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Chess and Poker in the NY Times

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Erstwhile (where have you gone?!) Ninja contributor Jennifer Shahade had an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday on what she calls the current crisis in American chess and how it can look to the success of poker for guidance. Some excerpts since the article will disappear into their pay archives soon. Dirt items on poker here and here. Jen has some comments here.

Nakamura - who at 15 became the youngest American grandmaster, breaking Bobby Fischer's record - says that he might give up pro chess because there is so little money in it. Losing Nakamura would be devastating for American chess.

How can chess save itself? No doubt it would make purists protest, but chess should steal a few moves from poker. After all, in the past few years, poker has lured away many chess masters who realized that the analytical skills they've learned from chess would pay off in online card rooms. ...

Organizers of the 2006 American chess championship, to be held in San Diego, are moving in the right direction. They plan to split the 64-player field into two tournaments, and on the last day, the two winners will face off in a match for the title, guaranteeing a thrilling finale. But they should go even further, and run the championship as a knockout.

Of course, there are limits to how much chess can, or should, learn from poker. A Chris Moneymaker can come out of nowhere to win a poker championship, but an unknown will never beat Topalov in a single game. Because there is no luck in chess, gambling at tournaments is unfeasible - after all, why would an amateur with no chance to win contribute to a chess pot? ...

But if more exciting tournaments lead to more television coverage, big sponsors and money will follow. While chess may not have poker's illicit glamour, it does enjoy a reputation as symbolic of intelligence and good taste. With a few tweaks, chess can compete with poker.

But we need to move fast before we lose a generation of chess talent. An average poker professional can earn six figures and become a television personality, but Nakamura, the biggest American chess hope since Fischer, cannot. To raise the stature of chess in America, we'll have to do what chess players are best at - calculate many moves ahead.

No doubt chess can learn from poker and any other successful sport. The danger is confusing the advantages and disadvantages of different sports. Chess cannot compete with poker on poker's terms, or with a few tweaks. Poker's remarkable boom on TV, online, and everywhere else comes from one thing: money and lots of it in every aspect of the process. Not only can an amateur compete for serious cash, but all the PR starts with the massive gambling industry, which bankrolls everything from TV shows to books and magazines. Chess has no such sugar-daddy, or any wealthy party that will directly benefit from chess becoming more popular.

Chess is difficult and has a small base. Changes in format, scoring, and time control will not change this. (FIDE's "exciting" rapid knockouts got less publicity than San Luis, for example.) Poker is several factors easier to play and to understand for spectators. I've been watching the 2005 poker world championship on ESPN and even if you don't know how to play you know the odds and who won immediately. Bluffing and money keep it interesting.

This isn't to say chess TV is impossible, but the key isn't live coverage, it's top-quality post-production. The excellent poker events on TV are edited and voiced over to create an hour of action from hundreds of hours of mostly boring poker. The entire US chess championship could be similarly boiled down to two or three hours of fast-paced key moments with plenty of player personality and snappy commentary. (This also means burying the chess itself, its complexity and beauty. But we'll watch anyway.) But even this requires a large, risky investment and there's no casino industry for us. (I wanted to produce a video package of the 2005 championship for ChessBase Magazine or for DVD, but my video pro girlfriend dumped me shortly after the event, taking the footage and expertise with her. Oops.)


but my video pro girlfriend dumped me shortly after the event, taking the footage and expertise with her. Oops.

Mig what a way to break up. If you were married she would take the house and kids but have left you with all your chess stuff. but alas. you were not married and she took her chess stuff.

by the way I agree with you. I watched some poker once and I was thinking exactly the same thing. I think this is an excellent idea to test out.

The excellent poker events on TV are edited and voiced over to create an hour of action from hundreds of hours of mostly boring poker. The entire US chess championship could be similarly boiled down to two or three hours of fast-paced key moments with plenty of player personality and snappy commentary.


I notice that the NYTimes omitted the title of Shahade's new book at the end of her op-ed piece. Is that Times policy or are they embarrassed to print "Chess Bitch"?

At the end of the piece: "Jennifer Shahade, the United States women's chess champion in 2002 and 2004, is the author of a recent book about women in chess."

Jen covers this herself in her comment to that thread, linked to at the top of this item.

The three big Poker Tables are the New York Stock Exchange combined with the Over the Counter Stock Market and the Chicago Commodity Exchanges and of course the Inter Bank Foreign Currency Trading.

Some people have played these markets for Billions of Dollars. Some extremely successful Traders have honed their skills in Las Vegas playing cards.

It is going into the unknown. everything is out of control. the only thing one can control to some degree is money management.

The key issue in Poker is money management.
The key issue in Trading is money management.

The key issues in Chess are everything is under control and there is no money to manage.

Maybe the real solution is for everyone to abandon chess and take up big money poker. then the losers can all meet back here with their chess boards. I think I will choose to stay here and wait. Poker is not for me. It is hard enough to lose a chess game but to lose money on top of that is too emotionally difficult for me.


I believe you're overstating the importance of the casino industry in the current poker boom. Keep in mind first off that all the big poker tournaments are actually bankrolled by the players themselves. The casino hosting a tournament keeps a percentage of the buy-ins paid by the players. For this year's World Series main event, six percent of the entry fees went to the casino, dealers, and tournament staff. That six percent (in 2005) amounted to $3.4 million dollars! I doubt we'll be seeing chess tournaments anytime soon with $10,000 buy-ins for each player though.

What really triggered the boom was Chris Moneymaker winning the World Series. He was a nobody, had won his entry into the big event online, and beat out all the pros. That combined with his serendipitous last name combined for a whole lot of good press. And the result of that was Joe Public who plays with poker with his buddies once a week realizing that it could happen to him also. And in point of fact it can, as while some poker skill is obviously required to win a big event like that... some luck also tends to be needed. And a large amount of luck can always override a skillful poker player. Not so in chess.

The comment on post-production for TV coverage is on the money though. Watching poker is just as boring as watching a slow chess match, for most people. Whether there's money on the line or not. Just witness this year's marathon final table at the World Series, which ran through 5am or so with most of the media falling asleep in their chairs by that point. How "exciting" chess is on TV probably depends primarily on the post-production. Live chess broadcasts would work about as well as live poker would.

I'm talking about the money that goes into producing the television shows, both directly and through advertising. Many, if not most, of the commercials that run during the ESPN poker shows are for online gambling sites. Huge industry and huge market, billions of dollars. Chess has nothing approaching that.

But poker's big break didn't come through money. It came with the innovation of the hole-cam (that little camera that lets you see the cards in the players hand without everyone slse at the table seeing them). In TV poker, the audience is in on the secret, as if we ourselves were playing.
Is there anything that can be done to let the audience in on the secret in chess.
I think this would need to be addressed from two angles, what's been happening in a game, and what will happen in a game.
No simple task as chess is a much more complex game than poker.

I know I have mentioned chess on t.v. before, and it might have been on one of these blogs long ago. I recall Mig being concenred because of production costs.

This time Mig brings up another, more important point, and that is simplicity. However, he also mentioned what I have been saying for some time, and that is tying it all together into a nice little package.

You do not show live chess on television!! At least not in the USA. You take video of the local area, the people, etc. You get footage of the games, commentary, and inside info on the players. Over time you gain background information such as family, and where GM's live. The show is only 1 hour and discusses the events of the day.

One can imagine the show opening with a chess puzzle with the answer at the end of the show. Allow your imagination to go from there.

As for poker, well, chess will not compete on that level financially. Billion dollar casinos are involved with that, but chess can succeed.


"but the key isn't live coverage, it's top-quality post-production. The excellent poker events on TV are edited and voiced over to create an hour of action from hundreds of hours of mostly boring poker. The entire US chess championship could be similarly boiled down to two or three hours of fast-paced key moments with plenty of player personality and snappy commentary."

Mig, you are on the mark here, I believe. What's really been lagging in chess is the *image*. Chess is violent, insane, cutthroat... but it's never been treated in this way in mainstream media.

I am your video pro... but I won't be your girlfriend! I agree with Craig - you don't show live chess on TV - at least not the whole game. Chess does have drawbacks vs. poker in the television arena: no bluffing, no luck, little chance of big upsets. But what chess *does* have is the characters and the intrigue.

Emory Tate qualifying for the Championship could be.... well... interesting, to say the least. A number of other colorful personalities are participating as well. Chris Moneymaker is about as interesting to talk to as watching paint dry. Poker's "character" is a guy who wears a hat and looks like Jesus? That's all they got? Believe me, if you show Tate giving one of his infamous analysis sessions in the hotel bar, people will want to watch that.

I plan on being in San Diego... with a video camera...

