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Higher, Faster... Smarter?

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I'm back home in humid New York after a week in the California sun. While staying at Mom's without my beloved TCM, I was left watching the 2004 Olympic Games all night. I really have to agree with the current Olympic ban on mind sports. Having chess, or bridge, or checkers, in the Olympics would be ridiculous.

Perhaps it would be only slightly more ridiculous than shooting, which requires great physical control but is basically tool using. But I'm a purist. "Race walking" is also stupid as an Olympic sport. Getting from point A to point B faster than everyone else is the ideal. Adding artificial limitations (one foot on the ground at all times) is bizarre. If walking can be a sport the sack race could be next. (Any swimming event other than freestyle has similar problems, but at least you can clearly tell what they are doing.)

Not that chess isn't a sport in its own right. Physical conditioning can be important and there can be great physical stress during a game. Notice the "can be." Also, a sport that allows the players to agree to short draws is about as contrary to the Olympic ideal as I can imagine. If chess were put in the Games you would never see it. The IOC wants attractive games to market. Presenting chess on TV requires a tremendous amound of expertise.

Kasparov vs X3D Fritz did okay on ESPN, but heavily hyped man-machine matches are a different breed. In the Olympics you'd be lucky hear about the chess results, and that only in countries that win the medals. We already have the spectacular Chess Olympiad. It would be great if the IOC would sanction the Mind Sports Olympiad in some way shape or form.


I have been to the mind sports olympiad last year to watch. While the event is a really cool idea, I think I was the only spectator (until two friends of mine arrived). When I wanted to watch the Othello competition, I was invited to play, because there was only one competitor!

Chess "can be" a sport, just as tennis "can be" a sport. In fact, the aspect of chess that is a sport should not be underestimated. Playing successfully in a professional chess event is a tremendous feat of endurance. Radjabov had an excellent point when he suggested that a major pediment to chess's popularity is that people don't understand it. Even if they understand chess pretty well, people can look at a point where a great player resigned and not understand why. I think chess as sport can be exciting, though, something spectators can enjoy. I really began to appreciate this during Libya and some people, like Maurice Ashley and John Federowicz, can really bring home the excitement with their sports-like commentaries. I think the Mainz events were pretty exciting. Besides speeding up games, one can reduce the draw component perhaps by adapting a different system of scoring. I recommend - 2 for a loss, + 2 for a win and 0 for a draw. Others have suggested + 1 for a draw, + 3 for a win.

Responding to Jeremy Good...I think Mig's point is that every current olympic sport is primarily a physical challenge. Top-level chess requires good conditioning, but it is not primarily a phsyical task. In that sense, chess, doesn't really fit as an olympic sport. And if you add chess, what's next? Checkers? Bridge? Cribbage?

Jeremy said that sometimes the audience doesn't understand why a chess player resigned. Frankly, that's the least of chess's problems. Audiences don't fully comprehend gymnastics scoring either, but at least they see that somebody won or lost. If chess had an abundance of hard-to-understand resignations, it would still be a step forward.

Jeremy also suggested +2/0/-2 scoring for win/draw/lose. This would have no effect on the game, since the the scoring would still be symmetrical. To influence behavior through the scoring system, the value of a win *relative to* the other outcomes must be increased.

Alternatively, you could leave the scoring system alone, and just find some other way to disincent uncontested draws.

I think that commentary in chess is more important than it is in physical sports. Even if you don't understand the judging of gymnastics at least you can see something happening that looks interesting. With swimming you may not understand why they swim the butterfly, but you can see the relative position of competitors in a race.

There is more-or-less constant action that seems purposeful.

But in chess there isn't a lot of visible action at any given point. The GM stares at the board for 20 minutes and then moves a pawn. Yawn.

And for most of us low ranked players a resignation from a position that isn't mate in one can be utterly confusing. I know I've looked at some GM games where one side resigned and there was no annotation/explanation of why. Once I figured it out, but most of the time I'm not good enough to do so.

Without some sort of good commentary watching GMs play is, for us weak players, an exercise in watching semi-random activity. With good commentary, and some careful editing, it can be quite exciting.

Technically speaking, Jeremy's new scoring system has changed the value of the win has been changed relative to the other outcomes.

However, in a practical sense, I don't think it would deter players from taking a draw.

Anyway, getting back on topic, I think I agree with Mig on the idea of chess as an olympic sport.

Going back off topic, I think chess on TV can be done, and done well. I think you need to tape the game, then go back later with commentary and analysis. You will also need to televise a tournament so that you can show several games at once.

