Thursday, July 29, 2010

Watching Chess Over the Web

Article from The Oxford Times 6:50am Thursday 29th July 2010
By Matt Rose

[Excerpted] The 2008 champion, Stuart Conquest, has made a late entry to this year’s British Championships which take place at the University of Kent in Canterbury starting Sunday. Former Cowley star Adam Hunt and Oxford 4NCL player Lateefah Messam-Sparks are also playing.

You can follow the action live on the Internet – switching between games – and this can become very exciting as the tournament reaches its climax.

In the next two weeks the British will surely make great viewing for chess fans; but when it comes to Internet chess coverage, the Americans have set new standards.

At the recent 2010 Women’s and Junior Closed Championships, the video commentary ran for each round’s full duration [not quite, but close enough], and I thought analysis provided by Jennifer Shahade and grandmaster Ben Finegold — known as Bennifer — with assistance from super-grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura was engrossing.
I, too, found it very engrossing.  I find it extremely significant that a guy in Great Britain  enjoyed the live coverage commentary on the U.S. Women's and Junior's Championships as much as I did.  These events receive little attention in the traditional press in our own country -- but I'll bet the website stats at U.S. Chess Champs were very gratifying to the organizers. 

Since the first live broadcasts with commentary on the internet began in 2008 with the advent of the Scholastic Center and Chess Club of St. Louis taking over hosting the U.S. Chess Championship and the U.S. Women's Chess Championship, the level of presentation has grown extremely sophisticated and smooth  in a short few years.  Beginning with 2009 coverage, the combo of Jennifer Shahade and Ben Finegold was and continues to be a big hit.  I love their lively banter, Jen's sometimes ascerbic commentary, Ben's self-effacing humor and sly digs and the way both do the analysis in a way that makes me believe I can actually understand what is going on.  Me - a hopeless patzer.  Hell, not even a patzer!  That says a great deal about the level of skill of these two commentators and how engaging they are to their audience.  I also love having a female commentator, and Shahade, a two-time U.S. Women's Chess Champion, has excellent qualifications.  It's hard to pinpoint exactly why, but I feel she does bring a unique perspective to her commentary, having played at a level where she went head to head with the best male and female chessplayers in the country and was more than able to hold her own. 

The entire set-up where I could follow the games online as the moves were played, while listening to Jen and Ben do their commentary and also watch them do onboard analysis and discuss potential moves and lines of play while then clicking to the actual moves of the games taking place - that was really cool. 

Now, this is not to say that someone who has absolutely no interest in chess will ever find this kind of presentation even remotely interesting, but as a casual chessplayer who has no deep understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of the game (tell me, just what are the "good squares" again???) I find it all extremely fascinating and enlightening.  Having the visuals with live commentary just adds so much more to the drama of the competition itself. 

Yep, the future of promoting chess is definitely the internet.  Dylan Loeb McClain wrote a Gambit blog about this very subject yesterday:

Gambit Blog, The New York Times, July 28, 2010, 12:27 pm:  How to Make Chess Sizzle

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