Carlsen has held the title since 2013, when he as a 22-year-old took it from the Indian chess grandmaster Viswanathan Anand. Carlsen has won every world championship in chess since then, but had already expressed frustration over the format of the competition.
Carlsen, now 31, said on Wednesday that winning the championship for the fourth and fifth time “meant nothing” to him. – I was happy with the job I had done. I was glad I had not lost the match. But that was it, he said.
While fans and chess officials have regretted Carlsen’s decision, it is not unique. Carlsen joins several other chess masters who finished in the competition at the top of the game, including Garry Kasparov.
Arkady Dvorkovich, president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), said it can be difficult to stay motivated at the very top.
“Many other great champions in other sports have experienced something similar: Over the years it has been more difficult to find the motivation to train and compete at the highest level, while the reward for victory never feels as intense as the first day,” he said in a statement.
Psychologists have argued that it can be difficult for people to stay motivated after a great achievement if they do not have an ongoing sense of growth, or if they experience burnout.
Chess officials said they offered to adjust the championship format in discussions with Carlsen in Madrid last month. But the player could not be influenced – and left two other chess grandmasters, Ian Nepomniachtchi from Russia and Ding Liren from China, to battle for the title in 2023.
Carlsen may also have been characterized by a lack of enthusiasm for his opponents. He had previously said he was not interested in the next World Cup unless his opponent was Alireza Firouzja, the current world No. 3, because the 19-year-old’s rapid rise impressed him. However, Firouzja was knocked out by Nepomniachtchi, who Carlsen had previously defeated, at the candidate tournament in Madrid in June.
Each dominant Champion quit at one point: Morphy, Lasker (he resigned the title in 1920 and insisted on playing the 1921 Match as a challenger), Fischer, Kasparov. No FIDE, weak FIDE, strong FIDE. Does not matter. As sad as it is, Carlsen is in line with his great predecessors.
– Emilchess (@EmilSutovsky) July 21, 2022
FIDE said in a statement that Carlsen has not officially resigned yet, since the preparations for the championship match – including deadlines and Carlsen’s contract – had not been completed. Still, the world chess body said they knew the player’s decision was final.
Dvorkovich said Carlsen’s departure would leave a “big void” and be “a disappointment for fans, and bad news for the play”, although he stressed that the sport remained “stronger than ever” and that the championship would continue.
Fans can, however, be happy to know that Carlsen is not withdrawing from the sport – in fact, he said on Wednesday that he was on his way to Croatia to compete in the Grand Chess Tour and that he enjoyed playing chess tournaments “much more” than championships.
He also opened up the possibility that one day he could return to the World Chess Championship – even though he did not sound particularly enthusiastic. “I do not rule out a return in the future, but I would not particularly trust it,” he said on the podcast.