Note to Nakamura:

There is plenty of money in pro chess, if you


Second stringers make second string money. Which are you?


Excellent points! I hadn't thought of it that way, but I think you're right--most poker sponsors are trying to create more poker players. That's why the sponsors aren't Kraft macaroni. (Well, maybe not the only reason. :) )

I think people who talk about "popularizing chess: mean different things, so perhaps it's helpful to define terms.

Does someone mean converting high school tournament players into adult tournament players? Getting chess on TV? Increasing the incomes of top 1% players? Increasing the social status of top 10% players? Increasing the size of the prize funds? Getting a chess club in every middle school in the US?

These are different goals, with different means.

For me, I'd like to see the kid who played 5th board on his/her high school chess team converted into a chess fan as an adult. Because my definition of "popularizing chess" is pretety straightforward: I like to see the top 1% of US players able to earn $30,000 per year in endorsements.

I believe this goal is both practical and possible with a consistent program over 5 years. But it will never happen without that consistent approach, because there are two many alternativs for potential fans to consider.

I understand your argument (made in another thread) that endorsements often come from the equipment manufacturers. But in many niche competitions they also come from those who want to be associated with the image of a sport, so you get mobile phone companies, insurance agencies, local real estate agents, HOme Depot, and, yes, Kraft as sponsors, too.


To me, chess is to poker as whiskey is to beer. Different products. Both with pretty large consumer bases, but needing a different kind of marketing.

Chess is never going to be about "lowest common deonimnator" stuff--and even if we succeeded in taking it in that direction, we'd just end up competing with all the other lowest common denominator forms of entertainment.

Chess has a cachet, a sophistication, that, like whisky, has a value in the market. It's for sophisticated tastes. There's nothing wrong with that. And not necessarily anything unprofitable.

I think where we, as a community, have missed the boat in presenting ourselves to adults is in emphasizing the idea that "chess will make you smart." Or even "If you play chess, you're smart."

I think we could be much more effective in energizing a fanbase if we pursued the idea that "knowing who the US Chess Champion is shows that you're smart."

If we didn't expect people to be players, but rather respected them as successful people who are sophisticated fans, we'd get more fans.

A strong fanbase, whether direct (buying autographed coffee mugs) or indirect (buying more Kraft macaroni) provides the funding that supports both the current generation of top competitors and the programs that develop the next generation of players.

But in any case before we can decide how best to "promote chess." we need to define the measures of success for the project.

Then we'll know whether poker is an appropriate business model or not


Chess tournaments are followed by people who have an active interest in the game. Unlike football, where many in the stands can't run 10 yards without breaking a sweat and haven't touched the pigskin since junior high (if at all), there are few if any chess groupies. It is a sport enjoyed by a fanatic minority, and will remain a minority unless Chess is changed to appeal to the masses - and that's something none of us want. Sure, a tournament featuring our better looking female players wearing bikinis is something that will attract many viewers, but let's not kid ourselves that they will come for the T&A but stay for the Nimzo-Indian. Changing the format of the tournaments won't do anything significant to bring in interest, unless you turn the final match into a drinking game (take a shot for each piece captured). Seriously speaking, chess boxing has a greater chance to attract more fans and money than real chess ever does. If the top talent can't devote their lives to it because of lack of prize money, then most likely we will miss out on having an American world chess champion ever again. So what?

I hope cross posting is allowed... I just posted the following in the Slugfest post, which just happens to be about chess on TV emulating poker, so it directly relates to this thread.

Slugfest chess will be the most marketable chess to the TV audience and it cannot be a live event, it needs to be a post production like the poker tournament shows are.


ACF is already pumping in millions of dollars and if we as a community can improve the product, I am sure more benefactors could be found.

While not wealthy, I do have some amount of funds to invest in experiments like the Slugfest and I am even planning on making a pilot :30 minute show and airing it to see if it gets any traction.

I am not in this to make a profit and it will be a tremendous success if we can get a self-sustaining tv supported chess show. The USCL could very well become such a success. It has the elements of geographical competition, etc. However, as long as chess at the top is essentially a drawfest, I don't see how chess on TV will work at any level.

The Kasparov-computer match on ESPN2 did ok, but when the draw was announced, there was mass confusion and it setback chess on TV for years. Granted the reason for the interest in that was the man vs. machine aspect, but I think what we can use to grow a modest base of fans are the ex-scholastic players and parents of the current scholastic kids. A lot of parents know that their kids are playing chess, take them to tournaments, get coaches, etc, but have very little idea of what is going on.

I am 100% sure that these parents wouldn't need much prodding to watch a :30 minute chess tournament show, it just has to be a little bit of Hollywood, but really it will be mostly about educating people about chess. There are many excellent chess personalities that can bring the game alive. Yasser's commentary on San Luis allowed thousands of players to get the context of what was going on that otherwise would have been lost on most.

When I see poker players making millions of dollars and chess players making hundreds of dollars, something in me says that it is not right and maybe it can be changed. I was hoping for some support from the community, but it seems I am now being called names and next thing you know I am right there with Don King.

Does anybody else share my vision about a world where you could tune into channel 164 and see a weekly chess program about your favorite chess team and professional chessplayers could actually make a decent living at it, maybe we would even get to where top coaches could get compensated at 10% the level of what poker players do?

Most of what is needed now is time, not money. A good screenplay format that can be used to present chess in an exciting way, excellent commentary (Yasser?), a crazy local organizer (me) to prove that it won't be the end to chess as we know it by changing to BAP, video editing of the raw footage. I can get the pilot on the air and measure the audience results.

Like Greg said, assuming this works, all the good players will be participating even if they don't like some of the details. I agree with Greg. The only problem is creating something that works on TV, while preserving the current game as we know it mostly intact. In my opinion, all that we need to do is adopt BAP or something close to it BAP2 and get the right TV format.

Are there any lurkers out who actually want to help make this real? If we don't try, I can guarantee that we won't succeed. However, the odds are against us, we are up against the incredible TV survival threshold of men's pro-bowling. I think the women's pro bowling league didn't survive on TV.

For a sport to thrive, it needs TV dollars. Once we can prove the ratings are there, then it won't be hard to get the advertisers. I can take care of that. All the advertising needs to pay for would be the organizational costs and not the prize fund. The prize fund is self-financing, explained below.

How many people do chessplayers know? Could we as a community get the people we know to watch a chess show? We get one shot at making a first impression and aggressive fighting chess full of sacrifices has a much better chance of capturing people's imagination, than games where all the pieces are traded off and a draw agreed to, or even ending up in a draw, regardless of how hard fought it is.

The problem is that we are still debating on how specifically should we allow draw offers. I can tell you for sure that TV audience would not want to even really know that such things exist. I can edit those games out of the :30 minute show, but if the final round in the tournament comes down to 4 top players and they all agree to a draw within 10 minutes of the round starting (like it did this weekend at a FIDE rated local tournament I played in!!) it would be hard to edit that out and explain to the audience that after watching for 25 minutes, everybody decided to quit playing and they all agreed to draw and split the prize money. Do you think they will watch the next week's show??

With that scenario possible and actually being the most likely, I cannot justify investing the time and money I expect this will take to get it off the ground, as it won't fly. Hence, BAP was born.

poker tournaments are self-financing for the most part. The players themselves pay a $10,000 buyin to get a chance for the millions. The problem is that chessplayers currently cannot make that sort of buyin, so the first step is to get the professional chessplayers financially to the point where they can easily pay for the $10,000 buyin out of pocket. Local tournaments would then be able to be held where the buyin is $100 and the winner gets the $10,000 buyin, travel and lodging paid for. Even smaller satellite tournaments could be held where the entry fee is $5 and the prize is $100.

With two layers of satellite tournaments at $5 and $100 and a $10,000 buyin for the big annual tournament, it would take 100 finalist players to make it a $1 million tournament. I am purely copying what poker has proven will actually work.

Gee, how could we popularize chess to the point where we would have tens of thousands of players playing in the satellite tournaments? Of course, it is TV.

Now imagine a world where 100,000 people are playing in satellite qualifiers. How strong would the winners be? Any current tournament player would really have a giant advantage against the general public, but with that big of a number, it will be the general public that will be the majority of the tournament players!

It is possible to give everybody a chance to win a big money tournament.

However, it would be a last resort as it would require changing the starting material balance based on skill difference, eg. material odds.

If doing this is the difference between being able to have weekly million dollar prize funds and not, then it would be a consideration, but I am hopeful that we can get chess as we know it now popular enough to at least be a self-sustaining TV show.

From there, things should continue growing and within 10 years after people see that you can win a million dollars (every week) by being good at chess, maybe, just maybe, a lot more people will start playing.

