Reader comments on 'Chess on TV'

1/12/2007 – Our ChessBase Workshop column concerning Rapid Transit chess as the "ideal" form for televised events has generated an enormous amount of reader e-mails. Columnist Steve Lopez presents a selection of reader responses (and his own replies) in the latest ChessBase Workshop.

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READER COMMENTS ON "CHESS ON TV?"

by Steve Lopez

Awhile back I wrote a ChessBase Workshop column entitled "Chess on TV?" I'll admit that I occasionally write things here just to stir the proverbial pot, but in this case (despite my usual lighthearted method of presentation; i.e. lots of quips and one-liners) I'm totally serious about what I wrote. I do think that Rapid Transit chess is an ideal form for the televised presentation of our game. If you haven't yet read that previous column, go back and take a look, then come back here for the reader responses.

I opened the e-mail box one day, unaware that the column had been published overnight, and found a veritable barrage of messages about that column. I was expecting the usual "You're an idiot" comments that typically follow one of my soapbox rants and that's cool -- we don't always have to agree. But this time you guys and gals really stunned me with your e-mails.

So here we go. As usual, my replies will be italicized.


Yooo,

The quote 'why must I lose to this idiot' could have been repeated by Alekhine, but must be atributed to Aaron Nimzovitch.

Ciao,
Matt Freeke
Netherlands

I received several similar e-mails (including one from my old friend Henri Arsenault) and I'll cop to a possible (probable) error here. It seems like everytime that quote comes up on a chess message board and it's attributed to Nimzo, a pile of people chime in and say it was Alekhine. So I'm sorry if I got it wrong; I'll confess that I've never seen that anecdote anywhere in print, only on the Interrant, and I just went with the majority.

But I'll take this opportunity to share one of my favorite chess stories. Nimzovich was playing in a tournament in which no smoking was allowed. So right in the middle of his game against Milan Vidmar, ol' Vidmar takes this big old stogie out of his pocket and just lays it on the table right next to the chessboard -- he doesn't light it or anything, just lays it there in full view of Nimzovich. Nimzo freaks out, jumps up and runs to the tournament director to complain.

"But he's not smoking it," the tournament director says.

"No!" Nimzo cries. "But he's threatening to smoke!!!"

Thereby proving what Nimzo said in his books: the threat really is stronger than the execution.

I love that story. That one gets attributed to Alekhine a lot too, but I guarantee you it was Nimzo. That one came out of either Saidy's The World of Chess or Hartston's The Kings of Chess -- I forget which, since I read them back to back.

It's easy to mix up the antics of both Alekhine and Nimzovich. I once wrote a piece about how Nimzo was actually a pretty good guy (and most of the period accounts bear this out), really just a wounded soul who sometimes did questionable things without really meaning to hurt anybody. Alekhine? Well, he was just a natural jerk.

My $0.02 on that. Thanks for writing, Matt (and you other folks), and setting me straight. -- SL


I'm a teacher in Canada who's now gotten back into chess after many years away from it - it's been fun getting reacquainted with the game I love (Kasparov retired? What?) after being away for so long - your editorial was brilliant and I too caught those PBS K vs. K broadcasts...

Our version of ESPN in Canada (called TSN - The Sports Network) televised the candidates matches from St. John's in Canada during the '90's I think - the one where Nigel Short and Artur Jusopov and Jan Timman were playing... it was well done and I remember there was some blitz stuff featured - that worked so well.

I think part of the allure of poker unfortunately is the "big money" - this makes for interesting high-stakes watching on t.v. - kinda like the gambling scene in a James Bond movie when you're really wondering who's going to crack - I think if chess had big money attached to it, that would make it more compelling viewing...

Just like poker on tv works now thanks to those "lipstick cams" at table level that allow you to see the cards when the player checks them, chess too needs to be maximized thanks to the media - I think chess works really well online - imagine if you could follow a match live with video feed and PGN at the same time, getting commentary that included analysis and possible lines that could be taken - it would be ultimate experience in terms of trying to get into the heads of the players... (for slow games, of course - not rapid).