For instance, you could watch Kasparov and Kramnik open up a game with a KID, talk about the KID, then jump the already underway Shirov-Anand. There you could talk about how Shirov destroyed the last guy who played a Sicilian against Shirov and how Anand's taking a different approach in his Sicilian. Then you jump to Ponomariov-Polgar, and talk a bit about their Ruy Lopez game. About this point, you'd be ready to jump back to K-K game and show Kramnik's last move.

Why not chess darts? The player whose turn it is would have to dodge a handful of darts wielded by the opponent in order to get to the board to complete a move. Successful hits would gain 1 point and result in time being deducted from the opponent’s clock. A draw offer would require an immediate foot race to a site within the tournament hall where the competitors would select from an array of weapons to bash their opponent senseless. Last player standing after the draw offer receives 6 points, mating the opponent on the board would be worth 12 points and those who survive a draw offer with all their teeth get a bonus round where they can answer questions on popular music for points. Tournaments can then be staged as reality TV shows where all entrants must live for 2 weeks in the same house and gain points by starting malicious rumors or performing household chores.

I can hardly wait!

Ooh, I get excited whenever I see chess and television mentioned together - because I'm sad.

I think an officially sanctioned Mind Sport Olympiad would be great, and as I said before, may even get some TV coverage. But this current Olypmiad has hardly been publicised at all, which is a shame, and most of the winners are from good old Blighty, because hardly anyone else is going to be able to afford to come over just to play Othello or something.

Also, a big sponsor would need to get behind it - not so long ago, for example, The Times had a rich tradition in backing mind sports, including one Olympiad, crossword competitions, Scrabble and of course, Kasparov-Short '93, the best month and a bit of my life!

There are threads vaguely covering the subject in TWIC, and it has been pointed out that the forthcoming EdgeTV plans to show some chess - http://www.theedgetv.com/ - but it's still only cable. We'll see.

I do not agree with: race walking is stupid as a Olimpic Sport. Most sports, in fact maybe all, have such "artificial limitations". They are called "rules", they tell you what you can and cannot do while pursuing a goal. A few examples:

You cannot kick your opponent in boxing.
You cannot pass a ball with your feet in volleyball.
You cannot walk with the ball in your hands in basketball
etc., etc.

On the other hand, I agree that chess has nothing to do in the Olympic Games.


Building on Charles' idea -- I've always thought that biathlon would be more interesting if competitors could shoot at those skiers who were ahead of them.

Well, you donīt have to go for the physical training to improve your chess. For example, you can try Tahl's method. Drink a whole bottle of Vodka and smoke like a chimney... hehe, I guess he would have had trouble with the antidopping thing.

That's a good test. Any sport you can eat, drink, and smoke while performing should not be in the Olympics... Or, any sport you can play in Tal's condition.

Considering that oratory and other events were in the Olympic programme once, I'm convinced that the Greeks would have put chess in there themselves, if it existed then.

I think Jason has the right idea. Multiple games, edited somewhat, so that there is constant action on the TV screen. With a good commentator or two it should work. I hope someone tries it sometime.

It's not as if the Greeks didn't have mind sports just because they didn't have chess. The ancient games also had theater and music. They were also mostly a religious act, to honor the gods. Now it's the gods of NBC and ESPN.

Good commentary and graphics can make anything interesting. The first problem is that chess doesn't fit the current IOC definition of sport. The next question is whether or not chess would be more interesting than beach volleyball:


How could ever chess be more interesting than beach volleyball for the general audience?

Have you seen those very, very nice outfits in womenīs beach volleyball...?

Great comment about Tal's health problems. I'm sure if Misha had taken your advice on nutrition and fitness regimen he would have lived his live to the fullest.

Heh. No worries, I'm firmly in the burn out camp, not the fade away. If Tal had taken health advice from me he wouldn't have made it to Botvinnik. While I don't smoke and am an amateur drinker by Tal's high standards, I consider proscuitto one of the major food groups. My entire nutrition pyramid is built of pork and gelato on a firm foundation of wine and chocolate.

I'm sure Tal wouldn't have been half the player without the cigarettes and vodka and with better kidneys. People are wholes, not sums of their parts. Armstrong with two balls? No chance in France. Same thing for personality traits. The cliche "Kasparov is great, if only he weren't such an egomaniac" ignores that he wouldn't be so great if he weren't such an egomaniac.

Echoing my comments exactly! Chess will not be so great if we dumb-it-down trying to attract people with 2-minute attention spans just so we can get TV coverage. Maybe we just have to accept the fact that chess will never be wildly popular in market-driven situations and the money and impetus to expand chess will have to come from those of us who love the game.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on August 24, 2004 11:46 PM.

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