‘Magnus Carlsen losing motivation to defend world title understandable’ - Hindustan Times

‘Magnus Carlsen losing motivation to defend world title understandable’

ByRutvick Mehta
Jun 21, 2023 08:19 AM IST

Hungarian-Romanian GM Richard Rapport, who was Chinese world champion Ding Liren’s second, talks about losing motivation in chess

Encouraged by his father, Richard Rapport started playing chess at nine. At 13, in 2010, he became Hungary’s youngest Grandmaster (GM). Currently 10th in the FIDE ratings (elo 2752), the 27-year-old, who competed in the 2022 Candidates Tournament and now represents Romania, was Chinese GM Ding Liren’s second for the World Chess Championship in April. Liren beat Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Richard Rapport(@olimpiuurcan/Twitter)
Richard Rapport(@olimpiuurcan/Twitter)

Ahead of the inaugural Global Chess League (June 21 to July 2) in Dubai where he will team up with Viswanathan Anand for the Ganges Grandmasters, Rapport talks about why professional chess can feel unrewarding, understanding five-time former world champion Magnus Carlsen’s lack of motivation in defending his title in classical chess and his experience as Ding’s second at the worlds.

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You’ve said that one can truly enjoy chess when it's more a hobby. What are the pros and cons of early success in professional chess?

Chess is a bit unique that way. When it comes to many other sports, your body develops naturally. You just go with the flow, work on it, get stronger, perform better. In chess, obviously your body develops there too—you’re getting calmer, you're able to focus more—but you also have to consume. And consume pure knowledge, not just some knowledge. So, it takes a lot of time as a child. The sooner you do it, the less you will miss out later in competitions. Nowadays, if someone becomes a GM at 14, you’d say, ‘OK, well, good’. Earlier, it was almost a miracle. Everything evolves, the level of play evolves. People are playing clearly much better than they used to. You can argue this, but there’s simply more knowledge and more tools. I still enjoy this artistic side of creating something that may or may not last. Right now, I’m still very fascinated by chess. Maybe not the whole experience, but chess itself is still a big love of mine.

Last year, you felt like you were sick of playing chess almost every day. How real is burnout threat in chess, especially for a prodigy?

Professional chess is a very result-oriented field. One where, I believe, rewards are not high enough compared to the effort. If I were to achieve similar success in many other fields in life, I would have a much more stable living, which would compensate for the need to put in the same effort again. In chess, some people can get to that level where these two things conflict each other — like, I am doing so many things. But why? When you're young, you don't see these things. In chess, these kinds of surprises may await you, where you feel maybe ‘I don't want to do these things’. That is a real possibility.

Can you therefore relate to Carlsen feeling a lack of motivation to defend his world title?

It’s very hard to relate when you’ve not been world champion, because it’s a very unique situation and title. A lot of people are obsessed with chasing that dream and kind of lose themselves, their human part, their emotions, in the process. Also, there is enormous stress for just one match. Your body endures things that you think are not possible. So, you think: I've done this four times already, and I will do it the fifth time for what purpose? That becomes a real question. That way, I kind of understand him. I don't necessarily approve of how it all played out.

It should have been announced before the end of the Candidates. It kind of messed up everything, including for me. But I don’t blame him personally; I maybe blame FIDE that they could’ve made the regulations stricter. But yeah, you have a right to walk away from a successful TV show, and say, ‘Ah, I don't want to do this anymore’. Yes, chess is a sport, and you’re the No. 1, but at the end of the day it's a profession as well where you can say I've had enough of this job. As long as it’s not damaging to the image of chess.

Have you gone through that lack of motivation at any point in your career?

Yeah, sure. It’s a lot of personal stuff. You really ask yourself, if you die tomorrow, what did you do? I was flying through 50 airports waiting to board some flight, looking at some computer, at some board. Nothing really that contributes to the society as a whole. I mean, I played some interesting games, but it is a game, right? And then you look at someone else who created something and go wow! And what did I do — I created an opening pattern...and I’m not even getting credit for that, by the way. You do feel these things, especially since you put your heart and soul into it.

What was the experience of being Ding’s second? You told him after the tiebreaker that you knew he’d win with black. How much did you ride those emotions and nerves with him?

It will be unprofessional to be emotional. It’s my job not to be, and be as calm and objective as I could. He was super emotional and so were the games. When it comes to stress, of course I felt it. Sometimes, it's more stressful because I'm a chess player and played both of them plenty of times. And sometimes you think ‘decision would I make in that situation?’. Since it was a very intense and difficult match, sometimes the conclusion was that I would make a better decision. And that becomes very frustrating. And it was my role to help him get into a better zone.

Ding had said you were listening to a lot of 80s music together. How much of the discussions revolved around chess, and how much about other things?

I’m not allowed to share too much about the chess part. But on the non-chess part, music generally fascinates me. So, I was happy we shared that common interest. He is a very nice person; I think most players from China are. That's why I was very happy to be in the team with him; I was very happy he won and it worked out well.

There are critics of Ding’s world title in Carlsen’s absence...

For me, being world No.1 shows overall consistency. But playing this kind of a match is a whole different game. I don’t feel like it’s totally misplaced. Sure, the match wasn’t of the highest quality, chess wise. But again, you have no idea how stressful it is once you’re in it. I’m pretty sure the next match will be better quality wise. Result wise this was pretty good!

You’re part of the same team as Anand in the Global Chess League. How different will the team atmosphere feel in chess, which is also focused on the individual?

In chess there are events like the Chess Olympiad and continental championships where you represent your country usually. That is a different vibe. Here, we're together as a team kind of playing for each other. It's individual of course, but you have to look out for your teammate, watch every game on how it goes because ultimately the goal is for your team to win. If you lose and your team wins, it's bittersweet. But there’s still sweet in there, right? The same goes in the reverse! In our team, with Vishy and everyone involved, I'm sure it'll come together in a harmonious way.

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