At the end of this year, I will retire from competitive Chess. I’m not only stopping to earn money by playing chess. I am also stopping to compete in chess tournaments.
This means I will not be part of the Swiss National Team anymore.
I’m not planning to compete in any tournament from 2022 onwards. If I will sit down at a chessboard again, it will most likely be at a beach sipping a refreshing drink.
If you are worried about the future of this blog, then I have good news for you: By stepping down as a professional Chess player I am actually creating more time for the blog.
More to this later.
In this article, I explain my motives and look back on my last 6 years as a professional Chess player. In the end, I will look into the future to what is ahead of me now.
Retiring as a sportsman is no small decision. In a way, you give up part of your identity. But after lots of thought during the pandemic, I came to the conclusion that it is the right and necessary step for me.
Since I played my first European Youth Championship 13 years ago, much of my life was filled up with competitive chess. I played chess, trained chess, and thought about chess.
In the last 6 years, chess was not only my hobby but also my profession. These years went by so fast, yet they were extremely intense. I am truly grateful for all the things I was able to do thanks to my abilities in chess.
I always knew there will be a moment of goodbye.
The moment of goodbye just came earlier than expected for me, and probably also for many of you reading these lines.
It all came down to a question I asked myself over and over again:
What Do I Want To Do With My Life?
Back in 2015 when I chose the path of a professional chess player, I knew what I did not want to do: studying.
The normal way of studying, getting a good job, working your ass off until you are 65 (if you survive that long…), and then hoping to still be fit enough to enjoy some years of freedom did not appeal to me at all.
I have seen enough very rich but unhappy people in my life, to understand that money doesn’t make you happy.
If you want to know why this career path is pretty dangerous, then I can recommend the fantastic book stumbling on happiness by Daniel Gilbert.
Thus it came in handy to use my talent in chess to earn myself a living on my own terms.
Over the past 6 years, I then had dozens of other ideas that appealed to me. But no matter what it was, I put the idea on a paper and stowed it away. Later I told myself.
Because I felt any of these ideas would hinder my own chess development. And I still believe it to be true.
Focusing on one thing at a time is still very dear to my heart.
It just never occurred to me that this one thing does not HAVE to be playing chess professionally.
What I realized in the past months is that these ideas all had one thing in common: they were about connecting to and helping other people.
As much as you can inspire other people as an athlete, directly sharing knowledge is not very common.
Sadly, the life of a professional athlete can be very lonely and disconnected from other people.
Whenever you find a new idea or training routine that works, you need to keep it for yourself to keep the edge over your competitors.
Sharing your knowledge, insights, and weaknesses, like I do on this blog, is generally not a great idea as an Athlete. But I simply could not stop myself from doing so anymore.
And by doing it I realized two things:
- Sharing is so much more pleasing than keeping things to yourself.
- The longer I keep playing Chess professionally, the fewer I can share.
Up to now, I was driven to learn and improve myself, so I can deliver better results.
From now on, I am driven to learn and improve myself, so I can share it with others.
I have never talked much about it publicly. But the last 4 years have been a struggle healthwise for me.
Back in Summer 2017, I hit my head pretty hard. I suffered a severe concussion with long-term effects.
The muscles around my neck and shoulder area are still full of tension. These tensions can then result in unexpected headaches and loss of concentration.
As you can imagine, that is not the best injury for a chess player…
I have tried many things, from physiotherapy to acupuncture, yoga, stretching, dry needling, and much more. While it was hard to focus for 10 minutes straight in 2017, I feel much better now.
But I am by no means back to 100%. In my daily life, it is only a small inconvenience. But in a high concentration sport like chess, it still costs me many points. Especially in time trouble or Blitz & Rapid Chess.
I have the hope that with less stress due to chess tournaments, I will be able to fully recover. Let’s hope this holds true.
What People, Organizations Do I Want To Be Around?
I have been quite vocal on Twitter in the past about some serious problems the professional chess community faces. While this was not the Number one reason for my retirement, I would lie if I would say it didn’t play a role at all.