Fixing chess and making it Slugfest chess using BAP and getting at least an annual winner takes all million dollar tournament is the first step. After that, maybe all we need is time?

Can you imagine? A chess tournament winner becoming an instant millionare!

Uh, let's see - I can study 1/100th of the amount, spend less money (do you guys realize how flipping expensive chess is?), and win tons more. Wow. Poker>>>>>Chess, deal with it. I love the game, and ya'll know I spent more effort than most to make chess popular, but it's a fun kid's game with a small sliver of the adult population really enjoying it. If we think it is (or should be) anything more than that, we're deluding ourselves.

And you're going to tell me that a kid like Hikaru can't make MUCH more money outside of chess than in it? Puh-lease.

As a community, we should be able to make it so that the best chess players in the country would make more money than in other professions.

Top professional women bowlers seem to make around $50K/yr. top men bowlers more like $200K/yr.

Is it really unrealistic to set our sights on making the top chess players earn more than the top bowlers? Once we achieve that, we could try to out do women's golfers.

Chess is just a fun kids game? What game isn't?

The US chess community has every right and reason to desire and work toward greater financial benefits for pros.

Nakamura can do what he wants. More money has never equaled greater enjoyment or greater fullfillment. Why would a 17 year old quit? Why not spend five years to see how far he can go?

I know that no one in the popular media ever admits to regrets---but Nakamura would regret a premature decision to quit.

Scholastic chess is growing in the US. This will yeild benefits in time. It takes time---cuz chess is not that fun kids game called football.

Go Steelers.

Mig---you produce the video-- I will watch it on TV and buy it! I buy and record all chess videos!

The chess/poker dynamic won't turn out well for chess, I'm afraid.

I played my first chess tournament about 25 years ago, while my first poker tournament was early this year. I doubt seriously that I'll ever play another chess tournament, but I hope to play many more poker tournaments in both the near and far future. My reasons, which I don't think are all that unique:

1. When a serious chess player passes 40, his results are highly unlikely to equal his past efforts, for many reasons:
A. Keeping up with opening theory becomes more and more burdensome, with no such burden in poker. Chess requires an enormous amount of study just to try an maintain whatever level you're on.
B. Energy levels are lower and it's extremely hard to maintain in even one tournament chess game, let alone a whole tournament. Poker requires much less concentration and many more breaks during competition. In chess, every move must be made with extreme care, while in poker most of your decisions are comparatively easy.
C. This one surprised me: I really hate it when I play poker correctly, but lose when my opponent lucks out because of an unlikely turn of the card. HOWEVER, I actually find that easier to take than a loss in a tournament chess game. Losing a tournament chess game feels terrible and you can't blame it on anyone or anything but yourself. As I get older, it gets no easier: It's harder because the mistakes I make are evidence of overall decline. You can't fool yourself in chess. It's true there's more "justice" in chess because if you lose it's because you deserve to lose, but as I age I don't need to get that slap in the face anymore.

2. Contrary to what many seem to think here, poker is NOT more expensive than chess. I've literally owned over 1,000 chess books in my life, each of which were fairly expensive. If I owned every poker book ever written it might come out to, what, 40 maybe? I also don't need to spend big bucks for ChessBase and all the other software that's necessary for a good player. Big savings there.
Also, I've paid entry fees to hundreds of chess tournaments and, even though I was pretty good (Expert rating), never finished a year in the black. I've also witnessed the Grandmasters try to eek out a living: It's tough for them to win enough money just to pay all their expenses. A huge payday is almost impossible unless they can make it into the world's top 10. A poker player can win thousands in one evening with little expense.
So, in poker, the monetary risk/reward is extremely favorable in comparison to chess.

3. As for marketability to the general public, poker has a big edge because it is easier to understand. Many people spend much of their free time on chess and don't even get a GLIMPSE of the deeper levels of the game. While poker has subtlety too, observers can still have a good idea what is going on.
Also, if you watch things like the World Series of Poker, they only show the hands where something is going on. Many people don't even realize they're watching an edited version of the game. How can you do that in chess? I don't think you can. Each move in chess is significant and you can't skip some of it without saying "we're skipping some of it." I DO agree that chess tournaments could be presented in a version somewhat like poker does, but it still will never have the same appeal. Forget it.

4. Poker is inherently social, while chess is not. Sure, us chess players converse outside the game, but tournament chess is not social. Players aren't talking during their games. Casual games may have some conversation, but it's still rather limited. Poker you have a full table and plenty of conversation even if it's the Final Table of the World Series of Poker, thus it has more appeal to most people.

So, chess must stand and fall on its own merits. Dreams of it becoming mainstream are unrealistic, imho. I say this as someone who always tried my best to promote the game. I organized and ran tournaments for no profit for many years, for example. I spent endless hours of my youth and adulthood on chess. I don't have the energy for it anymore between aging and health problems. I believe that's part of the reason why attendance at adult chess tournaments is on such a steep decline.

Poker, specifically Texas Hold'em, is still very challenging, btw. The rise of that specific type of poker, which was virtually unknown outside of Texas until recently, is part of the reason for the decline in adult participation in chess. Don't shoot the messenger please: Jmho.

The one problem with chess is lack of instant fan gratification. While in most sports it's possible for a spectator to immediately distinguish between a good and a bad move (nothing but net = good, foul ball = bad), in chess, things are not so easy. Without at least some level of analysis, it's impossible to figure out whether that loss of Bishop is a blunder or a sound sacrifice. Even in poker, a (sort of) intellectual sport, things are fairly obvious - full house beats two pairs. In chess, many amatures are even unable to determine who won when GM A resigns to GM B!

Chess is not, and never will be, a spectator sport in the "he shoots, he scores!" sense. Chess is for people who like to be involved in what they're watching, for people who like FIGURING STUFF OUT. Now, I'm not going to be a rating snob and say "you need to be rated at least such-and-such to enjoy GM games" - because I don't think rating is relevant. All one needs is the proper motivation - which unfortunately the typical sports spectator lacks. They need "he shoots, he scores!".

I think that pandering to such crowd would be a serious error that will, firsly, make chess cease to be what it really is, and secondly, will not actually make chess replace NASCAR or NHL.

To market chess, we first need to determine what the core strenghts of the product are, and what kind of crowd do we want to appeal to. Just trying to "appeal to everyone" and "make instant millionaires" is a pipe dream. The NASCAR fan will not watch a game of chess even if the prize is ten million dollars because he doesn't like figuring stuff out. He needs instant gratification. Try appealing to the people who don't.


You make a number of excellent points. Again, I think it comes down to the question of specific objectives.

I don't expect chess to ever be anywhere near as popular as poker, either to play for adult amateurs or to watch on television.

But since chess is already a powerful advertising image, I do expect that, with a consistent program, the top 1% of chess professionals could eventually make $30,000 a year in endorsement money.

I respect John Fernandez' opinion on many things, but I have to disagree that the marketplace regards chess as "just a kid's game." If that were true, you wouldn't see chess symbols used as advertising images for financial services companies and strategic consulting firms.

Ever since I first had a resume, the "Other Honors" section included "Currently listed by the US Chess Federation as one of the top 100 Women Players in the US."

That line alone has helped get me several callbacks for interviews. It made my resume stand out in a positive way. I doubt if saying I were nationally ranked in Sorry! would have had the same effect.

I think what many people have been saying is that poker is more fun as a hobby if you're not among the very best. I don't doubt that's true. All the things ghostgator said about poker vs chess could be said about blitz chess vs serious tournament chess as well.

Blitz costs less, is more fun, requires less investment of time and energy, and the losses don't sting so much. It's also more social.

But none of thoese reasons have to do with why I play tournament chess. I play chess for the same kind of mental exhiliration that good climbers get physically from rock climbing. I play because it's almost impossibly hard. I don't play for the money, or a quick thrill, or even the moment of victory. I play for the challenge of the process itself.

There are a lot of hobbies that offer the same kind of process. Poker is undoubtedly more fun than chess or rock climbing or zen archery or triathalons or building a ship in a bottle. It is a different kind of hobby, for a different kind of human purpose.

My favorite kind of social evenings are to go to the movies, then go out for coffee afterwards. Way more fun than chess. But I don't list it on a resume. :)

If our goal is toattract more people to the sport itself, then, yes, poker is something to be studied.

But if our goal is simply to attract more dollars in support money so that we can have a professional class and educate the next generation, then it doesn't have to be about fun. It certainly doesn't have to be about television.

On the other hand...I've been saying this for a long time now. I don't seem to have convinced anyone. So it's probably time for me to acknowledge that chess people find it more realistic to imagine an America with 20 million tournament players than one with a few dozen endorsement contracts. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but then, what do I know? :)


A few comments.

