Magnus Carlsen about passion and playing for the title

by ChessBase
12/22/2021 – In a blog post for his sponsor Simonson Vogt Wiig, Magnus Carlsen reiterated and explained his announcement that he might not play another World Championship match because he lost his passion for this form of competition over the years. But "passion must be the main driver. I have always liked to compete, but chess was for me mainly driven by passion for the game." | Photo: Eric Rosen (FIDE)

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Immediately after the end of the World Championship match against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Carlsen shocked chess fans by indicating in a video-interview that this might have been his last match for the world championship.

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In an article that appeared yesterday on the website of Carlsen's sponsor Simonson Vogt Wiig, the World Champion went further. He reviewed the match against Nepomniachtchi and explained why he does not feel motivated to defend his title.

World Championship matches differ significantly from tournaments. From early youth I have always liked to compete, but chess was for me mainly driven by passion for the game. I didn’t have any longterm ambitions except for learning and developing as a chess player. Later, as a tournament favorite, I was of course focused on winning as often as possible. Still, this ambition felt mostly as enhanced focus and passion, and less as pressure. Thinking about matches prior to Chennai, I thought it would be possible to apply the same approach as to tournaments of one game at the time, try to beat your opponent, avoid being distracted by losses. (Angry yes, but not distracted.)

From Chennai 2013 onwards the value and challenge of matches has gradually grown on me. It is very special. The dynamics are so different from tournaments, you cannot pretend otherwise. I managed to stay relatively process- and passion-driven against Anand in 2013, while in the last four matches it has been all about results. The potential downside is significant. You are working heavily for months with a team of dedicated seconds/coaches and in the end it may all be for nothing. For the loser, the same could have been achieved without any efforts. In a tournament there is just one winner. In a match there is just one loser.

As discussed in a video interview shortly after the match, I found that the negative has started to outweigh the positive, even when winning. I have by now played against the previous generation and three leading players of my generation. Being result-oriented has worked out for me in these matches, but it doesn’t feel sustainable long term. Passion must be the main driver. It is unlikely that I will play another match unless maybe if the next challenger represents the next generation. (Alireza Firouzja is at 18 already ranked 2nd in classical chess and has qualified for the next candidates.)


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Resistance Resistance 1/13/2022 06:15
On the other hand, I agree with the sentiment of many of the commentors here regarding Magnus' sort of unfortunate comments. Unless he's trying to send some sort of (coded) message to FIDE through the press (- like : "Get it through your heads, you corrupt, greedy FIDE oligarchs : I'm not playing next WCH unless you make it into a WCH tournament, where things are easier for me and I have much better chances", or "I want bigger money next time, you corrupt, money-grabbing FIDE bureaucrats : I'm the star here. Get me Firo (or Naka?), at a 1 hour per side WCH match, or I go straight to or granpa Sinque, which would gladly organize my new Magnus Carlsen World Championship Match, at my new Magnus Carlsen World Championship Resort & Casino, and you get zilch." -), Magnus message didn't come across well... ;-)
Resistance Resistance 1/13/2022 05:25
Maybe it's this safe, 'I-don't-wanna-lose-the-match' approach to chess we've seen from players (including the champ) at WCH matches lately (he calls it 'result-oriented' approach), that has Magnus drained and exhausted. True: faster, stronger computers do not help here (players surely feel they need to re-check their opening lines at great lengths, cause their opponents, armed with the latest softwares, might caught them at some unexpected turn).
Yet the nature of classical match play doesn't seem to be the cause of this current state of affairs at the top, but rather the approach. World Championships have always been, and will always be, tough --whatever the sport. Because beating a guy similar in strength, in match play, has always been tough --whatever the sport. That's why World Champions are usually held in such high esteem. Nonetheless, thinking that you can win such grueling battles, while also being in control of things, of the result, all or most of the time, game after game (e.g., having a draw at hand all the time in case something goes wrong), minimizing your chances of getting a negative result, which, of necessity will take from you tons of energy & mental stamina --that's insane. You can’t play chess if you're also looking not to screw things up all the time. The creative process is hard enough on you to demand of it guarantee of its own success too. No wonder we've gotten so many boring games lately at WCH matches…

