Rey Enigma Travels To New York, Plays GothamChess, Talks To Chess.com


Rey Enigma, the king of mystery, is a player that many chess fans are talking about—but (almost) nobody knows who he is. Wearing his signature full-body suit that resembles him to some sort of superhero, he traveled from Spain to New York at the start of 2022 primarily to meet and play with IM Levy Rozman (Gothamchess), and perhaps to gain greater international recognition.

During his one week in New York, he visited popular destinations such as the Marshall Chess Club, the Chess Forum, Central Park, Times Square, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Before playing Rozman in a blitz match, which he won with a 3-1 score, he shared some thoughts about the shape of his nascent journey and his passion for chess.

The masked player is somewhat paradoxical: on the one hand, he takes every painstaking precaution to keep his identity safe, but he is charismatic and open to talking about his activities as long as his answers never let slip even a hint of his true identity. In New York, he traveled with two men, looking to be in their late 20s or 30s, who worked as his camera crew and always stuck close behind. When I snapped a few photos of him, he told me that he closes his eyes for photos to make sure his face stays hidden.

Rey Enigma in Washington Square Park, New York. Photo: Anthony Levin/Chess.com.

The shape of his ears, even, were impossible to make out because he seemed to have some sort of stuffing or covering under the mask. He spoke in a high-pitched voice similar to Nintendo’s Mario character—and often uses a voice modulator in his videos—although rarely, when he coughed or cleared his throat, one could hear a very deep, almost baritone voice croak out.

Rey Enigma and yours truly in Washington Square Park, New York. Photo: Anthony Levin/Chess.com.

Despite his secrecy, he was extremely open to talk and answered virtually every question (with the occasional “that’s an enigma” response). He has been posting content for almost a year, but he said that after leaving his digital marketing job in September 2021, he dove fully into the masked persona without grand expectations and he himself was surprised with how quickly it blew up.

Rey Enigma just moments before he beat me four times in a row. Photo: Anthony Levin/Chess.com.

Rey Enigma currently boasts over 700k followers on TikTok (he said this was where his success really started), with hundreds of thousands of followers on other major social media outlets at the time of this article’s publication. He also started his own website with instructive chess videos.

His presence in the chess community grew further in December 2021 when he played the 12th World Champion GM Anatoly Karpov live on television in Spain’s Got Talent. Interestingly, he mentioned he did not know who his opponent would be until he was presented on stage—what a surprise!

Mistakes here and there happened naturally over the course of the televised blitz game, but the crowning moment had to be the 43rd move. Karpov, fully in control, erred with 43…Nf4??, which would have lost on the spot to 44.Re3, with a deadly skewer (see diagram below).

Instead, this was missed as both players were in desperate time trouble and with no increment, and Rey Enigma reached an equal endgame where he unfortunately fell into a surprising rook trap. Incredibly, the game was a draw because Karpov ran out of time with insufficient mating material for his opponent.

After this game, some top chess players caught on to the hype. Among other popular streamers speculating about the strength and identity of the anonymous player, GM Hikaru Nakamura said on his stream: “The reason I say he cannot be a GM is because I feel that the tactical awareness was a little bit low… there were a couple tactical oversights that I felt someone who’s a GM would have seen,” but seemed to backtrack several minutes later, acknowledging that stress must have affected his play against Karpov, and admitting from his own games against the masked player that “he played the endgame much better than I expected… it’s hard to judge [how good he really is].”

For what it’s worth, he beat the author of this article 4-0, even despite playing openings unfamiliar to him (so that he cannot be identified). He’s posted videos of games with several chess grandmasters and personalities and mentioned he’s reached out to WFM Alexandra Botez about playing here in person in Los Angeles. In New York, he played Gothamchess twice.

After their friendly match ended in a score of 2-2, they decided to have a rematch for $1000. In an email, Rey Enigma humbly confessed: “Levy was won in almost all the games! I was just quicker in time troubles.” He won with a score of 3-1.

The players bump fists after a game at the Marshall Chess Club, New York. Photo: Anthony Levin/Chess.com.

How good is he? Your guess is as good as mine, but his latest matches should give chess fans an idea—he is, at least, a titled player.

He kindly answered the questions below.

1. What made you decide to take on this anonymous identity? What is the message you intend to spread or convey?

I wanted to do something different in the chess community. I knew that there were a lot of chess content creators so I came up with this idea to make it original. My intention is to convey that chess is so fun and exciting to play.

2. Was there a specific reason you came to New York? Will you be traveling to other places after your time here? Is this going to be a tour of some sort?

My plan is to spread chess around the world and coming to NY was an excellent opportunity to do so while visiting one of the most beautiful cities in the world. One of the main reasons was to meet Levy (GothamChess) in person since I’ve looked up to him since I started as Rey Enigma.

3. You’ve already risen to extreme popularity, and quickly. You’ve played some big names like Karpov, Nakamura, and now Rozman. You’ve met Magnus Carlsen. What is the next step?

It was completely unbelievable for me that in less than a year I could meet all of these names, I’m really grateful to them for their readiness to do so. Not sure about my next steps, but what I can say is that I’ll put all my efforts into bringing chess to as many places all over the world as possible!

4. Do your friends and family know your identity? If not, how did you manage to travel so secretly?

Only eight people know my real identity: my family and very close friends. When I travel, I prepare everything to be able to give some excuses, especially to my chess friends. I have some tricks to mislead that I cannot reveal .

5. What was it like to play Anatoly Karpov? What were your expectations going into the game and how do you feel afterwards?

The game with Karpov was extremely tense for me. Of course, I enjoyed so much playing a world champion, but it was the most important challenge of my life. When I blundered my rook, I felt real fear, but fortunately, I managed to hold the draw in a dramatic ending.

6. Many have speculated about your strength as a chess player, some players wondering if you are a GM or IM. Could you give us a hint about what your FIDE rating is, perhaps a range?

I’ve heard all kinds of speculations about my level, from amateur players to Magnus Carlsen’s level . Of course, it’s not either case, but I’m happy to see that the range is so wide that they cannot narrow the search, so I prefer to leave it like this!

7. Everybody knows about you and yet nobody knows who you are. Is it difficult, for you personally, to remain anonymous?

It has been very tough to hide myself this year. I had to make a lot of sacrifices—for example, my social life. I had more meetings as Rey Enigma than I have with my real identity! Also, I’ve been working for more than 14-15 hours a day since I started this.

8. Do you have personal chess goals? Are you an active tournament player (under your real identity)?

Sure, I love chess, so I try to play as much as possible. Also, as any chess player, I have my own goals and I want to improve my level. I wish I could train more, but it’s very hard for me to save time to do it.

9. Chess has undergone quite a boom in popularity during the pandemic, especially online. Would you like to share any thoughts about chess during the pandemic and the direction this surge in popularity may take?

I think chess is a perfect sport for the technology era. It’s very easy to practice, to learn, and it’s free! I’m convinced that chess will grow a lot in the next few years and will become even more popular.

10. Do you have a Chess.com account?

Yes, I have an account with my real identity, which was created many years ago .

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