Thanks for your humor and your keen observations - I remember Mednis being "ultra-cool" as you put it... maybe some televised Man vs. Machine matches too would be of interest as the recent films seem to have garnered some interest...

Great job - keep writing!

Hmm.. Am wondering now if maybe Jennifer Tilly knows how to play chess, too?

Best, Mark Hlousek

Thanks for the e-mail! You guys up north had the St. Johns event on TV???? Man, you're lucky. That was a great set of matches.

The money allure in poker is certainly a part of it, but (speaking here just for myself and my poker-crazy friends) it's certainly not all of it. We usually don't even notice the prize pool unless it's the Main Event at the World Series of Poker (nearly 9,000 players this year and a cool $12 million for first place). As for our own games, we don't even play for money -- just chips and bragging rights -- but the games are still pretty intense. I approach poker as I do chess -- it's not about money, it's about skill. But I'm sure that plenty of people out there would be more serious about chess coverage if there was big money involved, no doubt.

I miss Edmar Mednis a lot. Nobody could pull off a disgusted look like Edmar could whenever a player made a "fishy" move. Edmar would look straight ahead with a expression like he'd just smelled something pretty rank. It never got old and would crack me up every time.

Does Jenny-Jenny play chess? Oh, man, I hope so -- that would be so far beyond merely "cool"... -- SL


You are one of the best writers of chess on the web! This column is terrific and captures the essence of why Poker and Chess on TV aren't on a level field. A visitor from Europe wanted to see an American Football game. After we went, he was very disappointed at how long the game was and how much inaction there was. He had been used to watching a highlight package show where a whole game was reduced to the key drives which along with slo-motion replays made nearly every game fascinating. Of course a real game was lots of sitting around; trying to figure out who actually had the ball, etc.

Your rapid transit idea is a good one and a nice break from the usual speed game and eliminates one major problem with blitz - being beaten by the clock despite having a preponderance of material - few things are as frustrating in life!

Thanks again for a great column!

Julian Wan

Thanks Julian! At the risk of starting another barrage of e-mails, I'm a former soccer fan (the reasons why I strayed need not be discussed here) who was often called upon to defend my sport by American Football fans. Cutting to the chase, I often got the comment that soccer is "boring" and I just plain never understood that. In soccer there's always something going on -- it's a thousand little battles that make up a larger war. And I always got the hoary old "low scoring in soccer" rant. I'd reply "What would you say about a defensive 7-0 football game?" and they'd always say, "That'd be a great game!" I'd say "One-nil in soccer, man", then smile and walk away.

I loved US Football when I was younger, but I don't have the patience for the delays anymore. And that's why I lose patience with chess on TV at classic time controls. The last time I saw Kasparov playing against a computer (early '03 it was) on TV, he offered a draw (which was accepted) right out of the opening after a very long think. I'd been screaming "f4 you doof! Push the pawn to f4!" at my TV all the while. Later GM and computer analysis agreed that f4 was the way to go, which was gratifying to me, but wasn't worth the 45 or so minutes I remember investing on just that single move (never mind everything leading up to it) to see an early draw.

Sorry, but watching a player taking a loooooong think at the chessboard is like watching paint dry. If we want a TV audience, we need to find a happy medium between super-fast games in which nobody knows what's happening and the extended thinkfests that we've seen in the past. -- SL


I think you have come up with a really great idea. I can't wait to see it on the tube.

Will Saxe


Part of the problem is that not everybody in the house wants to watch chess. What I would really like to see is something like the chess channel, and rebroadcasts on the internet. The rebroadcasts could be similar to the lectures on chess.fm, where the host can have guests and talk about the positions and current theory, etc. This way the uninitiated can get the juicy gossip like "so and so played this crappy line a couple months back, and so and so is hoping to do this to him if he tries that again!". The game is much better watched with all the rumours, and grudges throwed in. Picture this "(We now go to Vishy on the phone) Vishy, did you hear that Leko was planning on taking your Queen for a Rook, Bishop, and two pawns if you played 17...Ng5, only to trap both your rooks out of the game and force a checkmate? (Vishy responds) Leko is a big dope, I've got something for him next time he tries to play the Scotch against me!" Can you imagine the reporters getting the players fired up saying "Did you know that so and so said you're lazy and stupid for trying to play the Elephant Gambit at this level?" You know one thing is for sure, Chessmasters are very opinionated, and they'll stick their foot in their own mouth constantly. Reporters again "So and so, we have one of your games on screen for the folks at home, do you remember last summer when Kasparov beat you with the Elephant Gambit in 14 moves, can you recall why you played ...d5???" It would be hilarious listening to the excuses, stammering, anger, etc. How about an hour of chess bloopers and practical jokes? Here's a picture of Nigel after the game, Nigel went on to say that his allergies were probably to blame for his blunder. Now that's entertainment! Forget the purists, we don't want computer chess, we want to see people screw up, just like we do!

