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In the News (Not)

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The English-language news coverage of the Kramnik-Leko match was very disappointing. Coverage in German was 15 times greater than that in English, which means the organizers didn't have very many contacts with English-language media. Basically, unless they are spoon-fed stories it's just too confusing for the press to explain about the different champions each time so they don't bother. Not that chess was front page news before 1993, but things have clearly gone downhill and the schism is largely to blame.

If Kramnik had lost it would have been in a few more places, just as Kasparov's loss was trumpeted in 2000. Still, ZERO stories?! Reuters and the AP ignored it entirely, a first. The only English-language news sources to mention the result of the match were two in Moscow and a couple more in India. I mean, the world junior badminton tournament got 51 stories. Scary. On the other hand, many places are covering the Olympiad, which has local interest.

In the various Spanish, French, and German reports, a few note that Kramnik will face the winner of the Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov match. Several in Spanish even say that this is a unification match "scheduled for 2005"! Jumping the gun a bit there. Even in FIDE fantasy-land (where they had the Kasparov-Ponomariov match on their calendar even after the dates had passed) they haven't gone as far as saying it's scheduled!

Have your contacted your local paper by letter or e-mail to request, to demand, more chess coverage and/or a column? If not, do it. If yes, do it again. It just takes a minute and now is a good time. "Hey, the world chess championship just finished and your paper/website/channel didn't even mention it!" In turn they might ask the wire services why there wasn't anything.

UPDATE: Duif points out that a French wire service had a Kramnik-Leko final report in English (and in Spanish) online.


in the french newspaper le Monde there was a pretty nice coverage of this championship

It is very disappointing here in US. There is no coverage at all. I think, if the match was played in one of the major cities of the world, there would have been better coverage. This Danemann place only God knows.

I have wondered if the coincidence (meaning, occuring at the same time) of the Olympiad and the Classical World Championship had anything to do with it, because many of the chess journalists are in fact players in Calvia.

In addition, I noticed that Google News does seem to be missing some of the major English papers. Both The Guardian and The Independent carried stories on Kramnik's victory, but neither showed up in Google news.

Also didn't The Week in Chess and Chessbase.com used to show up in a Google news search? Both carried Kramnik stories, but neither showed up in the Google news results for Kramnik.

I would also note that many chess columnists in the US run about a week behind events, anyway, so I'd expect some Kramnik stories to show up in the next 8 days. For example, Byrne's column in The New York Times, Shelby Lyman's column, the Washington Post column by Kavalek, and others have certainly been following the match, but most appear once a week and most are filed about a week ahead.

Try doing a Google news search on Kramnik instead of on chess and see what you find.

Finally, a French news service, Agence France Presse (AFP) offers an English language newswire which HAS covered the Kramnik win as entertainment news. This means it showed up at Yahoo! news, among other places.


And AP photos did include a picture of the new champion in their photo wire.


It doesn't make up for the lack of AP coverage from a straight news sense, but I do suspect US chess fans are seeing a bit more coverage than it might first appear.


I too miss the days when the English-speaking world gave a whit for top-level chess.

This is why the idea of Kasparov offering advice to the business community just kills me, just five or six minutes of rolling-on-the-floor-irony kills me. One thing they teach you in business school, so I'm told, is that you don't advertise your product by being boring, negative and overtly greedy. They mention in this context that your customers will be inclined to go elsewhere.

Anyway there are still chess boards and 32 pieces to set up and people to play in coffee shops; the game is still fun and challenging even if (Morozevich & co. excepted) the high-end players make it a dull exercise in drawing games for money. Perhaps some day these folks will be gone. "May God bless and keep the Czar, but... far away from *us*."

Why should anyone go through the trouble of generating publicity and doing some PR for the selfish, incapable top players?

I mean, the average fan doesn't even get the courtesy of a fighting draw in these "events".

Let the pros drown in their own ocean of mediocrity and safe moves.

What a waste of the best sport ever invented (with the possible exception of baseball). If I had the resources, I would put this sport back on the map again:

I would devise a way to slightly alter the rules so almost all (95-100%) results are decisive. How many times do we need to say it-- it is so obvious it's laughable. A sport where even 20% of results are ties is never going to be very interesting to normal people. Period.

No point changes. One win equals one point. Simple. Just make it somehow that there are few or no draws in individual games.

Try, I don’t know, no repetitive moves allowed. Stalemate loses. It’s not that bizarre and it’s certainly fair if both parties know the rules in advance and can devise altered strategies.

Perhaps kings getting to the eighth rank after a certain point could revive a piece or win. Just like pawn promotion, we need some subtle mechanism to tip a balanced game one way or another. I would need to hire a panel of GMs to consult. I'm just a patzer, but I know that with all the chess talent out there, something very exciting and definitive could be devised without changing the essence of the game (no changes in piece placement, please).

Don't say this is crazy. If chess never evolved, we'd still be moving the queen and bishop one space at a time, there would be no castling and we'd have no pawn promotion. True, we could still play World Championships, but they'd be pretty stupid.