(-nobody wants to risk, because everybody wants to make sure first he's not losing; since losing comes unexpectedly (nobody wishes to make bad moves), not being in control (not being sure what's going on) is equated to something bad, to something you need to avoid, disregarding the fact that many victories, including classical wch match victories (excluding, of course, those where time scramble was the actual factor), also obtain without the players being in the know of every little detail going on in their positions (!)-).
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 1/11/2022 12:15
Carlsen was bested by So in the chess960 world championship. I bet the passion would be there for the next cycle. Months of preparation for that would be much more interesting for him than preparing for a classical world championship.
tacticalmonster tacticalmonster 12/27/2021 08:53
People who were supportive of Carlsen withdrawing from the WC cycle were thinking from the prospective of amateur chess players. Imagine chess as your profession. Here's why I think this public announcement is a mega blunder on Carlsen's part:

1) Imagine if you are an employee currently working for a company and you let the world know that you wish to quit your job because of lack of motivation. What would your employer think of you after hearing something like that? Likewise, if you act the same way as a business owner, how would your employees respond?

2) Even if Carlsen decided to defend his WC title in the next cycle, his next challenger would be less fearful of Carlsen and therefore it would provide extra incentive for the challenger which would increase the chance of defeat for Carlsen.

3) It shows a lack of work ethnic and respect for one's profession. Yes, we know how hard Carlsen worked to prepare for the World Chess Championship 2021. So what? Many people in different professions work their asses off as well. Just because Carlsen has exceptional talent in pushing wood, what makes him think that he is so special that he doesn't need to put in the hours?

4) His arrogant attitude about his World Chess Champion title would isolate almost all his colleague. Any top level chess professionals would almost give up anything to have a chance to have a shot to become world champion. Carlsen just verbally "slap them in the face" by saying that he wishes to give up his WC title without a fight.

We all have days when we feel that we are not motivated to work. It's one thing to think like that but it's another thing to broadcast that aloud to the world because it would be a career limiting move, to say the least.

Carlsen just won like a million dollars from his last WC match. He should use some of that money to hire a public relation manager, seriously.
Balthus Balthus 12/27/2021 07:06
It was painful to read through the comments until I got to the last few. So much misconstruction from apparently intelligent people! So much disrespect for the reigning champion! So many completely irrelevant pet ideas thrown in regarding the format! It reminded me of the Hungarian proverb, "Tell the truth and you'll get your skull crushed."

Thanks dumkof and Daniel for finally speaking sense among all the previous nonsense.

I appreciate Carlsen's frankness and acknowledge his right and reasons to feel the way he does. As for Nepo: he might draw some consolation from thr fact that his implosion might yet result in a major overhaul of the entire WCh cycle. That would be some achievement... if an unintentional one.
Daniel Quigley Daniel Quigley 12/26/2021 03:04
Carlsen has not played Karjakin and Caruana solely in World Championship tournaments. They've played classical chess in tournaments too. Carlsen's record against them, and all of his contemporaries, in every form of chess is ridiculously positive.

Carlsen says he does not relish a chance to play another World Championship match. People ask why. He can't just say it doesn't sound like a fun way to spend time. Can he? If he does, people will ask why not? Then he has to come up with a reason. Carlsen tried to come up with one, but clearly floundered, and said some really lame stuff in the attempt. He's human. Can we please cut him some slack. It's unfortunate he can't say it doesn't sound like fun to him and have people accept that for his reason.

The fact that he stated he would be willing to play Firouza or another player of the next generation in a WC match provides telling insight (in my opinion) into why Carlsen would not want to play Caruana or Karjakin again. I think it's because he has already proven over a lifetime of competition with them who the better player is. What does he have to gain from beating either of them (or any other contemporary he has already proven he owns) in another WC match? People will just say, "Yep, Carlsen won again. No surprise there." Yay. But what if he loses? What will that prove? That Caruana is really the better player? Yeah, right. All that it will prove is that given enough bites at the apple even Caruana got lucky and caught Carlsen in a bad month of his solar cycle or something. There's very little to play for from Carlsen's perspective. I, for one, totally get that.

Finally, why are they having to play World Championship matches every other year now? Who really needs or wants to see one that often? One WC match every three years is plenty! And let's make them twenty games long again. That helps reduce any luck factor significantly.
tacticalmonster tacticalmonster 12/24/2021 06:24
Complete rubbish! Carlsen hasn't even proven himself against his own generation ( Caruana and Karjakin ) in the classical portion of the WC match. What about Ding Liren? Such arrogant attitude would only cost Carlsen the next WC match even if he would decide to play in it. Not that he would care about it anyway...

