Very likely, some of my contemporaries might have wondered why I retired from professional tournament chess in 1998. In order not to have to answer respective emails, I decided to pro-actively answer that question on my website, instead.
My decision back then was based on different independent elements. In don’t know exactly which one prevailed, but together they had quite a strong impact.
1. When I signed up for being a professional in the golden eighties, the chess world was still in order for the average western pro. With the opening of the iron curtain, however, everything changed. Many strong eastern European players invaded western European tournaments, tearing big chunks out of the price money. But that was not all, the eastern Europeans were also quite modest an thus destroyed the standards for appearance fees and accommodation. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too lachrymose. It is meant to be a sober description of what happened back then. One should also take into account that the western pros mostly were autodidacts who had to summon up a lot of energy to get there. The eastern European chess culture, on the other hand, was far ahead and brought forward a comprehensive system of training and mentor ships. Also, the social status and social acceptance of chess professionals was clearly better in the East. Suddenly, the western pro had to think about his material existence. That was the second big struggle after the initial one of becoming professional chess player in the first place.
2. But as you know, I didn’t quit in 1990 but many years later, in 1998. When the Russians came I said to myself: “Matthias, don’t whine, simply become a stronger player! You have to obey the laws of the jungle.” After some years of struggling I finally could establish myself beyond 2600 and was successful in four consecutive years at the German Championships (2nd, 3rd, 1th, 1th). After my back to back success in 1996 and 1997 I waited for invitations but they didn’t come. Well, Dortmund asked for my participation but was not willing to pay an appearance fee. They wanted to have the Champion of their country in their tournament, but they didn’t want to pay for it! Please note the following: Since there was only price money for half of the players and I would have had the second lowest rating of the field (after Dortmund’s local hero), my prospects of earning anything at all were extremely slim. Now, please take further into account that such a tournament requires two weeks of preparation, unless you want to be pummeled recklessly. Hence, the whole enterprise would have costed me one entire month of work for absolutely no income in return. My final conclusion was that chess doesn’t pay enough. I really tried it, but it simply didn’t work out for me.
3. Of course, I still could have continued, playing 18 tournaments per year, giving lessons, writing a bit and inserting a simul here and there. For a single person with enough talent, chess surely works out. But the thing is, I wanted to have a family and simply didn’t see the feasibility here. An ugly rich woman was not an option.
4. The last factor was the danger of lopsidedness a live as chess professional could bring about. I really didn’t want to die as a chess idiot one day. Well, I know, this is more of a luxury problem, since you find it in most professions, and basically, people have to live with it. But I always felt, there is so much more in this world apart from chess. This feeling of restlessness surely played some part in the whole equation.
So far, so good, you might think, but what makes him “returning” to the world of chess, after all?
Let me start like this: I never really left the world of chess. It was always a part of me. But I had to put in on ice, otherwise I couldn’t have achieved what I wanted to do. That was simply a question of energy.
After I paused with chess, I did the following (in non-chronological order):
– I founded a familly (I have a 3 year old boy and a girl of the same age)
– I learned Spanish and a “quarter” Dutch.
– I privately studied economics and politics.
– I changed my social/political worldview completely.
– I had one successful year as poker professional, before I had to stop for the task below.
– I helped to build up a big online poker school.
– I engaged in an real-estate platform start-up (this was failure, though, due to the burst of the dot.com bubble in 2000).
– I helped to build up a trading company.
My current business obligations amount to 10 hours per week with a tendency to fade. So what do I do with the rest of my time except for spending it with my family. What do I do with the rest of my life?
Since I don’t have the appetite anymore to learn completely new things, I decided to devote a big chunk of my time to one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life, to the activity that feels like a hobby, even if you are working, to the one thing I always could do best and always will do best: chess.
My ambition is to write a few books and start to play holiday tournaments, once my opening repertoire will have reached 2600 standard again. I also want to improve my internet blitz, in which I am pretty bad (too slow), but which I find very attractive due to its availability. Finally, I will resume my activities as a personal trainer.