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Players who have quit, or you never hear about anymore

User Rating: / 24
Written by Administrator   
Monday, 03 March 2014
By GM Daniel Gormally, England.
Best rating: FIDE 2573

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As I've suggested on this thread many times it's more or less impossible to make a decent living as a chess player, unless you are rated in the top twenty in the world.

Demis Hassapis is a former chess prodigy who recently sold his company to Google for £400 million. Demonstrating that if you have the brainpower to be good at chess, you are far better off putting that intelligence to use in some other activity where you might actually get rewarded. Then in fairness, even most strong chess players aren't as bright as Demis.

If the parent's of some promising young chess player came to me for advice on how whether or not their kid should become a chess player, I'd strongly advise against it. Far better to be an amateur, than suffer the trial's and tribulations of being a chess pro without any real money to show for it.

In recent years we've seen even very strong Grandmasters give up playing chess for a living, to pursue another vocation with a more secure financial grounding.

Anyone remember the Dutch Grandmaster Jeroen Piket, for example?

Jeroen Piket, remember him?

Piket was a strong Dutch Grandmaster who was very strong in the 1990's, and competed in some of the strongest events of all. He is perhaps best known for losing a game in the King's Indian against the master, Kasparov, where he ran into a brilliant ...Nh1!! ambush.

According to his Wikipedia page, Piket retired from professional chess to become the personal secretary of the extremely rich Dutch billionare Joop Van Oosterom. Nice work if you can get it, but I wonder if Piket ever misses playing chess? I bet he does at times.

Joel Lautier in once was what a typical pose.

Another guy who was big in the Nineties, and who is also more or less retired now, is French Grandmaster Joel Lautier.

Lautier beat Kasparov a couple of times, but has now quit chess and joined the business world, and is currently working in Russia. There's a lot of money out there if you have the right contacts, so good luck to him.

In England, the two players who spring to mind most readily are Matthew Sadler and Luke McShane.

Matthew Sadler worked with Lautier on a regular basis but although was a very strong Grandmaster who got to the heights of 2680, decided that it would be better to have a regular income, quit playing professionally and got a job working in I.T. instead. Matthew still plays occasionally in the English and Dutch leagues, as well as the odd tournament, but is nothing like as prolific as he was.

It's interesting that even Grandmasters as strong as Sadler and Lautier decided that they'd be better off doing something else other than chess. It does make me wonder what I'm doing even bothering to continue to play chess, as I'm nothing like as strong as they are.

I could work extremely hard in an effort to improve at chess, for years, and never get near their level. And they have quit anyway! Depressing.

If there's another reason why a player might quit, it may be that they've "hit a wall" and realise that they will struggle to improve. Once you get to a certain age your strength is pretty much set. It's easy to improve bundles when you're 16-17, not so much when you're 25/26 (even less so when you're an old fossil like me at 37 )

It's interesting and possibly significant that Sadler quit professional chess just after he played in the Monaco Amber tournament for the first time. Perhaps he realised coming up against these guy's like Kramnik and Anand, these mega talents, that he'd never quite break into the Super Super elite of the chess world. There was a level he could never get to, that's beyond mere hard work.

That isn't meant as a insult, because it's true that only very few can inhabit the top echelon in world chess. If it wasn't, we'd all take turns to be up there.

Sadler always had a incredible work ethic. He said in an interview recently that he enjoys playing as an amateur in contrast to his days as a full time pro, when he used to work for "ten hours a day and incredibly intensively"

Scary stuff! He probably realised there wasn't much improvement left. He'd have been able to stay around the high 2600 level, maybe break into the low 2700's but decided that he could make a better living doing I.T.

Matthew is one of the nicest and most honest of the strong grandmasters, so good on him. He remains a formidable Grandmaster even now.

I have no idea what standard Matthew is at I.T. but it doesn't really matter. It stands to reason that in pretty much every other profession you can think of, you will get rewarded better than chess. The 5,000 best computer programmer in the U.K, will probably make far more per annum than a chess grandmaster.

Luke McShane- the strongest chess amateur in the world?

Luke McShane is another story, as he didn't really bother to become a full time pro in the first place, deciding almost immediately to go into a successful career in the banking industry. Luke is one of the most talented chess players I have ever come across, and I first played him at the old Chess and Bridge center in Clapham many moons ago.

I used to bunk off school to go up there, and I was about 12 at the time when Julian Simpole told me there was a six year old kid who was very gifted, and would I give him a game? I recall smashing this tiny kid with the King's Indian. Perhaps I inspired him to take up the opening himself?

