Magnus Carlsen is the world chess champion, and by acclamation one of the very best players in history.
But on Wednesday he said he would not play in next year’s world championship, voluntarily surrendering the title he has held since he won it in 2013 at age 22.
Now 31 and a five-time world champion, Carlsen said he was “Pretty comfortable” with the decision, which he said he had thought about for “more than a year.”
“I am not motivated to play another match; I simply feel that I don’t have a lot to gain,” he said on the first episode of his new podcast, the Magnus Effect.
“Although I’m sure a match would be interesting for historical reasons and all of that, I don’t have any inclination to play, and I will simply not play the match.”
Carlsen made the announcement on International Chess Day.
Carlsen had been scheduled to defend his title against the Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi in 2023. Now, Nepomniachtchi will instead play Ding Liren of China, with the winner claiming the vacant title.
Carlsen said he did not particularly enjoy playing at the world championship, which is staged as a 12-to-14-game one-on-one battle over several weeks. He won his most recent title by beating Nepomniachtchi in December in Dubai.
“The matches themselves have been at times interesting, at times a little bit of fun,” Carlsen said. “But overall, I feel like it’s my time to go from the world championship matches.”
Carlsen said he would continue playing competitive chess.
“I enjoy playing tournaments a lot,” he said on the podcast. “Obviously, I enjoy them a lot more than I enjoy the world championship, and frankly I don’t see myself stopping as a chess player any time soon.” He said he was heading to Croatia for a tournament later Wednesday.
Carlsen became a grandmaster at 13, and the world’s top-rated player by 19. He won the world title in 2013, dethroning Viswanathan Anand, and defended it four times, defeating Anand again, then Sergey Karjakin, Fabiano Caruana and most recently Nepomniachtchi.
Carlsen’s absence will leave an enormous hole at the summit of the chess world. He is the game’s biggest star by a wide margin, and his name is probably the only one known to many with a casual interest in the game. That recognition has allowed him to expand his brand, and his fortune, through a series of ventures teaching and selling the game.
His top rating of 2882 is the highest ever achieved in the game. Chess.com selected him this year as the second best player of all time, behind Garry Kasparov and one spot ahead of Bobby Fischer.
“Magnus is, not tired, but I think he’s bored with too many matches,” Kasparov told the St. Louis Chess Club earlier this month.
Carlsen has become interested in poker in recent years, and he played in the main event at the World Series of Poker last week. Indeed his podcast on Wednesday began with a discussion of poker and Las Vegas, and he saved his announcement about surrendering the world title until 50 minutes had elapsed.
Carlsen is one of a small handful of top sports figures who walked away while at the very top of their game. Many of them eventually came back.
“I don’t rule out a return in the future,” he said Wednesday. “But I wouldn’t particularly count on it either.”