My two cents!
Wayne King

That's some hilarious stuff, Wayne! I don't think we need to turn chess into pro wrestling, but on poker broadcasts we get some really outrageous comments and behavior from the players -- and I'll admit that's half the reason I watch (Mike Matusow's comments about Phil Helmuth are priceless). Would that "hurt" chess? That depends on your point of view. I've been taking a small level of flak for years about my approach to chess (and to writing about chess, as does my friend Mig Greengard). Chess is great, it's historical, it's culturally significant, but that doesn't mean that we need to take a 100% "1800's drawing room" approach to it. There's a lot of humor involved in this game. The guys I used to hang out with at chess tournaments were the funny, outspoken guys (shout out here to my old friend Lew Hucks!), the guys you could laugh and cut up with between rounds or after the tournament, the real characters, not the stodgy guys whose lives seemed to revolve around the "proper" twelfth move in an obscure variation of the King's Gambit. When we all get to the other side, I'll bet more of us will be hanging out with Tal than with Botvinnik (with no disrespect or offense intended toward the latter).

I think TV needs that. At least the people who aren't hardcore chess fans will need it if we expect them to tune in. Sports rivalries put butts in the seats and "characters" drive those rivalries.

Of course, there's always the off chance that you're just pulling my leg here. If so, you earned the right to toss a big "Gotcha!" back at me. If not, I honestly think you're on the right track here -- at least the same track I'm on, right or wrong. It's worth a shot. Thanks for writing! -- SL


Of course Poker is big at the moment, but it will not last. Already the P.C. brigade are working hard to sterilise Poker into a dress coded, behaviour coded, epitome of boredom.

Sport needs the Fischers, Bristows, Hurricane Higgins, and Helmuths of this world. Who cares about snooker these days, who cares about post Bristow darts?

And please god, if chess is to return to our T.V. screens, lets leave Ray Keene out of it.

btw My biggest "turn on" in chess was the lovely Jana Hartston. Where is she now? What a sexy accent!!!!!!

regards
Larry Millington

Thanks for the e-mail Larry! I'm with you 100% on the "Political Correctness brigade" thing -- that just sucks -- but not on the idea that it won't last. Numbers are down a bit this season on particular series, but overall they're holding steady or even up a bit. There's a lot of "balkanization" in poker these days. Three years ago, WPT was the only ballgame in town aside from the infrequent ESPN broadcasts of WSOP events. Now there are quite a few poker shows, which dilutes the specific numbers, but it's still thriving overall.

I'll admit that I have no idea who Ms. Hartston is, being as I'm a Yank and all. But WPT broadcasts had Shana Hiatt (who they still haven't adequately replaced) and my late lamented robotic combat shows always had a pretty face to look at -- some of whom actually knew a little about the sport. "Come for the bots, enjoy the babes".

Televised chess would certainly benefit from somthing like that. But not Ray Keene. Noooooooooooo... -- SL


Very insightful article today. Thanks.

I hadn't considered rapid transit for TV. I was more thinking along the lines of editing a tournament after the fact, but we have to fix the draw problem first as you can't edit out the final round when all the leaders agree to quick draws and split the prize money. A live show using rapid transit would be much less work to produce and would have continuous drama.

What you are 100% right about is that we need the Tilly type of imagery for chess to have any chance on TV.

