This simulation of chess champion Magnus Carlsen is ready to checkmate

As world chess champion Magnus Carlsen defends his title against Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin at this month’s championship in New York, a smartphone app called Play Magnus invites users to test their own skills against simulated versions of Carlsen at various stages of his life and career.

The app, originally released in 2014, was developed by a team including Tord Romstad, one of the creators of Stockfish, a popular open-source chess engine, and does more than just regurgitate moves historically played by Carlsen. The engine actually emulates his style of play at different ages, shifting from the aggressive style of his early years as a chess prodigy to his more thoughtful and defensive adult play.

Magnus Carlsen

“The openings are played the way he had played at that age, the endgames are played the same way,” says Kate Murphy, CEO of Play Magnus. “When Magnus plays against himself in the app, he’ll actually say, ‘I remember that game, it was against such-and-such on such-and-such a date.'”

Since its launch, the Play Magnus app has had almost a million downloads, but its creators noticed a limitation: Somewhere in the age when most of us have mastered our schedules, Carlsen has simply become a too good a chess player for many amateur players to compete with. with. After all, Carlsen, who turns 26 later this month, was first named grandmaster at age 13, one of the youngest in the game’s history to hold that rank.

“Everyone was stuck on the Play Magnus app,” says Murphy. “Everyone was stuck at 8 and 9 years old.”

To give users a chance to improve their games, the Play Magnus team released a second app this week, dubbed Magnus Trainer. This app, available for iOS with an Android version to follow, offers a series of chess practice exercises designed to help players improve their skills, even as they’re still learning how pieces move.

Some feature more abstract challenges, like navigating chess pieces through a layout based on Carlsen’s family hut in his native Norway, or even moving chess pieces around their signature patterns to escape nightmarish monsters. . A game, called beach premiumbegins with players navigating chess pieces to capture stationary seashells on the beach, but as players progress they begin to have to battle other chess pieces that might capture them.

More advanced players, or those looking for a more conventional experience, can also play through interactive versions of Carlsen’s historical games, punctuated by challenges to guess what move Carlsen took in a particular position and explanations of his actual tactics.

“Even very advanced players can come in and learn from this part of the theory,” Murphy explains.

Magnus Trainer launched with 11 mini-games, developed in part by Carlsen and other grandmasters, including one of his former trainers, and the company plans to roll out more games in the coming weeks. Games are tested on real players to make sure they’re actually learning the skills they’re supposed to learn, Murphy says.

The company also plans to unveil multiplayer support in future versions of Play Magnus and will add current championship competition games to the theory section of Magnus Trainer. Ultimately, they will also help form a version of the Play Magnus engine that mimics Carlsen’s game at 26, Murphy says, although his current level of play is likely to be out of reach for most opponents. home.

“Most people can beat 5-year-old Magnus,” says Murphy. “It was from the age of 7 that he began to have a competitive fervor.”

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