In a previous thread, I mentioned that live tv coverage of chess was a huge waste of time and editing the games with deep analysis in 3-5 key positions as the way to go. There is no compelling reason to show chess live, as no one can find it interesting to stare at a guy staring at the board for minutes at a time good tv for hours on end. I think Mig deleted that post of mine though, because it had too much poker in it (yet this blog seems to drift into the world of poker regularly).

Second, be careful what you wish for. I am a long time poker pro, way before the TV boom, way before the internet was even around (at least the present day form of it). The influx of new popularity DOES fundamentally change how you view the game you love. Before, it was something intimate and thrilling because it was such a unique identifier of the people involved. Now every yahoo is an expert and has opinions and thinks they are entitled to it all.

Not only that, but realize that poker on TV is hardly poker at all. Count the minutes of actual poker in an hour long show, and it is pretty small. People are more interested in seeing bananas being split in half by cards or ro-sham-bo contests or chip tricks, or made up on-the-spot biographys of players. I know a lot of the 'name players' personally, and if the public knew their real existences before TV, they would be shocked at how many were absolutely broke and begging, and how many are actually terrible players now getting book deals (Annie Duke is the biggest inside joke in poker).

Chess fans are almost by definition hard-core purists, since the game tends to either draw in fanatical followers or be ignored. Do you purists want to see things like who can spin a rook funny or throw a pawn into a bowl 100 feet away, or other 'goofy' aspects just minutely related to chess? Because that is what television will do to your sport if they want to 'liven it up' to tap into a wide audience.

Do purists really want to hear discussions about your game that you know are coming out of the mouths of pure rookies at the local bar who 'don't know what they don't know', maybe things like on par with arguing that a bishop is more powerful than a queen? Because that is what you will get if chess takes off like poker - a whole dominating herd of zero-qualified 'experts' who's axioms just don't make sense to veterans of the game, yet have to be tolerated because its 'good for the game' to have all this popularity now. Can a chess pro take advantage of all this newbie-ness like a poker pro? Yes of course, but believe me, it will make you love chess a lot less with each passing day as glory hounds / loudmouths/ ego-affected louts swarm into your game, and the once tight community becomes diluted with the unknowledgable know-it-alls. Anyone who has chess in his 'soul' will suffer, while those in it for money will not. I can't help but think that chess players are more of the 'soul' type than poker players are, yet even as a poker player I feel this 'cheapening' effect.

It doesn't really matter that I say this, because chess has no chance of 'catching on fire' like poker. Chess has been around for AGES, and everyone is aware of it (it's not like it's an obscure game that just needs exposure- any person can recognize a chess set immediately, even if he's never played before because the images of chess and its pieces are so ubiquitous). It is not the lack of TV that is the reason why chess is not popular, but the lack of popularity of chess is why there is no TV. Believe me, if there was any market for it, it would already have happened by now since the barriers of entry into the chess world are trivial to any TV production company.

It fascinates me that people still believe that there is a 'magic bullet' out there for chess that just needs to be flipped on for chess to take off like a rocket. Why can't the obvious be seen - that chess has had centuries of exposure and visibility, yet market forces have already ruled on it again and again. It's going to be niche and stay there forever. Just because you are an expert in something or love something with your soul does not entitle you to make a living at it, or that it should be popular on a wide scale for that matter. Ask any artist.

The only way to make chess popular is to dramtatically increase the base of chess players. The Soviet Union did this to good effect, though they did it strictly for political reasons. America could only do it by drawing chess into the mainstream scholastic curriculum. Chess has many times been proven to increase results in all types of scholastic activities, while also helping to keep kids out of drugs and gangs. There is no real reason to keep chess from being viewed as a true subject, like math, science, English, etc, that should be studied by all school students. Students would truly benefit from this, and of course the base of people who would understand and love chess would grow enormously, thus increasing the popularity of chess dramatically over time.

If there was a chess TV show on tonight, would you watch it?

What if we started with a chess show that YOU would watch regularly, all the time? If we could build a base of 100,000 viewers, it would come in at a 0.1 national HH. Not great, in fact as low a rating as you can have, but still a non-zero rating. Gotta start somewhere.

The advertising value of 100,000 HH is not tremendous, but if it was a weekly 30 minute show with 6 :30 commercial slots, at $10 CPM that would have a gross value of $300,000 per year. Not a huge amount, but it could cover low budget production costs and the key thing is that it would have a core following comprised not of the mythical "everybody else", but rather of us.

Assuming the show had continual value and interest to the chess community, as the chess community grows, the shows ad value will grow. By being on TV all the time, that alone should boost the overall interest in chess.

So, what would this TV show have to have to make it a must see TV show for us?

The latest tournament news, all the FIDE world championship back and forth, what else? Let's make a TV show for ourselves and if nobody else watches, then so be it.

What about a 30 minute San Luis tournament show that emphasized the key moments in the key games? It would be educational from a chess sense and also have dramatic impact from a sporting sense.

"There is no real reason to keep chess from being viewed as a true subject, like math, science, English, etc, that should be studied by all school students."

Sure there are. Even as a person who was once deeply into chess and knows of the analytical benefits of playing the game, I am appalled by the thought that it be mandatory in the school system. Making chess popular is not nearly as important to me and hopefully others to justify forcing it upon our school system. Absurd that anyone thinks chess is THAT important to our culture and existence.

How about just sticking to the basics of math and science to teach students about math and science, and not tangetially related things. I mean, what's next? Dancing teaches coordination and is linked to maths, but I don't think everyone has to dance either. The military teaches command structures and responsibility, but I don't think mandatory military service is necessary (though there is some merit to it).

Again, just because it is something YOU hold dear does not mean the rest of us have to as well, especially up to the point where your personal belief about chess has to be taught to all children. It's dogmatic thinking like yours that has given rise to the rediculous notion of "Intelligent Design" being a mandatory subject in Kansas schools and possibly beyond. Please, don't inflect upon the rest of us your belief system, even if that system is as 'innocent' as chess.


"If there was a chess TV show on tonight, would you watch it?"

Maybe once or twice, but there is not enough going on in the world of chess that I feel I would watch weekly. Chess translates better on the written page / Internet, especially with java-enabled boards to follow analysis than it does on TV. TV is better for 'action' events like sports. I don't need to see Topalov actually move the rook to get the idea of what went on from the text "Re7".

"What if we started with a chess show that YOU would watch regularly, all the time? If we could build a base of 100,000 viewers, it would come in at a 0.1 national HH. Not great, in fact as low a rating as you can have, but still a non-zero rating. Gotta start somewhere.

The advertising value of 100,000 HH is not tremendous, but if it was a weekly 30 minute show with 6 :30 commercial slots, at $10 CPM that would have a gross value of $300,000 per year. Not a huge amount, but it could cover low budget production costs and the key thing is that it would have a core following comprised not of the mythical "everybody else", but rather of us."

Why would any cable channel support ANY show with a 0.1 rating? TV test patterns have a higher rating than that. Why would a cable channel give up money a 0.3 rating show could give it just to show chess on TV? TV time is a market, and that market will dictate content quite nicely by just following free-market supply and demand. The program director would be FIRED if he didn't pull that show off the air immediately and just show infomercials that come in at around 0.3 even late at night. Not only that, but I don't think a chess program could sustain a 0.1 rating over time.

If you really wanted to give this a shot, your only alternative is community access channels or the Internet. Good luck.

"Assuming the show had continual value and interest to the chess community, as the chess community grows, the shows ad value will grow. By being on TV all the time, that alone should boost the overall interest in chess."

Channels that make their money from advertising do not try to 'build' an audience for the future, they want that audience NOW, and if it isn't there immediately, they find another program. There is no scenario where they would keep this low rated chess program on "all the time" to "boost the overall interest" because if that interest does not indicate itself IMMEDIATELY, that chess show is GONE. Look at all the shows that draw in 6-7 million viewers that still get yanked quickly. There of course are a few exceptions, like "Arrested Development", that the network did try to find an audience, but these are exceptions that have other value (i.e "Emmy Award Winning" prestige), and drew in millions of viewers. Chess will not win critical acclaim for its slick writing or have millions of viewers every week.

"So, what would this TV show have to have to make it a must see TV show for us?

The latest tournament news, all the FIDE world championship back and forth, what else? Let's make a TV show for ourselves and if nobody else watches, then so be it."

The Internet allows you to do just this - produce your own show and make it for 'us', so go at it. But thinking that TV and its ad-based revenue model will comply with your wishes is just blindness. What color is the sky in your world?

"What about a 30 minute San Luis tournament show that emphasized the key moments in the key games? It would be educational from a chess sense and also have dramatic impact from a sporting sense."

