What's wrong with Carlsen?


Anyone who is following the super tournament Norway Chess is probably surprised to see that the world's number one and triple world champion Magnus Carlsen is having an extraordinarily bad tournament, and is currently close to last place. Several people have asked what the reason for this may be, and there does not seem to be a clear answer.

In his post game interview on a competing chess site, Carlsen commented on this.

I am feeling quite ok. There isn't any reason why I should be playing particularly badly. - Magnus Carlsen

However, I have a theory about what could be wrong. I think he is just bored and wants to challenge himself. Let me elaborate...

My theory is based on a book that may or may not (!) be fictional. The book is called God's debris, and is written by Scott Adams (the guy who created the Dilbert comic). In this book, Adams asks the rhetorical question: What does a supreme being do for fun? What would you do if you had unlimited power and could do anything you wanted. Well, you could create a universe with planets, galaxies, black holes and so on. And people (and other beings) to populate it. Then you could create quantum physics and other stuff to mindfork everyone, just for fun. But then what? Can you think of a way to challenge yourself beyond that?

Well, Scott Adams has a suggestion for the ultimate challenge. You could try to destroy yourself. Is that even possible? If you are omnipotent, you are probably indestructible. Or are you? It's like asking what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. If you have all the power in the universe, you just have to try. Right?

My theory is that Magnus Carlsen is in a very similar position. He has been at the top of the rating list for years. He became world champion, and then defended his title. And he became world champion in rapid and blitz as well. So what is left? Is there a limit to his chess powers? Could he self destruct? Well, that is what I think he is doing right now. He is too bored with being at the top of the chess universe, so he wants to stir things up a little.

After today's game agains Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Carlsen said:

To play this line you need to be in some kind of self-punishing mood. [...] It's about finishing [the tournament] with some positive experiences. Any hope of playing a good tournament is gone. - Magnus Carlsen

This is far from the fighting spirit that Carlsen is known for, which indicates that he has different agenda.

However, the ultimate challenge remains. According to Scott Adams' book, the universe as we see it is in fact made up of God's debris (hence the title). God was bored, and self destructed. Now he is trying to put himself together. If he can do that, he is truly omnipotent. I think Carlsen was inspired and wanted to see if he could do the same.