I just beat a chess grandmaster. Sort of. Play Magnus is a new app that lets you challenge a digital version of reigning chess world champion Magnus Carlsen on your iPhone. Playing against Carlsen, who holds the highest rating of any grandmaster ever, might not sound like a fair match, but Play Magnus actually allows you to challenge the champion at various stages in his career.
Herein lies the app's genius. There are 19 Carlsens to choose from, each representing the grandmaster's playing style at that age. I consider myself an adequate chess player and brushed aside the five-year-old Carlsen in seconds. This gave me a big confidence boost and the gumption to skip through to challenge the 10-year-old version. Although still three years away from becoming a grandmaster, at age 10 Carlsen offers a strong challenge. After a hard-fought contest, I ended up resigning to save face and have since defeated the nine-year-old instead.
Carlsen wants to inspire and encourage a new generation
Play Magnus is a lot of fun for anyone even remotely interested in chess. The real target for the app is younger players; Carlsen wants to inspire and encourage a new generation of would-be grandmasters. Nonetheless, for those of us that'll never be able to play chess at a professional level, it excels as a profile of a true master of the game. Each "level' is accompanied by a short biography, and playing the various ages allows you to see Carlsen's playing style and prowess grow. Pretty much everyone will be able to best the earliest levels with some practice, and Carlsen offers tutorials to help you improve your skills. Although a few are available for free, many of these tutorials are priced at $0.99, and it's here that the free app hopes to make its money (it also lets you remove in-game advertisements for $0.99).
After this initial launch, Play Magnus's developers will add competitive online multiplayer, which will at least offer some respite from the constant defeats. Oh, and if you're interested, present-day digital Carlsen beat me in just 10 moves — one more than the real-life grandmaster took to best Bill Gates.