Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Worthy Chess Site ( The Times of London )

I came across a nice chess site while looking at the English newspaper, The Times Online. They seem to have an excellent chess section run by no other than Raymond Keene. Double click on the header to this post or on the following web address to access their web page.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bad Chess Marketing

It would seem that we are living our lives presently amidst a media frenzy. Advertising and advertising revenue appear to be both the drivers and the benefactors of this modern day circus. Everything remotely popular from celebrity scandals to indoor bowling to natural disasters have been blown up and window-dressed to fuel this media facade, that is everything it seems except chess.

I among many others do not like what the advertising industry is doing but if chess is to become a more popular spectator sport then the chess world will have to take advantage of everything it offers in this realm.

And what does it have to offer ?

1. It is one of the most popular games in the world.

2. It is one of the oldest.

3. It is extremely cheap to play.

4. It is a perfect sport for todays interactive internet world.

5. It has a history of colorful players and characters.

6. With a good commentary, and lets be honest if the game is speeded up several times, it is very enjoyable to watch.

7 It fits in well in a population that likes to analyse and think.

Many people would like to dismiss the last point but if you look at the success of crossword puzzles, poker and bridge, and you see the success of the history channel, national geographic, pbs and the discovery channel, it is evident that besides being able to be totally enthralled with a good movie, people also regularly like something to stimulate their minds.

What this means for chess is that the game is missing out on a huge untapped market and opportunity to become more popular. Look how huge poker became both onscreen and off once it started being televised more regularly. As everybody knows if you want to make something more popular it has to be on TV.

If you look at the FIDE website and compare it those of FIFA or the NBA you can see that it is basically drab and boring and lacking imagination. Unfortunately this is reflective of how world championship level chess has presented itself since the Fischer - Spassky match, with a couple of exceptions.

Strange to think that the future of the world's oldest and most popular games has been put in the hands of people with little or no imagination.

The present powers in the chess world are either not trying to get chess properly televised or are not being successful. In some countries we are lucky if we see the moves of a world championship game printed in a newspaper. They need to hire executives from other sports who have already been successful in this venture. Why re-invent the wheel. Once media executives are properly shown how popular chess could be as a spectator sport, there should be no stopping chess getting a lot more media coverage provided they are allowed to use their media skills and not told how everything should be done by those who know a lot about chess and obviously nothing about publicity.

If the above path is taken then perhaps in a few years chess will be as popular onscreen as off.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

I strongly recommend this movie for all chess players.
Ok. There is not a lot of chess in this movie, though there is some.
It is generally a funny movie with an excellent Jacuzzi scene at the start so dont bring your grandparents unless there openly into that sort of thing. There are also some gruesome scenes so its not a movie for the squeamish.
It does have a nice chess metaphor at the end which I can not state without spoiling the movie. On a more serious note, what is most striking about the movie is it's social commentary and what it makes you aware of. Before I saw this film I thought I was aware of what the Russian's did in Afghanistan, I basically thought they went in, tried to steal someone else's country, got their asses kicked and eventually left, but I was totally ignorant as to how they massacred people there in such a ruthless, cruel and evil manner while most of the world stood by.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Brief Chess History

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my uncle took a trip to Poland and brought us back a hand carved chess set. It was around 1973 just after the Spassky-Fischer hype, something I wouldent know about or care about for years. My dad thought me how to play on our new board obviously throwing many of the early games in order to encourage me. Dad played a bit at work. He worked at Shannon airport in Ireland for Seaboard World Airlines. They had regular flights to JFK. A board was kept by the ground crew in JFK and likewise in Shannon. Each side would write down their respective move and give it to the flight crew who would hand deliver it. They would then have to wait for a return flight to get the next move. It was a sort of express transatlantic postal chess.

Shortly after I learned to play Dad set up a children's chess club which was based at our house. Soon afterwards I got to play my first important game. I was about seven years old at the time. We played a rival children's team from our home town Limerick.It was 5 boards against 5. The other 4 games finished before mine and it was 2 all so everything depended on our game. I can still remember my opponent and parts of the game quite vividly. He was a blond haired kid, about my age. He hung his queen and I didnt see it. Then I hung my queen which he took and that was the end of that game. Everything was very light hearted and cordial(pity more grown up chess is not more like that), they told me after the game he had hung a queen but not to worry about it, then we all went home, had cookies and coke and didnt worry about anything.