The Internet and magazines fulfill this limited market for this kind of information quite nicely. I don't see how you are going to convince a TV executive that mainstream people will want to watch San Luis more than they want to watch Tara Reid get drunk in exotic locations and fall down while partially naked (and even then, "Taradise" was cancelled too).

It's the same type of argument over and over - because YOU love chess, the rest of the world, including schools, broadcast networks, production companies, free-market forces, etc, should all ignore their own realities and desires and just give you what you want. Can we at least keep reality as one of the small variables in this discussion?

I agree that reality is a nice variable in the discussion :) However, Stern, there are many assumptions in your argument.

Shelby Lyman put chess on TV to great effect back in the 70s. (No, I don't know what the numbers were, but I do have many non-chessplayer friends who watched Lyman.) With the poker boom today, several forces came together to make it take off, as several people have noted in this thread: Moneymaker, the everyman, won a bazillion dollars. Somebody figured out some novel ways to present the action (excellent postproduction, the hole cam, ideas to make the action more accessible such as posting the pot odds onscreen as play progresses). Could similar but chess-specific techniques work for chess? I don't think we know yet because nobody has tried. Skipping forward in the action might be okay for the layman audience if Yasser uses a telestrator and Fritz to explain key ideas in the new position, so when Nakamura reaches his hand out to play his move, the audience is already primed to expect Ka6 loses but Kb6 wins. That sort of thing.

Nakamura could be, or maybe could have been, the Fischer/Moneymaker variable in today's equation. He's American and also great at blitz. These two things might really appeal to a US TV audience.

Will somebody try this? Dunno. Recent television shows have tried to make action/competition shows (more or less) out of industrial design, Japanese cooking, room makeovers, personal makeovers for hopeless slobs, etc. Maybe someone will try it with chess.

Do I mind having novices toss out their opinions as fact? This already happens in live chat following every GM tournament, and also in the blog world, as it does in sports radio and a thousand other topics/media. Who cares? I just ignore them.

Why might it be good to have chess on TV? I guess my personal selfish reason is that I enjoy OTB chess, and local chess tournament attendance is dropping. If OTB goes away, I'm bummed. An infusion of enthusiasts might keep my hobby viable for another generation. That's all.

I agree with some of your points, Stern -- don't cram chess down every schoolkid's throat, particularly -- but I think some of your assertions of fact are simply untested opinions.


Excellent comments. Especially important is the fact that it's not how many viewers your particular show will have, but how many would a DIFFERENT show have in the same time slot? That's what drives what goes on the air.

But television does not drive endorsement money. If it did, Fear Factor champions would get a hundred times more money in endorsements then the 50th person on the LPGA tour. (LPGA events get terrible ratings, which is why it's on television very rarely.)

You mentioned the market already having spoken. Chess is already one of the more popular advertising images. I've done media surveys multiple times in my career--chess continues to turn up way ahead of most competitive activities. Businesses like being associated with it. Already. Much more so than they do with poker.

The market tells us: businesses already see chess as an appropriate image with which to be associated.

The question for me was always, "How do we turn that into sponsorship dollars for individual players in the top 1%?"

But again, the market has spoken, at least within the chess community, and the answer has been: "No one here cares."

Your post has made me realize that perhaps it is simply the nature of those drawn to chess in the first place. They like logic. Analysis. Unemotional and to a certain extent nonverbal communication.

Getting sponsorships is all about making an objective case, but adding an emotional appeal. Being willing to be judged away from the board, when perhaps chessplayers come into chess to begin with to avoid any subjective judgments.

Hmmm...It's an interesting thought. It could explain a lot of things.


Erika Danko (my wife) and I took about 7 hours of video at one of the US Championships in Seattle. It's mostly hers, because I was working as an arbiter.

runnerpadilla is on the right track -- the value of televised poker is the kibitzing factor. Poker players may not like the idea of average viewers having opinions on their bluffs and folds, but that's what keeps up the interest.

Beyond that, it's easy to see in poker WHY someone lost -- a "bad beat," an ill-timed bluff, failure to read a bluff, an unlucky heads-up matchup against a pair of aces, etc.

And that's why I'm intrigued with Mig's idea of distilling it down to an hour. It could work.

But Stern also has some good thoughts, and it makes me wonder if chess ought to bypass TV and make full use of the Web. I've seen some decent Webcasts of live matches, but I think they're baby steps. What we need are full-bore analyses as tournaments are going on, plus well-edited "highlights" showing matches in animation with good commentary. As Stern says, there's no reason this has to be televised -- we don't need to see the player's hand -- but seeing it in simple pictures would help the novice or intermediate player.

Here is a possible way to reduce the edge of stronger players in chess without material odds or other game-changing rules. I am not suggesting the following as an alternative to classical chess, only as a possible fun TV game.

1) The game is played with the normal chess rules and scoring.

2) There is a strong computer program that constantly analyzes the game position. The players do not see its analysis, but the viewers do.

3) Once out of every two moves (say, on moves 1, 3, etc), each player can choose to make the move that is currently suggested as best by the program, without knowing it before he/she makes this decision.

4) The computer moves accumulate, that is, for example, if a player makes 10 own moves at the beginning, he or she can then make 11 computer moves in a row.

5) If anyone offers a draw, the opponent gets a free computer move if the offer is declined (to discourage draw offers in non-trivial positions).

I think the viewers of this game who are weak chess players can understand and be interested a lot more than when watching a regular chess game. For example, they can study how the players use their computer moves, whether their own moves are good according to the computer, etc. At the same time, it is still a game of skill since every second move is your own.

Also, the creators of the software may be willing to pay for it being used on TV. :)

As well as the computer makers, who have a lot more money for advertising.

Erika Danko (my wife) and I took about 7 hours of video at one of the US Championships in Seattle. It's mostly hers, because I was working as an arbiter.

I can come up with a million reasons why chess won't work on TV. I bet you can too. Since chess hasn't worked on TV in America yet, until it does, the burden of proof that it can work is on the side of the optimists.

I was hoping to get a bit of support and optimism for chess on TV. If I can't get it here, then it probably doesn't exist. For people who are thinking that chess on TV needs to compete with Survivor or American Idol, that is clearly impossible. However, the competition is the late night time slots after 1am and weekend spots where infomercials are run.

IF we can get a TV show with a 0.1 HH (that would actually translate to more like a 0.5 share at those timeslots), then it would be one of the TOP shows running at that timeslot.

Stern sounds like he knows a bit about TV, so he can explain the difference between HH and share. There are a large number of shows, especially on cable news channels that would DIE for a 0.5 share as most things that are ubiquitous like CNN Headline news actually only gets around a 0.2 share.

The hurdle is not to beat the top rated shows on broadcast networks out of the gate (or ever), just to get a survivable show on some obscure cable channel. Have you seen some of the silly special interest shows that do survive?

We just need a long term chess show that would be a must see show for the chess audience. 100,000 regular viewers is all we need, actually maybe less would do.

It is always possible to get airtime proactively without convincing any cable channel, by simply subsidizing the difference in ad value and informercial value.

I hope the pessimists could stop throwing cold water on this fledgling long shot idea as if there was some wealthy benefactor reading this, we wouldn't want him or her to get all discouraged, would we?

Is there anybody willing to help with this, or are there only people who want to spend all this energy on trying to prove how impossible it is. There is no need to do that as in Russia chess on TV gets decent ratings, so chess does work on TV. Is America so different that Russia that chess is impossible on TV? Maybe so, there is that chance, but nobody ever achieved the "impossible" by listening to the people who said that it can't be done here because nobody ever did it before.

The question really is if people reading this want to HELP with this or if they want to KILL it.

So far, my sense is that there are more people who want this to die than who want it to live. Too bad, as I do know some pretty wealthy potential benefactors, but they are reluctant to fund anything without strong support from the community

I'd like to add and clarify some points from the post I made the evening of November 29.

First, I still do play blitz fairly frequently on ICC. (Old habits die hard.) However, my play is so horrible compared to the way I used to play that playing only causes anguish. I've become older and am now disabled. I never would have believed that my standard of play could go so far below where I used to play, but it has. There's no joy anymore in chess; just misery. I suspect that this is true for many people who pass a certain age and/or develop serious conditions that make it virtually impossible to play at anything close to former standards. Given that: Why do it anymore, especially now that there's a viable alternative in Hold'em Poker?

