Greengard's ChessNinja.com

The Costs of Chess

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The NY Times has a sporadically insightful article by Julie Bick on why many parents are happy their kids like chess: it's a lot cheaper than most other activities. [Thanks to Rebecca]

Like many activities for children, chess brings an associated cost, but it can be significantly lower than that of other popular pastimes. Families need not buy expensive protective gear or uniforms or join private clubs, and unless their children are serious players, they do not have to travel out of town. A good-quality chess set can be had for $20 and can last a lifetime. Fees to enter local scholastic tournaments usually run just $15 to $20, and membership in an after-school chess team is usually reasonably priced. Compared with hobbies like ice skating, ballet, squash, golf or the piano, chess can be practically free.

I can see the "yes, but..." forming on your lips, but they do go on...

Of course, parents can spend more so that their children can go beyond the chess basics. Private coaches, who may charge $30 to $200 an hour, can bolster a student's game. High-end digital chess clocks can cost $100. And fancy chess sets, or a collection of them, can cost a king's ransom.

Some families pay travel and hotel costs to play in local, regional, national and — for elite players — international tournaments. A local Saturday tournament season can cost families $250 a month, including entry fees and travel expenses. Larger regional tournaments like the New York State Scholastic Chess Championships charge higher entrance fees — $40 to $65, depending on when players sign up — and may require overnight accommodations. A trip to one of the two annual national scholastic tournaments requires a four-night stay: it could cost $1,500 for a parent and child, including air fare, hotel and meals. Some families use these tournaments as jumping-off points for sightseeing in the area.

And, hot on the heels of the latest episodes of our eternal discussion about chess on television, the article concludes with this tidbit.

This spring, the game may make a bigger splash with the public. Following on the heels of television's "Celebrity Poker" and "Dancing With the Stars," ESPN has signed a deal to produce a televised celebrity chess tournament featuring Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and others. "This is a charity tournament, but we hope to grow televised chess with sponsors and prize money," said Giovanni James, who is producing the show with Penny Marshall.

There you are. It's not about time controls, hidden cameras, gambling, money, or format. To get chess on TV in America you need celebrities. If anything can succeed at making the game less overtly intellectual, it's adding a heavy dose of celebrity television. I'm sure we can turn the Royal Game into OMG CHESS!!!!1!! in no time. On the other hand, if Uma Thurman is looking for a coach, I'm available. We'll whup Harrelson's ganja-addled butt.


Just so everyone knows ahead of time, Snipes will be participating as his movie character Blade, and Harrelson as the character in Natural Born Killer's, should be a bloody mess but good for chess. Mig, as far as Uma is concerned, you stay away from her, understand! Oh oh, here comes my wife, gotta go...

You know, if they were to have celebrities and professional chess players play together (each make one move without consulting each other), then I could see it being very entertaining. Imagine having charismatic pros like Maurice Ashley and a celeb vs. Yasser Seirawan and a celeb, and the GM's could not only play every other move, but provide both insightful and humorous commentary on the moves of the amateurs. I would actually enjoy watching that.

DG from Boylston blog already made a post about this subject (together with Dominoes)


I remember Garry K. playing Sting and possibly some other celebrities (Mig, you probably know the names) and it seemed to get pretty good press. Maybe do a celebrity team match like they do in golf where they pair pros with celebs. The celebs can be funny and the pros can be good at the game. Who knows, a draw or even a win by a celeb would be quite the attention getter!

Or imagine getting Howard Stern to play one of the top female players (running his mouth...making crude comments...then getting smashed at the board). How does Polgar vs. Stern sound?? Who was the guy who played Billy Jean King in tennis? Something similar to that.

Now if only a romantic triangle between Hana Itkis, Hikaru Nakamura, and Rory could be written into the script of the Gilmore Girls. The subplot would span, say, three episodes, but Walter Browne could stay on in a recurring role as the lovable local chess curmudgeon.

What about the cost of books and magazines? During my first 2 years playing competitive chess, I read at least 50 chess books. Thank God for the school library.

I estimat that I spend about 800€ per year on chess, and that doesn't count tournaments. 400 is for membership of my chess club (actually membership of an arts club, and it includes 100€ vouchers for the restaurant), 120-140 on magazines, and 200-300 on books and CD-ROMs/DVDs.

This year, I'm finally going to splurge out on a really good wooden set for about 130€.

Am I normal? (Serious answers please!)

It's been a long time that you mentioned Uma. Or did I miss some MoC's? Maybe there will be even some HNTSAC again... lol

A computer assisted celebrity vs a GM without computer assistance might even produce good games

You have to reverse that or the celebrity is just a proxy and there's no dialogue. You have to have the GM and the celebrity versus someone. Pro-Am. Don't see the need for a computer at all, actually. Something is required to make the celebrity useful. Maybe tandem chess, with the celebrity and the master taking turns. That could get funny. Bad, but funny.