For the next 5 years or so, I played chess at a very casual level, playing my father, friends, cousins etc., When I was about 12 we had a teacher at school Mr. Nugent who would allow those of us who were good at Maths to play chess during class time, once we had our assignments done. We organised mini leagues and knockout tournaments. the only one who could rival me was Tommy Gillmore. I had been playing longer than him but he had been getting access to chess theory, something I didnt even know existed. It used to irritate me when he would tell me he had a defence system I could not break through and then when I wasn't able to break through it really did piss me off.

At the same time there was a local childrens chess club in our parish community center in Sutton. We had moved to Dublin by this time. It was for children up to about age 13 and had about 30 members. It was definately a good club. There was a really good chess team league at the time. We would play rival clubs once a week in board matches. I was normally board 5 or a sub. I remember we used to play in this old Georgian building in the center of Dublin. It was very damp and it never bothered me during the games but when I went home I used to get bad aches in my shins. During my stint at sutton chess club I got 3 or 4 trophies and had a lot of fun.

I became too old for the childrens chess club and there was no adults chess club in our area. A couple of years later I met my good friend Michael Delaney. He lived 17 houses from me and also liked chess. He was a much stronger player than me and after he had left our local chess club he had continued to play tournament chess in the greater Dublin chess scene. When I found out about weekend tournaments I played a few, getting crushed. I was surprised to find out I had a rating from when I was 12 which was about 1400 USCF. When I played in a weekend tournament it quickly went down to about 1200 where it stayed for many years.

What I hadnt done like a lot of the other kids who continued on with chess was study. To my horror some of those who I could beat comfortably when I was younger now crushed me with realtive ease. When my rating was about 1200 USCF Michael's was about 1900. I used to beat him a fair bit and years later after I started studying and analysed the mathemathics behind the rating system I realized he had to be throwing a lot of games. Around this time I joined Malahide chess club were I didn't do anything spectacular but surprised everyone, especially myself when I came 2nd in the Christmas quick chess tournament.

For the next 10 years I played mainly casual chess. I went to some weekend tournaments and substituted sometimes for various teams. I joined Phibsboro Chess Club for a while. They were one of the bigger clubs and had a fantastic set up. The Dublin firemans club used to allow us to use their venue. We had access to a bar and also snooker tables, so if you got tired of playing chess you could go have a pint, or go play some snooker. The club used to meet twice a week, once for internal tournaments and once for inter club tournaments. The inter club tournaments were 5 board matches. There were about 7 different leagues so you normally got placed on a team were you played people around your own rating.

In 1995 I moved to Sacramento, California. Here I discovered Weatherstone's coffee shop which to me seemed like a chess players paradise.
There were often a lot of chess players there, playing skittles outside. There is a nice little patio annexed to the coffee shop with a fountain, nice brickwork etc. Here I played my friends Arman and Ziad on a regular basis among many other players.
Sometimes it was a bit clickish and understandably stronger players did not want to play weaker players. Ziad Baroudi was probably one of the most influential players I have ever known. He has a very likeable personality, unbelievably strong combinational skills and an ability to see deep and far ahead into the game. If anybody makes the game look like poetry it is Ziad and with all his knowledge and skill he is still willing to play both novice and weak players as well as strong and experienced. I joined Sacramento chess club and went to my fist American weekend tournament in Concord CA., where I got a respectable score. Sacramento chess club is lucky to have a large venue which they can partition in half. On one side they have skittles chess and on the other side tournament chess, so people can go on a more casual basis if serious chess is not there cup of tea or for whatever reason.

In 1997 I moved to Reno. In Reno I have generally worked shift work which sometimes makes frequenting a chess club on a regular basis difficult if not impossible. In 2000 I discovered by accident that there was some skittles been played in Borders coffee shop. I started spending a lot of my spare time there. Here I made friends with Mel Cerin. I think we probably played thousands of skittles games over about 7 years on and off as well as have many interesting philosophical discussions. It would not surprise me if more than half the games I played in my life were against Mel. Unfortunately Mel has recently given up chess.I hope he finds as much fun in whatever else he pursues as we had in our games.
I also played many others there, Steve Kesti, George Smith, Mike Filipas, James Thomason, David Ryba etc,. I still play Steve Kesti, he is much stronger than me, though I am slowly closing the gap.