Maybe the Slugfest7 girls would do the trick? I think all that would need to be done is to have the two real chess players visible in a PIP (picture in picture) inset and have girls like the Slugfest7 move the big chess pieces in skimpy outfits. The girls could engage in trash talking and chess conversation, but that's probably not really needed. We could have a chess nerd explaining to the girls what is going on. I wonder if there would be many volunteers for that job :)

Actually, I was able to teach the Slugfest7 models enough chess pretty quickly so they would be able to do reasonable chess commentary in bikinis. All that's needed is a backer to produce the show. I have exhausted my personal funds, but I do have a lot of footage "in the can" that can be used to make very watchable chess lessons.

Clint Ballard

P.S. If the attached pictures offend you, I apologize. Please just delete them. Your frequent mention of Jen Tilly gave me the idea that you would like them. I hope I was right.

I won't post the pics here, Clint -- there's already wayyyyyyyyyy too much damn cheesecake on chessbase.com as it is. (Clint's pics were very innocuous bikini shots of gals posing model-like with/on chessboards.

I'm not sure what to make of the rest of your e-mail. I think we do need a pretty face to look at (see the previous e-mail) but at what point does "just enough" become "too much"? I guess we'll let the market decide.

Thanks for writing (and for the pics)! -- SL


idea is great but that would make artificial chess. i think for tv about 30 min should be given to each player. 5 min is too short. 2 hrs is too long(or show the game recorded) since 30min might go for 1 move itself and for tv that's tough. and players can comment and commentary can be made interesting but basic chess should not change.

neeraj dimri
india

One for the purists. Unfortunately, the 30 min. thing has been tried here in the States (actually it was 25 min. to allow for commercial interruptions) and, while it did reasonably well (see my comment about ESPN above), it didn't catch on like a house a-fire. I'm looking for better than "reasonably well" here and the whole time control thing seems to be the major stumbling block.

So that's why I advocate Rapid Transit as being at least worth a try. Thanks for writing! -- SL


I appreciated your new article on the viability of televised chess, and I think you bring up a bunch of excellent points. I liked your outside-the-box ideas for it, and I especially like how you compared tv chess to poker. In fact, that particular comparison is what gave me another alternative idea for making chess watchable for the general public.

As you mentioned, those poker games are televised highlights rather than the real tournament as it was played. I think that the same could be done with chess, but not like they used to do it (skipping 5+ moves during commercials, etc.). All they would have to do is pre-tape the games, cut out most of the boring thinking time, and run semi-decent commentary on the game. Couldn't this work, or am I crazy? We could still get cool analysis and all that, but we wouldn't have to wait while Kramnik has his 40+ minute think or anything like that; it would be condensed into about 90 seconds on TV.

Could this work?

AndyMack

AndyGandy, I think it would absolutely work wonderfully well; as evidence I again offer up the old Shelby Lyman PBS broadcasts from the 1980's. I think it's the main alternative to Rapid Transit and probably a better one. It's a trade-off: you lose the "immediacy" of a live broadcast, but you get a better broadcast in return. I don't know that "immediacy" is a huge issue -- it really hasn't hurt televised poker that the results of a major tournament are available prior to a broadcast. The ESPN WSOP broadcasts are delayed several weeks; as I write this column, ESPN is currently running Main Event coverage -- they're only halfway through the twelve hours of coverage (two hours a week for six weeks) and I already know who won the $12 million (I read it online) but that hasn't hurt my enjoyment of the broadcasts.

Turning this back to chess, a hardcore chessplayer's already going to know who won by the time a delayed broadcast is aired (either by watching the game live online on Playchess, ICC, or FICS, or by reading about it in TWIC); in fact, he's likely to have already played through the gamescore which he downloaded online. But if the commentary and presentation are good, he'll want to watch that broadcast anyway. And, of course, the core audience would be non-chessplayers/casual players who won't already know who won, so the delay's not an issue for them.

Thanks for writing, my old amigo. -- SL


That's all we have space for this week, but we'll come back next time around and look at more reader feedback to the Rapid Transit idea for televised chess. Until then, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments on ChessBase Workshop. All responses will be read, and sending an e-mail to this address grants us permission to use it in a future column. No tech support questions, please.


© 2006, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.



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