Celebrity/GM pro-ams where the players on each team are forced to alternate moves. A camera will be on the GM in the other room as the celebrity deliberates on his/her move choices.

Oh, heck...beaten by 5 minutes on that one. Drat!

Well, just to liven it up, I'll suggest we get some of the livelier GMs...forget strength, we'll go with temper. Too bad Gufeld isn't around anymore, but there's always Walter Browne.

Excellent comment about having the GM and the Celebrity alternate moves...I think more celebrities would be willing to participate that way too! If the celebrity gets crushed, they can just blame it on their GM partner! (just kidding).

Pro-am golf works because a lot of amateurs, actors, business people and so on actually can play a decent game. Maybe 2200, 2300 level. In chess the gap is too big. Would be hard to find a celebrity above 1200.

Here is a free idea for anyone who wants to try to televise chess live: make the time control 0 60d (0 minutes, 60 seconds delay). This takes away the two biggest problems with televised chess: the long "dull" wait where nothing happens for 30 minutes, and the time scramble where the analyst doesn't have time to tell you who is winning. (Of course creative editing and rebroadcast would deal with that, but i'm trying to set the bar low here.)

With a 0 60d time control, a computer-aided analyst would have time to tell the viewers what his happening from move to move. If we wanted, I suppose we could put in alternating 1-min TV timeouts every 5 moves or so.


When Lenox Lewis was at the top of boxing he would have been perfect for this purpose, given his late-acquired love for chess. And if Arnold weren't so busy being governor of California, he could also help (remember the picture of him playing Kasparov?)

Right about celebs and golf. Poker too, obviously. When I clicked Boylston Chess Club link mentioned earlier, a chain of events led me to WSOP where I learned that Jennifer Tilly won the Ladies' WSOP a couple of times. (I also learned she is Chinese-American (?!?!) -- born Jennifer Chan -- but that's another story.)

Remember her? Mobster "Ceasar"'s gilfriend from "Bound"...who ends up falling in love with Gina Gershon's ex-convict character, and together they kill the boyfriend, steal the Mob's money, and ride off into the sunset to a life of domestic-partner bliss.

Here's an idea. What would it be worth in terms of publicity for chess, if a real-life celeb took up chess seriously enough to win some decent-size chess event? Wouldn't have to be professional-level; could be a class section at any of a dozen or so big opens (Chicago, Foxwoods, World Open, etc.)

It wouldn't even have to be a top-tier celeb: could just as well be a has-been like Luke Perry (or Jennifer Tilly? - but she's already accounted for, and besides I don't think her poker-pro boyfriend would appreciate if the chess world sought to snatch her). Anybody who's been anybody recently enough that 2 out of 3 entertainment reporters and tabloid readers would remember the name.

Now here's the kicker: Couldn't somebody canvass the existing chess-oriented foundations and/or their underlying donors, and ask for an allocation of say, 1% of the money they are deluging into school chess programs, to be used instead for a targeted effort to recruit a real-life celebrity into the game, and turn them into a semi-serious competitor for, say, a period of 6-12 months.

I said a COMPETITOR -- NOT a celebrity spokesman a la Shane Alexander. No, I mean a (mid- or lower-tier) celeb who is willing and able to be photographed actually PLAYING chess on a competitive (Amateur) level, as opposed to just showing up for chess-related photo ops. We're not talking a full-time commitment for the celeb, just a new hobby.

Duif, what do you think? I for one am getting sick and tired of all the "chess is good for kids" coverage. Here's an idea that could really attract some fresh buzz and bring some new people into chess, a few of whom might even stick with it (unlike all the kids in the school programs).

For a celeb to recruit into chess, how about a disgraced sports star? That's gotta look good from a supply-demand perspective: from what I read, even Barry Bonds might be in the market for a new career pretty soon.

There is even a precedent: A few years ago, a Nigerian woman track star (I forget her specific specialty, but I think she was in the summer Olympics at least once) after getting banned from sports for life for taking banned substances, switched to chess.

Since her name was already newsworthy (two key rules of celeb journalism: once a celeb, always a celeb; and, anything a celeb does is newsworthy), her newfound chess ambitions even made it into the media over here.

And this was before she even DID anything in chess; all she did was TALK about trying for a spot on Nigeria's chess Olympiad squad. NIGERIA!

Re. celebs, maybe jazz musicians? Clifford Brown, Max Roach and Paul Desmond were said to have been quite strong players. Shelly Manne's album "The Gambit" has a long chess-themed suite written by Charlie Mariano.