When I moved to Reno my rating was USCF 1392. Shortly after I started playing in Borders I entered a couple of weekend tournaments, one in Las Vegas, the other in Reno. Both were really well organised and fun events but I managed to bomb in both. My rating dropped back down to 1213, a familiar location. I had gone to Reno chess club sometimes but not on a consistent basis.

At the end of 2003 everything started to change for me in chess. I started driving a Taxi and studying chess more seriously. As I was able to schedule my own ours I was able to go to the chess club on a regular basis. Also while driving the taxi I spent a lot of time waiting in Taxi ranks which gave me time to study. I probably did on average less than an hour a day, but also continued to play skittles. I mainly studied openings and master level games. In 2 years of active rated play my rating went up 380 points to 1593, winning the Reno C class championship during this time.

I changed jobs and moved to Lake Tahoe. With all the life changes and new things to entertain me I stopped studying on a consistent basis. As a result and my rating has pretty well reached a plateau. I did become a B player for a brief time but after Mel stopped playing in combination with my lack of study I seem to have lost my momentum. Like many Reno chess player's I have recently got involved in the Blogosphere which I think will radically change the social side of chess. Basically it allows us to interact with each other much more frequently and is not as impersonal as I had expected.

In the last week I have started studying again, mainly tactics at Chess which I discovered through Robert Pearson's chess Blog. His is my favorite blog as it seems to be well balanced with a lot of variety, making it entertaining as well as having a lot of informative ideas. I know from before that when I study consistently I get results very quickly so I expect my rating and more importantly my level of play and depth to which I see into the game to improve as soon as I start playing again.

I have been playing chess for 34 years now and have got a lot of entertainment out of it. I intend to play it for the rest of my life, hopefully continually improving, making new friends and learning about new aspects of the game. It is definately my favourite game. I understand why it has lasted so long. What I do not understand is why it is not more popular than it is. You would think in a city of 250,000 people at any one time you should be able to get 250 people playing at club level, instead we get about 40 and that is a better ratio than some cities.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

10 Ways to make Chess more Popular

1. Bring back the Cold War.

Chess popularity was at it's peak during the cold war. Many of the most famous and infamous world champions flourished during this era. The risk of total nuclear annihilation would be a worth while trade off.

2. Introduce mandatory Bread Lines everywhere.

When bread lines were a permanent fixture of the landscape in the former Soviet Union chess there was probably stronger and more popular than at any place or time in history. There has to be a definite correlation.

3. Have Cheer Leaders.

Most televised American sports would not be considered complete without cheer leaders. If we ever realistically expect to get chess televised we need to introduce some scantily clad firm thighed buxom cheer leaders, preferably female.

4. Chess Hooliganism.

An occasional riot at a chess tournament would get the game some overdue media coverage.

5. A reversed Re-Match.

Make Boris Spassky a United States citizen and have him play our arch enemy Bobby Fischer in neutral territory, say Rekjavik.

6. A good old fashioned War.

The Taliban outlawed chess among many other sports. We should take this opportunity to unleash some chess jingoism by getting the United States to invade Afghanistan.

7. Jeepies

I have never met a Phillipino who wasn't a good chess player. We need to buy army surplus jeeps, paint them in multiple colours and add lots of chrome.

8. Play for Ratings not Rating Points.
Have USCF backed Russian roulette style tournaments which work as follows.
Each time two people play each other the winner gets to keep the higher rating and the looser the lower of the two ratings. If it is a draw both players get an average of their ratings. This would allow players to get a master level rating in hours rather than years.

9. Have a Global Ban on Personal Computers.
This would bring back artisic and creative play.

10. When top level players play one another have them treat their opponents with courtesy and respect. I know the previous suggestions are easily achievable but I have to admit this one is a bit of a stretch.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

First Day of Blog

Well I've decided to set up a chess blog, mainly to join in the interactive banter of the blogosphere - I work shift work and been able to communicate with people who may actually be asleep at the time is a big plus. I am also doing this as I feel I am a bit left behind regarding my participation and technical knowledge of the information age. The best teacher is particiapation so here we go.