focuses on tactics for a month could be quite competitive at that level. He would get many horrible positions but save himself on an overlooked tactic over and over.
ChessHulk ChessHulk 11/18/2017 02:00
Ha, pathetic human, Hulk smash Magnus in 1 minute!
David Herz David Herz 11/18/2017 01:59
the chess challenge is silly but there is something interesting in the attitude towards mastery of reminds me of the future of humanity described in Dune, where mentats are stronger than silicon/machine computers...
Augusta2022 Augusta2022 11/18/2017 01:51
I really think his outside the box approach is intresting but he clearly needs more time to handle a complex game like chess.
tigerprowl3 tigerprowl3 11/18/2017 01:49
So, freestyle rapping for 3 minutes is on par with beating Magnus Carlsen? Really? LOL
melante melante 11/18/2017 01:23
I don't think the World Champion should have agreed to such a pointless publicity stunt planned by someone who considers the game of chess like a set of pull ups and a game with him like ending a crossword puzzle in one sitting. That's just insulting to all of us who have dedicated countless of hours to this beautiful game throughout our lives.

BTW, @vanhelsing: no, chess champs ARE made, just not in one month! ;)
algorithmy algorithmy 11/18/2017 01:09
"Beating Magnus after training for a month," said the man who blundered horribly like a fool after just 14 moves!. He probably spent that month preparing and memorizing those 13 moves! And the most annoying thing is that you can not convince those people of how fool they look when they do or say such stuff.
KevinC KevinC 11/18/2017 12:56
@vanhelsing, I do not agree. Sure, you have to be born with a reasonably good memory, but they are definitely made. The difference is the great ones are made starting at around age 5. Max was over-the-hill when he started, and thus, never had a prayer. Based on his play, he could not beat a 1600, let alone Magnus.
JactaEst JactaEst 11/18/2017 12:51
This challenge is of a different category to the others. The others are all things you could reasonably expect most intelligent/fit people to achieve with sufficient practice - but beating Magnus at Chess would only be something possible for an incredibly tiny fraction of the population and then after many years of intense study. Fair enough if his aim is to show he can shorten the time required to learn something - but if he wanted a chess goal he should have gonr for raising his ELO by an impressive number in a month - beating Magnus as a mental challenge is about as hard as summiting Everest without Oxygen or running a 4 minute mile or 100m in under 10 seconds is as a physical one - and none of his physical challenges are anywhere near those...
vanhelsing vanhelsing 11/18/2017 12:41
Chess champions are born, not made.
daftarche daftarche 11/18/2017 12:35
had he studied chess in a human way instead of trying to develop his algorithm, he would not have made that stupid blunder.
fravatel fravatel 11/18/2017 12:13
Obviously to learn the game of chess is a whole different matter than learning another language in a month etc.
Although this leads to some nice publicity for the game of chess, it looks like Max was overestimating himself perhaps just a bit?
fravatel fravatel 11/18/2017 12:12
jonkm jonkm 11/18/2017 12:07
Yeah month-to-master sure. Good laugh. That's unlikely even with prodigies. I've always wondered though if some day there will be an algorithm that allows one to find good moves just by plugging in certain variables.
inegrepus inegrepus 11/18/2017 11:57
Just goes to show that chess is really hard and unforgiving! A very intelligent young man spends a month in serious training and still makes a ridiculous beginner’s mistake. Respect to Max for trying, we all lose silly games, even Magnus did once upon a time!
olegolive olegolive 11/18/2017 11:49
Things are much more diffficult when you are facing an opponent : result would have been the same if Max were to face Rodger in a tennis game or Riner in a judo fight ( in this case even much, much worse I am afraid ...). There is a huge difference beetween self instruction and a real match ...