Second, regarding the dream of chess really taking off with the general public, I used to have lots of enthusiasm for the game and tried to promote it. I organized and ran tournaments for no profit. I gave enthusiastic chess lessons to anyone that wanted them, including in schools. I wanted to see chess become more mainstream. I wanted to share my love for the game.
Unfortunately, I've learned that it just can't happen. Chess may become more popular than it is, but mostly only with those predisposed to have an interest in it. It's the type of people we are.
Analogy: I often try to get people to watch t.v. shows on channels such as Discovery Channel and History Channel. To me, these shows are far more interesting than the drivel that's shown during primetime on the networks. I don't watch any weekly network shows: No sitcoms, no t.v. dramas, and no reality shows, for example. To me, there are fascinating things to watch on other channels. I encourage people to watch certain shows on those channels. Guess what?? I get a yawn and a comment about it being an "educational" ie, "boring" show, and then the person talks about Survivor or Lost or whatever piece of crap the networks show. The mentality of most people is that they want to watch that stuff rather than the "boring" educational stuff on Discovery, et al. They don't want intellectual stimulation: They want to vege out in front of the t.v.
Sure, Discovery, TLC, History Ch, etc. have decent viewership, but NOT EVEN CLOSE to your average crappy thing on the networks. It mystifies and disheartens me, but that's the reality of people's interests.
Also, there's a definite anti-intellectual bias by most Americans. Learning is "boring" and smart people are harangued as "nerds" and being a nerd is a bad thing in their eyes. You think you're going to sell chess to them??
So...Chess mainstream in America? Forget about it. It won't happen.

A realistic goal is to go after those people who may not know much about chess, but are predisposed to learn about it. The style of the t.v. coverage of poker can be used as a model for getting the interest of some people. If it's done right, it will bring in some potential people, imho. It's a great idea to learn how the poker shows do it and copy if, with adjustments, and see how it goes. Just don't expect the type of boom there is in Hold'em.

Another poster mentioned that some view chess as "a little kids' game." I wouldn't have believed it before I saw it, but it's true that it is viewed like that by older kids. I've taught chess in schools and would get lots of enthusiastic first and second graders. As much as I tried, the older kids couldn't be brought into it because of their attitude that chess is only for little kids. No amount of discussion from me would change their minds.
If you look at scholastic chess, the vast majority of kids playing are elementary school kids. Once they get to middle school, they leave the games in droves. They're not quitting as adults, they're quitting before they even make it to high school. Middle school and high school kids want to be "cool" and an intellectual exercise is the antithesis of cool.
My experience in this isn't just with other kids, I have two daughters whom I'd taught the game at a young age. One stuck with it for a good bit of time, but the day she started middle school she was outta there. No way, no how, did she want to be labled a nerd. (There's that anti-intellectualism thing again.)

Lastly, chess players are often considered to be odd outsiders with no social skills. All the press on the recent Bobby Fischer drama only reinforced that serious chess players have a screw loose. What parent wants their kid to grow up to be Fischer?? His words are reprehensible, he's obviously on the lunatic fringe, and is badly in need of a psychiatrist and the proper medications. For most non-chess playing Americans, Fischer IS chess and if that's the way he is, what parent would ever want to risk their child turning out like him?

Don't get me wrong, learning chess from a decent chess coach can be a great thing for kids and can help in many ways. It teaches many good lessons, but if a child is to truly become world-class, then the enormous amount of time necessary to devote to the game is enough to put many parents off. After all, this is America and parents want their kids to grow up to have well-paying jobs. For this to happen when chess is your chosen occupation is a very, very long shot.

There's also the issue of poor organization on the international, national, and state level. As long as I've been around the game, there's been absurd infighting over tiny pieces of turf. People in positions of "power" in chess usually seem focused on their own interests rather than on promoting chess. Petty vindictive battles are the status quo. Maybe that will change, but I wouldn't bet on it unfortunately.

So, I believe chess will alway just be a small niche hobby. The challenge may be to find a way to increase adult participation in tournaments. Attendence in adult OTB events is dreadful. Whether this can be reversed, I don't know. I fought the good fight for many, many years, but I'm done.
See ya' at the poker tables! ;-)

(Sorry that I'm not more articulate here: It's 3 a.m. and I'm not in great shape.
Also, sorry to sound so negative: It took me a long time of doing my utmost for chess to finally reach my current view. Please don't shoot the messenger.)

GhostGator, I presume you've done a lot more for chess than I have - I echo your sentiments.

I love chess, it will always be a part of my life. These delusions that it can be bigger than itself (excluding those small moments like Fischer and Kasparov vs. Compies), however, I have quickly divested myself of.

Yes, chess always has a lot of "potential" if you count the people who have a chess set, or know OF chess, or watch Searching For Bobby Fischer, etc. The reality is that it will never translate the way poker did (because it isn't as simple to the naked eye), or be as popular.

Chess is chess. Nothing more. Love it for what it is, but don't put it on some silly pedestal which will disappoint you in the end.

Trust me, it was one of the most heartbreaking realizations of my life, but I'm over it now. I now actually ENJOY chess. You can have too much of a good thing.


So i guess you've answered my question. The sky is green in your world.

The thought of someone dictating what goes on the air "by simply subsidizing the difference in ad value and informercial value" just shows how out of touch you are with the costs and realities of your idea. "Simply"? Ok.

Not to mention that cable channels have a 'tone' they want to set to capture a type of audience. So even if this imaginary benefactor was willing to shell out $600,000 to produce a show + subsidizing lost ad revenue to plese the few chess fans, cable companies would STILL probably reject it unless the benefactor's offer was double or triple what they would normally make since the tone of the show is so out of sync with the rest of the cable channel's programming. They would probably reject it outright on principle alone - these channels do not want to be the toys of eccentric billionaires.

What you call pessimism some of us call reality. We (I) am not being 'negative' just for the joy of playing the contrarian. I am simply calling it as I see it. If that happens to crush your wild optimism, well, that was not my target. I simply feel that the Internet and print is a more reasonable media and goal for chess. You've already read my reasons why. If you really think I'm way off, then go find this benefactor that will give you $400-$600K to produce a show (mostly in foreign countries = expensive), buy out ad time, buy the promotion and marketing, and do this every week and THEN go find any cable channel that will actually listen to your proposal, even though those channels mostly have wealthy parent companies that subsidize them already to a great extent. If you think my skepticism in your ability to pull of this parlay is excessively negative, then we just don't see the world the same at all. I doubt you would be even able to pull of 1/2 of that equation. I could be wrong however. But, if put to a vote about who is closer to seeing the reality of your proposal, I like to think that voters would say the sky is bluer in my world.

GhostGator - interesting post. I followed a similar path as your daughters, but it wasn't so much a fear of being a 'nerd', in that I just reached that age where I realized there was so much more in the world that I wanted to devote my time to (mainly the new concept of being attacted to the opposite sex). If you want to be serious in chess, the amount of time and dedication is enormous, and you have to make the call to give up a lot of other things, including a lot of social interaction. For me, and for many, the call was easy since I could see that devoting my life to chess would lead nowhere fast. Once I hit the point where I had to remember ECO / MCO pages ad nauseum just to be competitive, I knew my time in serious chess was over. It just wasn't worth it. It's fine as a hobby. But I wouldn't wish a life devoted to chess on my worst enemy.


If you could make it happen, that would be great. I agree with Mig that format and production values are essential, or even I (a dedicated chess fan with a mid-level rating) would likely hit the fast forward button. I like the idea of trying things out on the internet first, not only because it's cheaper to do so, but because by making the show available on demand you can vastly increase the potential audience, including those in other countries.

I just don't think television is necessary to my definition of "popularizing chess," which is bringing in enough endorsement money for the top 1% that we can maintain a professional class. But "not necessary" doesn't mean I don't think it wouldn't be great if you did it. (How's that for a string of double negatives!)


I became severely disabled a few years ago. My blitz rating tanked, it became a struggle to play even one OTB game per year. But chess has still been my salvation. Chessbase published the story already here: http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=1934
so I won't go into details. I am pleased to say, though, that my ability to appreciate chess at higher levels, and my correpsondence game, have indeed improved after two years of study with IM Jeremy Silman. Sure, it probably would have taken only 2 or 3 months when I'd been well, but to see any improvement is thrilling for me.


I taught chess for several years in an elementary school, and for one year in a high school when they lost their coach. The kids I knew didn't think of chess as a "Little kids' game"--they were always surprised when a 2nd grader showed up. They did think of it as "nerd activity" by high school, no question.

Again, I think the market shows us, through the symbols chosen for advertising, that chess is perceived as an adult intellectual activity.

In fact, I think it's one of the first adult activities that a young person can do and compete fairly with adults. That's part of its attraction for some kids.

Then, as they reach 15 and 16 and more adult activities are available to them, it's a matter of having more to compete with, as much as anything. I don't just mean sex and romance--getting a job, studying physics, thinking about writing the Great American Novel, driving a car, shopping, cooking, playing poker, giving blood, talking on the Internet.