Subsequent encounters have tended to end in crushing defeats for Luke, and he's now arguably the strongest chess amateur in the world, having beaten most of the very top players in the world, like Aronian, Kramnik and Carlsen.

But again another loss to the chess world. How high could he have reached if he had fully devoted himself to the game? We'll never know but my guess is he'd at the very least have reached 2770. Word is the top guys rate him very highly.

Of course financial reasons isn't the only reason someone might retire from chess. The most famous retiree of course is Bobby Fischer, but he gave up chess for very complex reasons that may never be completely understood. Certainly not for money reasons that's clear to see, as he missed out on big bucks matches with Karpov by declining to play chess altogether.

I think it's a hard life to be a chess pro. You have to push yourself, you have to motivate yourself to work on the game constantly. It's also a lot of sitting around at home, with the lack of social interaction that inevitably entails. You get bored and turn on yourself at times. I don't think it's a natural way to live.

Such a life isn't for everyone and increasingly I don't think it's for me either. The biggest challenge I face is to find an adequate replacement that will stimulate me intellectually like chess as does, but also provide some kind of financial independence.

Not an easy task....

Originally published in GM Danny Gormally's blog

Other posts by GM Danny Gormally:
Could you work as hard on chess as Kramnik?
Bobby Fischer vs. Hikaru Nakamura: Theoretical Match-up
Interesting thoughts of Anand in defeat
London Chess Classic Preview
Losing your motivation
Playing blitz chess online & all the computer cheats
Anand-Carlsen borefest continues
Magnus, is this all he has?
A clash of kings
Do we overrate ourselves?
Computers and their all-pervading influence on modern chess
From Russia with love
The England Chess Team & Jack Wilshire
Should the grandmaster title be scrapped?
ECF Book of the Year?
Is being a chess pro worth it - continued?
Is being a chess pro worth it?
An Elitist Game?
Does hard work in chess pay off?
World Cup Final preview
World Chess Cup Semi-Final preview
World Chess Cup Quarter-Final preview
World Chess Cup 1/8-final preview
Why are Russians so good at chess?
British Champs-2013
Ghent and now the British
I'll never be fat again!
Lessons learnt!
The sad case of Borislav Ivanov: Part II
Does Anyone Have a Cure for Anger Problems?
The Depth of Chess
Fundraising in chess
Nurturing a Chess Prodigy
The Sad Case of Borislav Ivanov
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men - Part II
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men
One move, one line - Part II
One move, one line
Candidates Final Review & Preview of Upcoming World Championship Match
Would Carlsen have beaten Capablanca?

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Comments (7)
1. Written by Peter on 14:03 03 2014 .
Excellent post, as always.  
Summary of reasons why elite chess players quit the game: 
1. Financial - not earning enough money. 
2. Losing interest in the game. Typical examples: getting tired of studying chess; not living up to one's expectations; becoming passionate about something else. 
3. Health issues - not being able to play. 
4. Family problems or different lifestyle preferences - it is hard to maintain good family relationships when a member of the family is away all the time, participating in tournaments. 
5. Psychological breakdowns - notable examples are Morphy, Fischer and Salov.
2. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 16:08 03 2014 .
Three Americans from a generation ago who I can name are: 
1) Michael Wilder 
2) Stuart Rachels 
3) Ken Rogoff 
I think all of them simply had more productive, less artsy things to do with their lives and were all were reasonably successful at their other careers. They might have viewed chess mostly as an adolescent hobby and decided that it was too hard to continue at the level that Euwe was able to. Rogoff, in particular, is a well known outside of chess as a former chief economist at the IMF, and is now a professor at Harvard.
3. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 00:20 04 2014 .
Thank you Peter. I didn't realise that Salov had a breakdown.
4. Written by Peter on 10:28 04 2014 .
You are welcome, Daniel! 
Salov had very sophisticated theories about the plot of Jews to take over the world, including chess. Ritual thrown games, etc. He believed that Kasparov has asked most of the leading organizers not to invite him to the same tournaments as himself, basically ruining his career. That's a long story... 
Now Salov is managing a special forum where he and his supporters discuss all sorts of details of the "sionist plot".
5. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 11:36 04 2014 .
Lol! Sounds a bit like this: 
6. Written by Davor Palo on 12:19 04 2014 .
Hello Daniel. Nice article! I think that most strong chess players think about these things quite frequently. I've kinda been there myself, but I don't think that it has to be so white/black.  
Right now I enjoy the benefits that chess can offer me, but make sure to have projects on the side. Some balance is always good. 
Best Wishes, 
7. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 00:43 05 2014 .
Thank you Davor. Best of luck to you too!

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