I want to keep this article on a positive note and I am not ready to provide all the in-depth behind-the-scenes knowledge yet, so I won’t start listing things.
When the time is right, I will try to explain certain things to you guys. Promised.
My main point, for now, is that we can not change everybody around us.
What we can do, is to decide whether we want to be around these people/organizations we would so much like to change.
Remember that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose them wisely!
Looking Back On 6 Very Intense Years
I’m not going to list a bunch of results here. You can go check them out on Wikipedia or anywhere else. A Career is much more than results.
It has been an ecstatic ride with a lot of ups and downs.
I started playing professionally at the tender age of 18 years. Back then I was an unsure teenager, not really knowing what to expect from my future.
Now I am an adult sure of his values and worth to the world. Ready to leave what has been his home for so long. Starting a new adventure, to help as many people as possible to live a worthwhile life.
Instead of having a fixed structure by going to high school, I suddenly had all the freedom some people dream of. But soon I had to learn that just living into the day was not getting me anywhere.
Besides planning my training and tournaments, I needed to market myself and learn to talk to the media.
I am still convinced that thanks to all of these activities, I learned much more than I could ever learn inside a university building.
I might even call these 6-years a sort of Master’s study in “life is fucking hard but beautiful”.
Convincing strangers to support me financially, feeling the reality of burnout, and handling great disappointments are only three things that cannot be learned in theory.
Also because of my special standing in Switzerland as the youngest ever Grandmaster, I got the chance to meet up with some truly amazing human beings. Such as:
- Several current and future Olympic Champions
- One of the most wanted nutritionists in the World, whom I have the pleasure to work with also in the future
- CEO’s of companies ranging from value-driven family businesses to Multi-billion dollar powerhouses
- Friends with great values and a golden heart
All of these learnings would have been impossible without the help of many more special people and organizations.
I would like to thank my parents, friends, sponsors, private supporters, and the foundations that supported and believed in me.
Thanks to my competitors for driving me to get the best out of myself.
And thanks to my amazing team consisting of Chess Coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists, Fitness Coaches, physiotherapists & doctors for making me a better chess player, but above all a better human being.
Thank you to my girlfriend for enduring all the ups and downs with me for almost 5 years now. For standing behind me no matter what and for countless talks that led to this difficult but important decision.
Whenever one door closes, another one opens up.
But before fully closing the door on professional chess, I will enjoy my last European Championship that takes place in Reykjavik from 26.08-04.09.
I will also play one season in the Swiss Team Championship for my childhood Club SK Bern. Any other participation will be decided spontaneously.
As you might guess, I am freeing up a lot of time with this decision. I trained around 30 hours/week, not counting marketing myself, responding to emails, etc.
So what am I going to do with that time?
First of all, I will take a big breather. And then
I will invest the time in this blog.
When I started this blog in March I wanted to share some of my knowledge before I say goodbye. The plan was to share all I knew, so I could feel free to take a new direction in life.
I since started to enjoy writing this blog so much, that I decided to make it a long-term thing.
Obviously, this is also thanks to all of you reading these lines. I never imagined reaching tens of thousands of people each month basically from the get-go.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article and for all the amazing feedback. That really made it easier to take this decision.
Being able to help you guys reach your real potential in chess feels like the right thing to do at this stage of my life.
It is certainly no coincidence that I said I wanted to be an author if I were not a chess player in an interview during the Biel Chess Festival 2020.
Back then I had no intentions whatsoever to end my career that early nor to open a blog. But it seems my unconscious mind was already several steps ahead of me…
Now that I have no worries about giving too much away, you can expect much more content in the coming months and years. I hope to be able to make a difference in your chess journey, but also in how you think about living a worthwhile life.
For me, that means from now on writing about chess and not playing competitive chess anymore. It is still the game I was so fascinated by as a small kid.
Simply another role. Helping people instead of helping myself.
PS: For all of you thinking “Why doesn’t he just train a bit less but still play some tournaments”, the answer lies in this article. I’m not the guy to do too many things at a time. Either I whole-ass one thing or then another.