For most kids in the US, 12 is an age when you are sheltered from much of life, and most adult activities. You don't need a bank account or to cook a meal or run errands or get a job. For a bright kid, middle school is often pretty boring. College is too far away to matter. Even volunteer activities are few, in part because of the transportation issue.

For a serious kid, chess is a near perfect venue. On the Internet, you can compete absolutely equally with adults. Not only can you study, as you do in school, but you can put your studies into practice, something most middleschoolers can't in other subjects.

Hit high school, and the world opens up. Volunteer works, jobs, hobbies, even studies all begin to have more practical application. And everything is both more stressful and more important. Chess now has to compete. So of course it loses adherents.


I'm sure you're right. The moments that lift chess to the front page of the sports section have as much to do with geopolitics as anything else. (Man vs Machine was its own political stage in the late 20th century.)

I just feel that the market has put a value on chess (hence its appearance in advertisements) that we, as the tournament chess community, have failed to help translate into benefit for pro players.

Still, that's probably our nature, too. When we held the US Championship with the largest money prize fund ever, we still managed to produce an official program with bios for only 25% of the participants. It wasn't a matter of poor organization--it was a matter of having different values than most niche sports. Maybe that's the "nerd factor," too. :)



I just read your linked story at chessbase. I just wanted to say how amazing your journey of perseverance is, and how inspiring.

One thing is for sure - judging by your writing here and for that article, your mind has remained very sharp. It is a welcome sight that that mind has not allowed itself to become imprisoned by a weakened body. Again, just inspiring.

I will appreciate what I have a little more today, as I hope you will as well.

The sky here is usually grey...

Being a nerd used to be uncool, until the a nerd became the world's richest man.

Don't we all know successful people who used to play chess? Would they attribute ANY of their success to chess? If we could get half a dozen celebrity endorsers who would do public service spots that associated chess with their success, and if we could get that on the air, it would change people's perception of chess. TV works, that is why companies use it to advertise. To change people's choices. Do you really think you would eat at McDonald's as much as you do if they didn't advertise?

TV is VERY powerful. It convinces people to eat stuff that they know is bad, over and over.

Chess is good for you. This is scientifically proven. Unlike brussel sprouts, chess can be fun. What chess needs is a marketing campaign, a little bit of money and a lot of grass roots support. The support would consist mostly of convincing people to go to a website or watch a TV show, no hard lifting required. Audience = money.

I don't know what Stern's background in TV is, but purchasing TV inventory is part of what I do outside of chess. I purchase 30 minute blocks of time on TV stations in Top 50 markets for $100 to $300. Certainly not prime time on the major networks, but you can get fringe time for that sort of pricing even on major networks.

Let's say, we simply purchased 10 weeks inventory on 8 PAX stations, that just happen to be the ones where the USCL has teams. That would be a whopping, giant incredible airtime cost of 80 * ($100 to $500) depending on the timeslot. We are talking $8000 to $40,000 to get 10 30 minute timeslots in all 8 markets. Initially, it would make sense to pick just one market where we would be able to create the most audience, eg. NY/LA

I don't know where Stern comes up with $600K...

If we can get ONE volunteer cameraman per city, then any Powermac with Final Cut (I happen to have one) can make TV ready tapes.

This is NOT a $600K project, it is more like a $10K project. I am spending several thousand dollars on the Bainbridge Slugfest already and if I could get a few volunteers to actually help, then I could put together a pilot show.

We will certainly test how good the production value is via Internet first and when it is fine tuned, that is when we could go on live TV! If we can then make sure we set decent audience numbers for PAX (not NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC) then we could take those audience numbers and sell some ad time to the Chessbases of the world to cover the airtime costs. Unsold time can air the "Chess is cool (and will make you rich, hint, hint)" commercials.

That is what I mean by subsidizing. Not some crazy plan, but a real workable incremental approach where initial outlay is mostly time to get the show watchable (to chessplayers) and hopefully captivating. I was particularly intrigued by Yasser's San Luis commentary. Weren't you?

If Yasser was the commentator, wouldn't you tune in each week?

So, can we convince Yasser (or clone him), create a decent screenplay format, get footage and the all important video editor, I am 100% sure we can get on the air for $10K.

Is there anybody out there who knows how to use Final Cut on a Mac?

A self-sustaining TV show airing the "Chess is cool" campaign over time will change people's mindset about chess. If there is anybody out there who knows how to get press, we can then tie in the big money tournaments with free press and as soon as we have the first chess millionare, then the seeds that the "Chess is cool" campaign has planted will really start to grow.

So Stern, still think this is pie in the sky? I have laid out step by step how to get on the air. The only variable is how many people will actually watch.


P.S. 100,000 HH is the critical threshold. Are thre 100,000 chessplayers nationwide that will regularly watch the USCL Slugfest show and get one other person per week to also watch?

I cross posted this thread on www.Slugfest.org.

If anybody has a problem with this, let me know and I will edit out your posts


A "chess is cool" campaign?? Give me a break. I've remained silent long enough. The chess "nerd factor" won't be changed that easily. You're coming across more like an encyclopedia salesman answering objections everyday Clint. Obviously you're not a humble grass roots chess supporter who hates draws due to an advanced competitive nature; you're an entrepreneur with an easily checked internet record of non-chess enterprises (have a look folks). My bull*hit detector is screaming in the red.


If the fact that I have 20+ patents and successfully bootstrapped (started with $1000) a public company that employs 150+ people in a highly competitive industry that required mastering marketing is a bad thing, then I must be bad.

Is it possible that I am an entrepreneur with an easily checked internet record of non-chess enterprises who hates draws due to an advanced competitive nature and wants to generate grass roots support for Slugfest Chess instead of Draw Lovers Chess?

My position is that the current state of chess marketing is not the absolute best it can be. It seems that you are saying that chess marketing is currently at its pinnacle and there is no way to improve it at all. I disagree.

If you can get yourself to admit that chess marketing can be improved just a little bit from where it is now, then please admit that the inremental gain will incrementally increase the general appeal of chess.

Once we can get small, but consistent daily gains of mindshare, over time that will produce a much larger popularity of the game.

You know for sure that you cannot achieve this and I am sure that you cannot either, because if you don't believe you can do it, then of course you are right.

I know that I might not be able to achieve this, even if I try, but I know that I certainly won't if I don't try. Small but non-zero chance is bigger than zero chance.

Oh, if you are thinking that I am doing this for the money, then you are partially right. Money makes the world go around and money is required to organize and produce and promote chess, so we do have to figure out how to get enough money flowing to make this happen. However, personally, I do not need to make any money from chess (I already have enough) and I will spend 100% of profits reinvested to promote chess.

I will probably eventually setup a formal nonprofit, but things are so cash negative now and for the foreseeable future that it doesn't need any official designation of non-profit.

Whiskey, what is your actual experience with marketing?

My personal resume isn't at issue here because I'm not the one trying to gather support for a revamping of the game of chess in the U.S. If I ever do come up with a lofty proposal and ask chess enthusiasts from across the country to get involved I'll expect to field questions about my background. I'm sure you've had many successfull business ventures in the past. That's not a bad thing. I think folks have a right to know whether your pathological hatred of draws is motivated by being deeply devoted to the game of chess or the desire to make a buck by making chess masters jump through hoops for a short attention span TV audience. If I seem suspicious of your motives it's based on your own words here..and I think you've been laying the hard sell on really thick at times. I guess this makes me a vile "draw lover" in your world..oh well.

Clint: “So, can we convince Yasser (or clone him), create a decent screenplay format, get footage and the all important video editor, I am 100% sure we can get on the air for $10K.”

AND Clint:

“If the fact that I have 20+ patents and successfully bootstrapped (started with $1000) a public company that employs 150+ people in a highly competitive industry that required mastering marketing is a bad thing, then I must be bad.”

AND Clint:

“Oh, if you are thinking that I am doing this for the money, then you are partially right. Money makes the world go around and money is required to organize and produce and promote chess, so we do have to figure out how to get enough money flowing to make this happen. However, personally, I do not need to make any money from chess (I already have enough) and I will spend 100% of profits reinvested to promote chess.”

So Clint, you seem to be saying you are wealthy and want to promote chess out of the goodness of your heart AND that you can do it all in the neighborhood of $10K. Even if you had to hire a video editor (you are settling for anyone who knows “Final Cut Pro”, right?) and writer for the “screenplay”, it still seems like you plan is still well within your means. So why not do it and prove me (and many others who have spent 100x more money and effort than you propose) wrong and do your chess revolution on TV? What is stopping you? Think of all the money you will save with your ‘marketing genius’ driving the effort.