Also, I would space the games out so that each player could go full bore with full energy in every game. If all games were like Game 13 and 14 of the recent WC, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion. It’s fantasy to think that a man can play super grandmaster chess for seven hours and come back the next day and repeat at that intensity.

I don’t think most people have any idea how much energy it probably takes to play 60 moves of 2750+ level chess. Unfairly, players currently appear lazy, but given a reasonable schedule and enough rest, I think they would be happy to go all out. Most would actually enjoy it. Perhaps the games should be slightly shorter or even have breaks.

After my study was concluded and formats in place, I would sponsor World class matches with very large purses. If you wanted to play, you’d have to play by my rules.

Forget about FIDE. Forget about ACP. Forget about Prague. Forget about candidate qualifiers. Chess got along without these entities fine before 1946. Just like boxing, we already know who the best players are.

Let’s start with Kramnik v. Kasparov (because I say so—and rematches are a great tradition), best of seven for $4 million, in front of a live audience in London or the US (or both). Winner of that takes on Anand in four months for another $4 million. Winner of that takes on Moresevich. Then Topolov, Leko, Polgar, Ponomariov, Svidler, Shirov. If you don’t want to play, fine. Do your little FIDE or Linares thing. Three years and $30 million dollars later the whole world would be watching and we’d have an undisputed World Champion and a better game.

Does Bill Gates play chess?


You write: "A sport where even 20% of results are ties is never going to be very interesting to normal people. Period."

Yet the most popular professional sport in the world for quite a long time has been football (what Americans call soccer). And rather more than 20% of games at the professional level end in ties. (The exception is the American MLS, which has rules eliminating ties--but which haven't made it any more popular.)

I dont think, Chess can become very popular. It is an intellectual game. To really enjoy Chess deeply, one has to understand it in-depth which is possible only with dedicated study. But with other sports like football and baseball, you dont have to play or study to enjoy them. I can compare it to Classical Music. Its not so easy to understand Classical Music. Like Classical Music, Chess has a limited audience. Chess is more like Art and Science.


A valid point. Please excuse me as I have a tendency to write from the American perspective. As such, I should have placed the word “American” between “normal” and “people”. Or perhaps I should have raised the number to 30% (what is the percentage of even results in football anyway?). But 4 wins out of 15 games? Even test cricket decides more than that. It’s not that complicated.

I do know that when it comes to the sporting events that people care most about (Olympics, World Series, World Cup elimination rounds, Tour de France, etc), there are 0% draws.

You have to agree that if super GM chess could somehow be played to near 100% decisive results and without interjecting too much randomness, it would be very, very entertaining.

Sorry, I meant to say "14 games"

NYC Knight,

I don’t know that I buy that. Like any sport, you have to know the basic rules before you can derive much enjoyment from watching it, but the rules of chess certainly aren’t any harder to understand than all the rules of American football or baseball. You just need someone to explain the nuances of “squeeze play” or “onside kick” or “pigs on the seventh” in an entertaining way. This is where folks like Maurice Ashley and Mig Greengard come in.

And how many people have ever played on a football team? Maybe in their backyard, but organized? Not many percentage-wise, but it doesn’t seem to detract from the crowds.

Chess is the purest battle between the smartest people in the world. With the rise of technology, I see intellectualism as cooler than ever. Witness Ken Jennings.

And to say yet again (cause I like to hear it) - pay more for winning and losing than drawing and all these stock exchange chess players will start taking chances and will still play chess instead of some other game with magical qualities that prevents draws or has a scoring system that penalizes draws.

Who gives a damn about two draw masters playing out a boring 14 game draw. It almost sounds like unfair boxing result. (7-7)
I guess one reason this match didn't get publicity is because:
1. These are not the top 2 players in world right now. And, nobody cares who wins as everybody knows who is number 1 and 2.
2. A fine chess olympiad is going on where a lot of good games have been played. Just look at Ivanchuk (5.5/6 with a 3015 rating performance). We need that to even get the attention of a normal chess playing public. Not boring draw after 14 game and you say the champion is champion again.

Duif -

Major League Soccer did away with its tiebreakers several years ago. For a couple of years, they used a sudden-death overtime for 10 minutes to *reduce* the number of ties, but now, they don't even use that.

The idea was that they wanted to go after people who were soccer fans but not MLS fans. They were effectively turning their backs on people who were not soccer fans at all. So far, results are mixed -- no big boost in attendance, but the league has gained respect.

Back to chess -- I like Brian's theory of making a subtle rule change (not some all-encompassing change like switching up piece placement that turns chess into a different game).

I cannot agree with you on the Kramnik-Leko match. 2 Masters playing at such a high level. What can one expect? At GM-level draws are possible because they rarely makes any blunders. Also Draw can be a part of overall strategy in a match. Morphy-type players cannot survive in this age of Positional Chess. Draw is more dignified and respected than loosing.


Thanks for the correction--I was unaware that they had made the rules change.


I agree, players will play more for wins if wins return a bigger reward. But when you're talking about players in the top 20, protecting their ratings so they can qualify for the next big event may be worth more to them than any individual game prize could be.