I used to be a fan of Carlsen until his talk about voluntarily withdrawing from the WC title. All this talk about the need to have motivation and passion for chess. Isn't chess his chosen profession? Such lack of respect and professionalism in his career!

I can't wait to see Carlsen dethroned!
dumkof dumkof 12/24/2021 12:46
Alone his 125 game undefeated streak against a ~2750 rated opposition, for almost 2.5 years, is arguably the biggest and most impressive chess achievement of all time. Pure perfection that involves everything: brute playing strength, consistency, stability, determination, and and and...

Nothing wrong with Carlsen's attitude. He has achieved everything in chess and has nothing to prove. He's tired of winning. Very normal to lose motivation. He's human after all, not a machine. Telling this is no disrespect or arrogance.

Nothing wrong with the current world championship format either. It's good enough to determine the champion. Involves both tournament and match components, a healthy combination. The frequency might be a bit less though. A match every 3-4 years is better, in my opinion.
Aighearach Aighearach 12/23/2021 08:24
That's all well and good to say now, right after getting a big pay-day, but eventually it will dawn on him that most of his pay, his sponsorships, his modelling contracts, are all based on his being World Champion. Without that, he has to win his full income from tournament prizes.

What he says is silly; he could keep trying to defend his title, but spend less time preparing. He'd still be the favorite. He's only actually won once recently. It sounds like he might have surrounded himself with yes-men. Maybe he should hire somebody to call him an idiot whenever he says something nihilist?

Like other chess players, he's very average when he vears into philosophy, as here. He won't play another match unless his favorite wins the candidates? If he refuses to play _after_ the candidate is selected, he might not even get invited to all the top tournaments. It would be a serious violation of sportsmanship ethics, unless he's retiring from the sport entirely. Right now he is very popular. This action would change that at a deep level.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 12/23/2021 02:36
Carlsen deservedly won the latest match, no question about that. Nepo imploded. Now that he retains his title, he could continue being a world champion or step aside. Being a world champion is not easy. One has an obligation (!) of trying to defend his title against the player who qualifies as a challenger. It's not easy. It takes many months to prepare. If Carlsen is no longer motivated, then he can resign his world championship title or even retire. It is his choice. But being this arrogant ultimately hurts the game. How could one convince someone less interested in chess in general that chess is interesting, if the best chess player says it's boring to defend his title? Yes, Carlsen deserved to retain his title with his moves. But his personality and attitude does not live up to that.
bdshahab bdshahab 12/23/2021 12:44
If he is tired of winning championships, he can compete with computers to find out what the ultimate human power is against chess software.
He could also use it as a research project for the brain.
tom_70 tom_70 12/23/2021 10:39
The World Championship cycles are simply too close together. The amount of prep that goes into that is mindboggling and the champ has to do it every 2 years. Change the cycle to every 4 or 5 years. That way they won't get burned out.
GR2 GR2 12/23/2021 09:49
History repeats itself. Players who think they are bigger than the game. Wouldnt surprise me if he set up his own world championship title event. Sound familiar. I have been a great admirer of Carlsen. But....
puertolajas puertolajas 12/22/2021 11:36
He is just behaving like a spoiled child, and it's becoming a trend for him.
GaborsEngine GaborsEngine 12/22/2021 10:12
I agree with Tom Box. Like he writes, Carlsen did not win against Karjakin or Caruana with classical time controls, only in the tie-breaks. Maybe he first shows that he can beat them with classical time controls and then he says that he is bored. Saying it now does not make much sense.
Leavenfish Leavenfish 12/22/2021 09:33
He might as well renounce his title right now and let the world continue. I mean, the odds of Firo winning is less than 20%.
Renounce and ask for a spot in the Candidates yourself, MC and let the top 2 play for the title...if THAT doesn't give you motivation to play another match, what will?
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 12/22/2021 09:14
Somehow it reminds me alot of Paul Morphy...although Morphy abandonned chess much earlier, at age of 22, after having beaten almost all European topplayers, except Staunton.

Paul Morphy was just tired of winning.
Theochessman Theochessman 12/22/2021 08:07
Magnus is just bored because there is no real opposition at the moment.
Nepo was a walkover even worse than Anand.
Fabi and Sergey offerend some resistance though....