I guess legal fees (contracts with the organizing site and players), the lawyer for the tv broadcast deal, release waivers for participants to broadcast their image (you do realize that even if you got Jon Berry’s “7 hours of video at one of the US Championships in Seattle”, you cannot broadcast people's faces legally without consent of the participants, right?), agreement with advertisers, production costs including payment to the chess events for TV rights (the big ones of interest (San Luis) are not going to give it for free, nor are they going to allow your camera into the playing hall as a ‘tourist’), dedicated cameramen (this is a weekly show, right? Or are you going to leave it to chance that Samaritans will send you free footage in the mail every week?), film and equipment (or are you planning to have the quality equal to what your hand-held $300 DV camera can produce in bad lighting and think it is fit for broadcast?), language translators, airfare and accommodations (again, all the big events are not in the U.S.), and all those other ‘little nagging details’ are all included in your business model? Wow, who knew that anyone could get anything on TV for around 10K and a “little” goodwill? I’m surprised rich people don’t do it all the time with their wedding videos and son’s pee-wee football games. If you are going to throw and extravagant bar-mitzvah for your son, why not throw in another 10K and have it on TV? Strange that it isn’t done more, if even on a whim. Or that so many bright minds in chess didn't realize the key to Nirvana is just 10K away. Or could this mythical 10K=TV formula somehow entail much more money and effort than getting a Final Cut Pro guy on board?

Clint: “I cross posted this thread on www.Slugfest.org.If anybody has a problem with this, let me know and I will edit out your post.”

I have a problem with it. Please edit out my posts from your website. I’m surprised Mig has let you post entire threads from here over there, especially since you do not give explicit credit to the origin of the thread and posts, but rather try to make it seem like all the people here are actually actively participating on your lame site. I’d like to hear from Mig that he is really aware that you are posting his original article AND all the user comments from here on your site with his knowledge and blessing. I would expect Mig to protect his own content and the respect towards his visitors to a much greater degree than this.

Yes, tommy, Duif, GhostGator, John Fernandez, et al., all your posts and comments here are being taken by Clint and posted on his site. Maybe you are all aware of this and don’t care, but I do. Clint, this is a request to remove my posts from your site. It’s bad enough that I’ve gotten into a discussion with you before realizing what plane of reality you exist on ("chess is cool" campaign, with BIG STARS endorsing it!!), but to now be simulcast on your site (with the implication that I care for your BAPS and your site) is intolerable.


I am very grateful to Mig for providing this forum. In case it needs saying: I post my comments here as part of the discussions here. I do not wish them reposted at any other site. That applies to any thread in which I post.


Stern and Duif, I edited out your comments from slugfest.org.

My $10K estimate is to get a low budget pilot produced. I previously estimated $8K to $40K for 10 weeks of airtime, that would be in addition to the pilot costs. There would also be costs to produce each week's episode. An entire season's cost to broadcast the USCL season would probably be around $100K.

By doing a pilot and seeing the response, a decision can be made after spending $10K, instead of $100K. There is no business plan for this, since it is not a business, as it has no chance of making money. The plan is to get a pilot made and purchase some airtime and measure response and hope it is enough to attract some advertisers to defray some of the costs and reduce the subsidy required.

I am not aware of many (any) people that have spent $1 million promoting chess. I had hoped to gain some allies in this, instead of enemies...

Will anybody here even watch the pilot if I post it on the web for constructive criticism? Or has this all been just a futile effort on my part in trying to get help from the community? Why should I even bother spending $10K and making a pilot if everyone is just going to slam me for, actually I'm not sure why you are all against me, very confusing.

All I have done is present the non-zero possibility that chess could have an ongoing self-sustaining TV presence with 100,000 HH watching and a bootstrap plan where I would finance the pilot. For this I get insinuations of legal action and get compared to the likes of Don King.


I'm sure you must be feeling very frustrated. I think it's just the nature of the Internet. Most people say nothing, and the ones who do are either those who feel strongly in the negative, those who like to get any kind of response, those who are already heavily emotionally invested in a different idea on the same subject, and those who enjoy intellectual debate.

So almost any idea can end up feeling like "no one likes it," when in fact it's just the nature of the forum. Go back into rec.games.chess at Google groups and look at some of the discussions of the AF4C's plan to take over the US Chess Champoinship, for example.

Below, a few specifics in no particular order.

1. Regarding people who have put a great deal of money into promoting chess, I think there have been several. Erik Andersen, Madame Nao, Bessel Kok, the folks behind the HB Foundation. The original founders of the Chess in Schools Foundation are another group. But they all have their own initiatives going.

2. GM Susan Polgar was recently involved with some people who have a television production company and were interested in putting chess on television. That show aired about 6 weeks ago. If you're seruously interested in pursuing this, I would think they would be the first people to talk to.

3. I personally very much enjoyed the first incarnation of Chess.fm radio. Started By Tony Heinz (Tony Rook was his stage name), he was the host and engineer as well as founder. It was enviisoned as 24 hour chess radio on the Internet, and originally it did have new programming on most days, and 4 or 5 different weekly series as well as coverage of live events. There were some advertisers, including at least one nonchess advertiser (a financial institution). It was intended from the beginning as a profit making venture.

The problem with that one was that the station's income could not support two more engineers. Tony did all the backstage work himself: sales, production, program management, website support--and he did the on-air work of engineer and host. Too much for one person, and eventually the format changed.

But since Tony is one of the only people I know in the US who has ever managed to attract advertisers both in and outside of the chess-related businesses, you should definitely talk to him. (He can be messaged at tonyrook on ICC).

4. Community Response. If I had to guess, I would guess that most people would be delighted to see you succeed with a weekly chess show, but they are simply waiting to see things get more real. Which is all that one can practifcally expect, I think. If you're interested in market research among the chess community, I think you'd get a fuller response by handing out questionaires (with permission) at a few large tournaments.


Thanks Duif!

Do you think it is worth spending the effort to make the pilot? The time required is actually a lot more of an investment than the money.

Would you personally watch it and provide some constructive criticism?

I can't speak for anyone else here but "enemy" is too strong a word for somebody I exchange words with in an internet discussion forum. Just because I'm not with you doesn't mean I'm "against you" in a malicious way. There are significant movers and shakers in the world of chess posting here...I'm nobody. If you're able to sway those folks into your camp more power to you. Don't expect you'll get wide spread blind support though from grass roots organizers. They're gonna ask lots and lots of questions. How can you expect to propose to alter the game and NOT be questioned in depth?? Anyway, you're not my enemy even though you may write me off as a sick "draw-lover".

Thank you for your kind words. I am a very private person (I am always happy to discuss ideas and projects, rarely my personal life), so it was very difficult for me to write. But Frederic Freidel at Chessbase convinced me it was something that might help others in a similar situation, so I did it. I have received many nice letters from readers since, but I will admit I still feel rather shy about it.

I think most chess fans would at least give it a viewing. As to whether it would be worth the time and money, I can't say. Any project like this requires dedication above and beyond what's "reasonable" or it simply never happens.

I personally believe that chess is already very popular in terms of its cultural status, its use in advertising, its presence in schools.

In order to bring in enough money for the top 1% to at least recover their playing costs, I had thought that what we needed was an organized structure for supporting sponsor relationshis. Most other niche competitions have this, from Cycling to Bowling. However, I now believe that the reason even IMs rarely have sponsors is the nature of the chess community itself. Sobeit.

With regard to your particular project, I personally wouldn't put in the time because I don't feel chess is really suited to television. I profoundly enjoy the writings of popular authors like PD James, John LeCarre, Robert Parker, Dick Francis. Their books sell well, and have both literary and entertainment value.

But although I buy all their books, I wouldn't be much interested in a program that showed them in the process of writing, even if there were voiceovers to explain thoughts, rejected passages, tie-ins to events in the authors' lives.

I do think chess has significant entertainment value, just as these books do, but I think that, for most people, the entertainment value lies in the product, not the production process. That, I suspect, is the main reason why even the very top events normally have few spectators, and yet thousands are eager for the day's results.

I do think many chessplayers have interesting stories to tell, and interviews with some of them can be fascinating, even for the most casual fan. But some of the ones that tell the best stories aren't the best players, so that is truly focusing on the entertainment aspects.

So: would I watch? Probably. Do I think it's worth the effort? It wouldn't be to me, no one can say if it would be worth it to you. Do I think you'll have success with it? If anyone could predict that reliably, we wouldn't be having this conversatoin. :) Much would depend on your definition of success.



I keep forgetting to mention, but you're aware that there was a weekly television chess show on BBC2 for 5 or 6 years in the early 80s, yes? Called "The Master Game."

Anyway, the interesting thing is that just in the last few weeks there have been rumours that BBC is considering reviving a version of it. So perhaps the time is ripe.


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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on November 28, 2005 4:56 PM.

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