Did the best chess player in the world just give…

Magnus Carlsen, reigning world chess champion for 11 years, announced last week that he not defend his championship title Next year. This shocked the chess world, although Carlsen (who is usually referred to simply as Magnus) said for a time that he would not defend the title unless a promising player like 19-year-old Alireza Firouzja challenged him. . him.

Fans refer to Magnus as the “greatest of all time”, and some reacting to his news said he could not reach that status without surpassing Garry Kasparov’s record of six league titles. (Magnus has five, though the extent of these titles in the story has varied a bit.)

Magnus decided he didn’t care, at least for now. He explained that he likes to play in tournaments, but not in the championship. He has always made a point of saying how important the pleasure of chess is to him. And it’s nice to see Magnus playing chess.

“I’m not motivated to play another game. I just feel like I don’t have much to gain. I don’t particularly like it, and although I’m sure a match would be interesting for historical reasons and all that, I have no desire to play,” he said when announcing his decision.

Some said it showed he was bored or giving up. Some have speculated that Magnus would lose his competitive edge without the championship; others, that he was shirking his duties to the game.

“To walk away from what everyone expects or demands of you takes courage,” said chess great Kasparov. on Twitter on Magnus’ decision.

Peter Heine Nielsen, Magnus’ longtime trainer, said The Chicken Chess Club podcast that Magnus wants to “do different things with his life, including chess”.

“The chess world may be upset about it, but…it’s good for them,” Nielsen said. “He knows he’s the best player in the world. As long as it’s not debatable, I don’t think he needs the title.

I watched and covered professional chess for a few years, and one beautiful thing about it is that it doesn’t work like other sports. Although there is apparently a divine genius at work in these players, professional chess seems very human.

Like other sports, it offers philosophical lessons in resilience, beauty and determination. But chess stars don’t usually act like stars. For most players, chess does not pay. Some top players live with their parents or in shabby apartments.

Our culture is based on fame, but often on fame void of excellence. In high-level chess, you can’t pretend to be excellent or not. Notoriety relies on “directed self-promotion, so in many cases self-promotion is the true discipline of the person,” writes Michial Farmer on The Republic of the Porch.

In contrast, Farmer says those who seek greatness in the kingdom of God should focus on the good of the thing itself:

To take a frequent example from Plato, the telos of a shipbuilder is the ship – a ship well built to the standards of shipbuilding practice. That of the poet telos is the poem; that of the painter is painting; the intellectual is the argument. The Christian worker understands that a well-constructed object gives glory to God who gave the gifts that allowed its construction, even if the work pays no explicit attention to God. … The public should be a secondary consideration, because building a good ship, by its very nature, is helping people sail.

Whether Magnus has the chess title or not, he’s the best in the game and no one else comes close. Last weekend he won another great tournament. Even without the championship, he will likely retain his world No. 1 status according to the FIDE rating, the official measure of a chess player. The way it was best also increased global interest in chess – helping people navigate, in Farmer’s words.

Wesley So, an American ranked the world No. 6, joked in a recent chess livestream that Magnus being the best player for 11 years has been “depressing” for other players. (So ​​an outspoken Christian, wrote about his testimony for CT in 2017.)

Alongside this excellence there is a lesson on human limitation.

The Chess Championship takes months and months of preparation, with players analyzing and discovering new lines of defense and attack that they reveal during the championship. The match is 14 classic matches, spread over a few weeks. Matches sometimes last six, seven or eight hours, with no clock interruption. It’s exhausting. With chess at this level, most games end in draws, so one mistake can give your opponent a win and determine the championship. Last year, Magnus’ Russian challenger Nepomniachtchi slipped up and the championship match fell apart. Nepomniachtchi looked miserable.

Vishy Anand, a former world champion, said Chess.com he understood the exhaustion of the league matches: “Because I lost, this problem resolved itself. Magnus’ problem is a bit that he doesn’t lose.

When is the abandonment of laziness, and when is it a good understanding of our human limits?

In a meeting with Phoenix Seminary, theologian Kelly Kapic, who has a book on finitude titled you are only human, said that when he lays down to sleep at night, his main feeling is not fatigue but guilt about things he didn’t accomplish that day. He “confused finitude and sin,” he says. “I felt guilty that I was actually just a creature. … God never meant for us to do everything. Kapic goes on to explain that God places his value not on productivity but on ‘love’ , but we operate as if God is waiting for our productivity.

We can’t dive deep into Magnus’ mind, but he says he’s motivated to give up that title by his enjoyment of chess, not worldly expectations. I think it’s a good sign that he doesn’t seem to care that the governing body of chess as well as his fans want him to play for the championship. He has excellence and he says he has had enough stress for the championship so far.

But for the rest of us, whether chess players, shipbuilders, writers, or teachers, it’s a time to reflect on how we can cherish the gifts that we have with excellence while embracing our own finitude.

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