Active Stocks
Tue Oct 03 2023 15:59:59
  1. Tata Steel share price
  2. 128 -0.78%
  1. Power Grid Corporation Of India share price
  2. 199.3 -0.28%
  1. Tata Motors share price
  2. 620.3 -1.59%
  1. NTPC share price
  2. 241.15 -1.83%
  1. State Bank Of India share price
  2. 602.95 0.71%
Business News/ Sports / Sports News/  The World Chess Championship Is Happening. Magnus Carlsen Is Playing Poker Instead.

The World Chess Championship Is Happening. Magnus Carlsen Is Playing Poker Instead.


While his rivals battle for the title in Kazakhstan, the highest rated grandmaster of all time spent a night calling bluffs instead of pushing pawns.

Magnus Carlsen arrives for the Ninth Breakthrough Prize Ceremony at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 15, 2023. REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci (REUTERS)Premium
Magnus Carlsen arrives for the Ninth Breakthrough Prize Ceremony at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 15, 2023. REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci (REUTERS)

If Magnus Carlsen still cared about being the chess world champion, he would be spending this month shuttling between an office building in Astana, Kazakhstan and his suite in the city’s St. Regis hotel. His days and nights would involve deep study, theoretical preparation, and a string of games that can last upwards of five hours each.

Instead, on a recent evening, he was halfway across the globe at a casino near Los Angeles, straining his mind in a different way. Magnus Carlsen was playing poker.

Carlsen, the 32-year-old Norwegian grandmaster, renounced his chess throne last year when he said that he wouldn’t play in the world championship, which he won five consecutive times. Now, Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren of China (the No. 2 and 3 players in the world, respectively) are battling for the title in Kazakhstan while Carlsen lives his best life, not in Kazakhstan.

Rather than spend months preparing for a single match and trying to predict whether his opponent will deploy the London System or the Sveshnikov Sicilian defense, he was throwing chips on a table, trash-talking his opponents and occasionally showing that the mind of the highest-rated chess player in history can also wrap itself around Texas Hold’em.

Carlsen played last week in the Hustler Casino Live Creator Poker Night, a man-bun perched atop his head, displaying how skills he never had to apply to chess were critical to his budding card-playing career. While chess is a game of perfect information, because both players can see each other’s pieces, Texas Hold’em comes with an asymmetry because two of each players’ cards are hidden from their opponents. You can’t bluff at a chessboard, but you can at a card table.

And it turns out that Carlsen is pretty good at reading that too. He showed as much in one particularly tense hand when, after the final communal card hit the table, he found himself staring at a measly pair of fours—the lowest pair on the board. When his opponent bet $3,200, to push the pot to $10,575, it would have been entirely reasonable for Carlsen to fold knowing that his hand was so weak.

Carlsen saw things differently.

“I just don’t believe you at all," Carlsen told his opponent out loud, perhaps emboldened by the round of shots that came to the table minutes earlier. “This is the problem."

Carlsen called the bluff, and he proved to be right. The grandmaster calmly collected his $13,775 and explained his rationale. The rest of the table could hardly hide their astonishment at how accurately he read the situation.

“No more Magnus," the player to his right said, only half-kidding. “Go back to your game."

Carlsen isn’t your average celebrity poker tournament seat-filler. He entered the Norwegian Championships last April and tweeted that he finished 25th in a field of 1,050 entrants. He also competed in the World Series of Poker main event last year, though he lost quickly there.

That Carlsen was biding his time recently reading flops instead of fianchettos also reflects how this World Chess Championship has lacked the same juice as other recent editions. Although the event had become something of a showcase for Carlsen as he mercilessly dismantled other grandmasters, it at least featured the player many consider to be the best ever.

But this chess championship is between one player, Nepomniachtchi, who Carlsen demolished in 2021 and another, Ding, who only made it into the event because Carlsen stepped away. So it isn’t especially difficult to understand why prominent figures inside the chess community have been downplaying the title.

“I can hardly call it a world championship match," former world champion Garry Kasparov said in March. “For me, the world championship match should include the strongest player on the planet, and this match doesn’t. I’m not here to comment on Magnus’ decision, but it’s kind of an amputated event."

The upside to Carlsen’s absence is that without the most dominant player in chess, the closely matched Ding and Nepomniachtchi have traded an exhilarating series of blows. Five of the seven games have ended with decisive results, including Tuesday when the Russian grandmaster took the overall lead in dramatic fashion after Ding struggled with the clock winding down.

Carlsen, though, hasn’t retired from chess. Even after he said he wouldn’t defend his title in classical chess, he went out and won the world championships in rapid and blitz—played under faster time controls—last year.

After falling out of love with the politics that surround chess and what has traditionally been the game’s biggest event, he seems to be enjoying the extra time he now has to expand his horizons. If nothing else, he’s at least entertaining himself.

Last week, he decided not to fold a 2 and a 7 of different suits, the worst starting hand in Texas Hold ‘em, almost as a dare to himself. The gambit didn’t pay off. He lost a $17,095 pot to someone whose game he thought he knew how to read, at least away from the poker table: the chess streamer Alexandra Botez.

That doesn’t mean he treats poker like a joke. He finished with the third-highest chip count at the end of the action. And as he told Botez, he knows there are meaningful stakes on the line.

“I really need money to fund expensive habits like drinking," Carlsen joked, “so I should probably take it pretty seriously."

"Exciting news! Mint is now on WhatsApp Channels 🚀 Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest financial insights!" Click here!

Next Story
Recommended For You
Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App