Lack of interest in this match, at least in the English speaking world, doesn't have anything to do with the number of draws, in my opinion. It's all about general public interest, because that is what sells newspapers. And outside of the chess community, who is interested in Kramnik or Leko?

Let's face it, many more people watch tennis than play it regularly. A lot of this is because of the personalities of the players. A lot of this is because of the spectacle itself (Wimbledon, US Open, etc.). People feel as if they should be watching, as if history is being made.

But Kramnik versus Leko? Please. Kasparov was right, if self-serving, when he warned Kramnik his title will soon mean very little if he refused to play Kasparov again. And if Kramnik refuses to play the winner of the upcoming Kasparov match (with somone whose name escapes me), then our only hope is the ACP. Then Kramnik can keep his meaningless title through old age, living off his millions from various Kramnik vs Computer exhibitions. While the chessworld moves on.

As someone who generates a very nice living through the game of Chess (not playing, but sales of Chess-related products), I have a few theories on why the media doesn't care about Chess.

1) The Kasparov vs. Deep Junior match, which was broadcasted live on ESPN, set back the mainstream media acceptance of Chess back several years. With the match tied and in the final game, Kasparov had a very promising position and was poised to go in for the kill. All of a sudden, a draw offer was made, causing the commentators of the match (Yaz/Maurice) and everyone watch it to scream out NO! That would be like the packers being in the Super Bowl, with 2 minutes left on the clock and a tied game when suddenly, he takes a knee on each of the downs to let the clock run out. All of the tension and excitement disappeared instantly.

2) Despite being World Champion for 3 years, Kramnik has accomplished relatively little and he has absolutely no name recognition outside of the serious Chess circles. Go ask one of your non-Chess playing friends who Kramnik is.

3) The fact that the United States had no vested interest in the match meant there was no compelling reason to broadcast the match. It was being played in Europe between a Russian and a Hungarian player whose names no one recognized.

It's the same reason that US sports casts do not discuss Manchester United or Real Madrid in the US. As far as they are concerned, they do not exist.

4) Unlike virtually every other sport, whether it be hockey or nascar or golf, kids do not idolize professional Chess players. With the exception of Nakamura, I do not know of any kid who says "When I grow up, I want to be like Kasparov."

5) Chess is simply too damn long in terms of both the length of each game and length of the match! People complain about how boring Baseball is because it often lasts more than 3 hours. If a Chessmatch lasts only 3 hours, hardcore Chess players complain that the players weren't trying. The Kasparov vs. Deep Fritz match made this abundantly clear. It is really boring to watch someone watch TV, which is essentially what that match consisted of. Try it yourself. Tonight, go home and stare at one of your family members while they sit there and watch tv. 5 minutes feels like 5 hours.

I can not think of any other sport where it takes 14 games to decide ultimately who the winner is. Imagine if the World Series was a best-of-14 games. It would take nearly a month to complete and eventually people would be sick of it.

Just my 2 cents.

I kind of like the 'underground' state of chess in America. Let the jocks do their own thing :)

I just want you to know, Mig, that I think it would be a terrific idea to stage a Ponomariov vs. Anand match and for the winner of that to compete against the winner of Kasparov vs. Kasimdzhanov to win the chance to play against Kramnik. Rather than be negative about chances for reunification, let's hope that something along these lines can be staged.

Mig, you miss out one country when you complain about the lack of interest in the media. The match was widely publicized in Hungary, and a lot of people - even those not knowing the rules of chess at all - were following the results, especially during the last stage when the match was hitting the headlines. There was even a brief show on TV on each game day. (Well, it was always late in the night, with not too much analysis, but local celebs chitchatting about how much they love or respect chess even if they don't play themselves and how much they are rooting for Leko - but it was about chess after all.) The press wrote about a 'nation-wide mourning' after the last game, which is a by and large true description of how we felt. :-(
(Note: I didn't give my real e-mail address. Leave out the ".dot" part to get the real one, I included it just to deceive spam-bots. I am receiving already too much spam!)

Misi, I can understand your feelings. Your people must have felt very sad. It came too near and but in a moment like a shadow the victory has disappeared. I still hope, Leko can do it in future. Though, he played great Chess, but he slightly wavered, showed his lack of confidence and courage to win over Kramnik. I think its all due to his in-experience playing WC matches. Leko should try to adopt Fischer or Kasparov's fearless style. I wish him a great success for the next WC match!

hey dogman,

i tried it, i mean starring at a family member for 5 min. i nearly got beaten up! now they think i am totaly nuts. they can hardly accept having a geek chess player in the family, but a guy sitting beside the tv set gazeing at them, they cannot bear......you brought that onto me, now help me out.....


Firstly any computer - human match may not be very good at drawing the public as the computers are stong and about equal with the best players in short matches. Regardless, chess on tv isn't the issue, the internet is perfect for the game.

And when i watched GK watch tv (as you put it) I was watching the game (with audio commentary) getting webcam reports of GK's expressions. No one suggests that GK in 3D glasses is entertaining on it's own for more than 5 minutes.

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