I'm pretty sure Magnus will play anyway. He's just acting "I'm the King" right now.
Mendheim Mendheim 12/22/2021 07:48
In my opinion, the duel format for determining the world champion has long been outdated. The public's expectations are therefore bound to be disappointed time and again. The only unpredictable thing is how they will be disappointed. More exciting and meaningful would be a double-round tournament with the 12 best players having to qualify for it. That would be great cinema on every day of competition, and whoever is ahead after 22 rounds could rightly call himself or herself world champion.
Tom Box Tom Box 12/22/2021 07:28
I think Carlsen's remarks could be interpreted as showing a lack of respect for his opponents: just because he beat Caruana and Karjakin once (and not so easily) does not mean he would be victorious a second time or that a victory over other possible contenders of his generation is close to certain - though not explicitly said, I think the choice of words could suggest that. The fact that all the preparation could be for nothing is clear. Part of the excitement of a World Chess Championship is this very fact. Virtually all of the draws in the first part of the match were very hard fought and exciting, so I think the criticism of the draws by many who followed the games is inexplicable. A one-against-one battle for the World Chess Championship with classical time controls is one of the great traditions of chess and long may it last. There are separate World Championships for blitz and rapid; there is no need to combine all three in a single match in my opinion. There is no doubt Carlsen has already established himself as one of the greatest players of all time. I do hope he reconsiders avoiding an event that has made such a contribution to assessment of him.
fede666 fede666 12/22/2021 07:21
I don't like this attitude too..So in the next candidates tournament if Caruana or some old guy wins, Carlsen will not defend the title ? It is like Djokovic saying that he would not play a tennis final if the opponent is older than say 25 years old ...It is like disparaging the opponents saying I would only play you if I deem you worthy ...
Carlsen should say in advance whether he intends to defend the title..and not wait to see who the winner is of the candidates ...He has a right not to defend the title but that should not depend on the outcome of the candidates
karban karban 12/22/2021 07:19
It's funny how this sport can't get a few regular cycles in a row. Alekhine died in office, Fischer just dissapeared, all Kasparov schism. Then Kramnik-Topalov saga. Then constant change of format. Then literally a couple of stable cycles (exactly two - '16 '18). Finally, what a surprise, Covid-interrupted '21. Now Magnus has enough... That's the pretty soap-opera🙂 What is wrong with this game?

@chessgodo - what are you talking about? Magnus played only Anand in consecutive years ('13,'14). Now he had 3-year gap.
Green22 Green22 12/22/2021 05:20
I don't like his attitude on this - its the way he's feeling at the moment right after the match. Nepo imploded, and he thinks oh humm drumm this is getting boring now a.k.a his passion isn't there. Lots can change up to the next candidates match. What if MVL, Giri or even Naka was able to win it (if qualified of course) a dream come true for these guys for example.. then Carlsen wouldn't feel pumped for a new world title defense?? that's ridiculous.

Michael Jordan or Tom Brady even Tyson would never have this mind set have winning multiple world titles and they don't quit after winning consecutive titles. Sheesh Carlsen you're world champion act like one.
chessgod0 chessgod0 12/22/2021 04:02
The format does not need to be changed. I think Carlsen is just burned out from having to defend the title so many times in recent years---sometimes only a year has passed between these arduous, stressful and expensive matches. I think FIDE should implement a rule that a world championship match cannot be played within 2 years of the preceding one, no matter the circumstances.

I'm also of the view that FIDE should return to the old zonal/interzonal system with candidates matches to decide the challenger, but that's another subject for another time.
Raphael Comprone Raphael Comprone 12/22/2021 02:41
Carlsen's statement is a concession that the current format for the world championship needs to be changed. I think there should be a decisive result each time. My suggestion is to have the players play for a decisive result each day. If the first classical game is a draw, have the players play one more classical game. If that game is a draw as well, have them play rapid, blitz and bullet games until there is a result. Players that are good at classical chess will try to get an advantage in their classical games. It is possible that Carlsen will play drawish games and expect to win at blitz, etc., but that strategy also has its risks. Since there will be only three days of chess, have every other day be a rest day. That means instead of playing twelve classical games with boring draws, there would only be a maximum of six classical games played, and each day would have a decisive result. The advantage of this format is that it combines all aspects of present-day chess while ensuring that the world championship match is not a long drawn out affair. Some might argue that including rapid, blitz and bullet along with classical represents the end of an era of classical chess. There is much to that argument, but it neglects the fact that long drawn out matches with drawish openings are often the result of such contests. This format would be better than any other format because each day would have results.