Tuesday, 30th May 2023 01:54
Home / Magnus Carlsen’s new chapter in poker: Chess legend’s first interview as a former World Champion

The morning of Monday, May 1, 2023, was the first morning for 3,445 days that Magnus Carlsen woke up and was not the chess World Champion. And how did he begin the rest of his life? What did he do on the first day after his 10-year reign came to an end?

He decided to spend the day playing poker.

Carlsen, by common agreement the best chess player of all time, chose the PokerStars European Poker Tour (EPT) Monte Carlo Main Event to start this new chapter. It’s a €5,300 buy-in tournament with 1,098 entries and €890,000 for first place.

The poker tournament began on the same day that China’s Ding Liren defeated Russia’s Ian Nepomniatchi in Kazakhstan to become his country’s first chess World Champion. Those two were only able to face off against one another because Carlsen, a four-time World Champion and the highest-rated player of all time, shocked the chess world by announcing he had no intention of defending it for a fifth time.

As the two chess Grand Masters completed their two-week series, the 32-year-old from Tønsberg, Norway — the former World Champion — hopped on a plane to Monaco and entered the EPT Main Event.

And Carlsen is no poker rookie. He made it through the first day of play before surging up the chip counts on Day 2 as the tournament moved closer towards the money (159 players will make the money, winning at least €8,700).

But what are his plans in poker? How similar is poker to chess really, in terms of his stress levels and study? And which top chess player does he think would make the best poker player?

We spoke with Carlsen to find out.


This might be Carlsen’s first time playing an EPT Main Event, but he actually came to this very same venue (the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo, home of the iconic Salle des Etoiles) back in 2007, when he was just 18.

“I was playing a chess tournament here and I came over to watch the EPT because Alexander Grischuk — who back then was a top 10 player and is still a very, very good chess player — was playing the EPT Main Event.”

Carlsen popped in to watch his friend and rival as he swapped chess pieces for chips, and it was there that the prodigy was first introduced to the game.

According to Carlsen, there are lots of chess players who have taken a stab at poker, and not just recreationally. It’s evident here at EPT Monte Carlo, where we have PokerStars Team Pro Jennifer Shahade (an acclaimed author and Woman Grandmaster in chess) and popular content creator and accomplished chess player Alexandra Botez in the Main Event field.

Over the past few years, Carlsen has decided to join them. He’s been playing more and more poker, from the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event to cash games on live streams. However, he’s not exactly dreaming big.

“I have no ambitions in poker,” Carlsen says, chuckling. “I like playing it, it’s an interesting challenge, but I have no ambitions.”

Magnus Carlsen talking to PokerStars Blog at EPT Monte Carlo (May 2, 2023)

We ask Carlsen, of the top chess players in 2023, who does he think would make the best poker player?

“I think the current world champion Ding could be a really strong poker player,” he says. “I know from talking to him that he calculates really quickly in chess and he’s really, really good at math, so I’m sure he could do well.”


The cash game streams on which Carlsen has featured – including Hustler Casino Live – saw him play with a line-up of confident content creators and poker pros. Needless to say, cameras were everywhere. 

But it was just another day in the life of Magnus Carlsen, who is used to playing live-streamed chess matches, both in person and online. He admits he doesn’t take a lot of pride in his poker playing, therefore having his play live-streamed is like water off a duck’s back.

“I’m just trying to learn a little bit so it doesn’t bother me that much,” he says. “If I do something really stupid then that’s to be expected, so that’s fine.”

For someone so methodical, we imagine that the limited information and variance involved in poker would be incredibly frustrating, perhaps even more so than it is for the rest of us. As the greatest chess player in the world, and of his generation, he’s used to using his brain to get the desired result. But in poker, the control is out of his hands. Does he like the uncertainty?

“I actually think the similarities between poker and chess are more than people think,” he says. “Of course, there’s perfect information in chess, but still, you make a lot of decisions based on imperfect calculation, so in that sense, it’s a little bit of the same.”

Carlsen swaps the board for the felt in Monaco

His calculation was spot on in a particular hand he played on a recent live stream. It involved him making a big hero call on the river of an 84K910 with just 34 for bottom pair, to win a pot worth just shy of $14,000.

“I thought there weren’t many obvious bluffs,” Carlsen says. “I thought he was the type of player who would showdown some weak one-pair hands. So I thought there was a reasonable chance he was bluffing. Sometimes, as a weak player, you just feel it. And sometimes you’re right.”


When asked for his sporting heroes, Carlsen stops to think. And we start thinking too. 

Is he going to say Michael Jordan for his domination? Muhammed Ali for his charisma? Serena Williams for her incredible consistency?

“It’s a really good question,” Carlsen says. “Generally, I admire what people do rather than the people themselves. But I think Rafa Nadal in tennis has a style that inspired me a little bit. Being extremely tenacious and hard to break down. So maybe him.”

Those characteristics are certainly true of Carlsen in chess. But he admits it might take a bit of work for him to get there in poker too.

“I don’t really study, I probably should,” he says, laughing. “But I enjoy learning and talking to people about the hands that I’ve played.”


Carlsen’s love of poker really picked up during the pandemic, when he started playing more online with friends. One thing he didn’t like? The shot clock.

“I found it really stressful,” he admits. “In chess, I usually more or less know what I’m doing.”

Now he’s swapped poker on his iPad for the EPT Main Event, and he’s getting used to the downtime in between hands. 

Magnus Carlsen: “I enjoy learning and talking to people about the hands that I’ve played.”

When he’s playing chess, Carlsen almost always remains focused on the board when it’s his opponent’s turn to act, despite having a greater understanding of what’s going on than anyone on the planet. We wondered how he spends the time in between poker hands.

“That’s a very difficult question,” he says. “Usually when I play blitz chess online, or even rapid or bullet, I like to listen to music. It helps me calm down and I just use my instinct. 

“But in poker, I’m not sure. I feel like I have to think more as I have less knowledge, so having some of that noise might just distract me. So I just try to sit there and follow what’s happening.”

Being at the poker table, soaking it all in, seems like a welcome break from the attention Carlsen usually receives. But that might change if he goes on to win the EPT Monte Carlo Main Event.

If he pulls it off, he’ll have a new championship title to defend.

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