I don't know of any chess-playing musicians among the current generation (MR is alive AFAIK, but not in good health), though. OTOH, jazz musicians probably don't count as celebs nowadays (Wait, does Kenny G. play chess?)...

Bo Jackson would be the perfect man to take chess to the next level in the U.S. "Bo knows chess" has such a nice ring to it. The right former TV star might work..poker has Gabe Kaplan...is there a similar "not very busy these days" person to stand up for chess? Somebody ask Bill Cosby for advice...he'd know.


Academy Award Winning Actor loves Chess.

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar

Wow, finally a suggestion of mine is generating some response. The comments from Susan, whiskeyrebel and geeker are useful.

I am aware that various public figures including Jamie Foxx, the late Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, of course Humphrey Bogart (who was said to be 2000-plus strength), have spoken publicly about how much they enjoy chess. That is good. But to help transform organized, serious chess into a cool and fashionable activity, I am thinking about something slightly different.

To wit: I see a critical difference between a celeb who merely talks publicly about his love for chess, or who even promotes chess by showing up for photo-ops at a few scholastic or other chess-charity events -- and one who actively and competitively PLAYS chess (meaning TOURNAMENTS) and is shown doing so over a period of time, talks in non-chess interviews about his or her experiences in chess competition, etc.

Best of all would be a celeb who actually WINS something, legitimately, in a real chess competition -- such as (like I said above) a top prize in a class section at some big event.

Is this a realistic hope? I don't see why not, as long as it's understood that I'm talking about (in whiskeyrebel's phrase) a "not very busy these days" level of celeb.

If such a person could be recruited -- who either liked the game for its own merits, or else was persuaded that getting publicly involved in serious chess competition might help her revive a dormant acting career -- then it should be a trivial matter to drum up several thousand dollars worth of chess-foundation money to buy them a few months' worth of GM lessons. That should bring our celeb to the point where she could win that class section; of course, she would then donate the prize money to charity, thereby making a further splash in the media.

This all seems eminently realistic to me, as long as it's clear that the sort of celeb we're talking about is a person with a readily recognizable name but who is no longer A-list (or maybe even B-list). This rules out Jamie Foxx, who is currently a full-time celeb.

I aimed my earlier comment at Duif because, more than anyone else who posts here, she has an unerring instinct for what might and might not work, at the intersection between chess and real-world marketing. So, Duif, what do you think?

Too old to be of any use today, but I read that the famous jazz drummer Max Roach *did* achieve some scholastic chess results in Brooklyn. That would have been in the 1930s, perhaps very early 40s.

The comic-mystery writer (and ex-musician) Kinky Friedman claims to have been a chess prodigy as a young child; he even has said in interviews that at age 7 he made a draw (I think) against Sammy Reshevsky in a simultaneous exhibition.

I had not heard of Max Roach.

In any case, what I'm proposing does not even require that the celeb have any PRIOR involvement in chess. In fact, the publicity value might actually be greater if the celeb had NO connection with chess at the outset, and proceeded to learn it from scratch.

In the best case, I could even envision some TV producer -- a "reality" show perhaps -- filming the celeb as they began their chess instruction and training, and then tracking their progress as they developed into a seasoned amateur competitor. Filming them playing at a tournament ... but devoting only a few seconds to what was happening on the board.

That would give TV viewers a first-hand view of the atmosphere of a real tournamentget, while getting around the "live chess is boring" problem. The focus of the show (series?) would be not on the chess games, but on the celeb, the drama and emotions they go through while competing -- presented through detailed interviews pre- and post-game -- and their struggles to improve.

I see no reason why audiences would find this less interesting than similar shows that follow interesting people as they pursue other challenging projects.

The reality-show idea is only a fantasy, of course. The real task is to find out if anyone with clout in the chess world thinks it would be worthwhile to try and recruit a celeb to take up competitive chess. My hunch is, if that initial step was accomplished, the media exposure would all but take care of itself.

A superstar or band could simply use chess as a video motif, perhaps pre-setting the position a la Spassky-Bronstein in the old James Bond film. Avid players include John Paul Jones, David Yow and of course Sting and Bono, but it hardly matters because whoever it may be, heavy rotation would bring chess positions flashing and repeating several times a day. This may be more effective exposure than, say, GMs contriving to get photographed with B-list celebs.

Getting back to Evan's comment, in a recent interview Sting bristled when told he fought well against Kasparov. He said he "sucked" in the recorded game and added that he fared better against GK in the offhand games they played the same day. No available scores of course, but Sting is clearly a great believer in his own chess strength, not unlike Natan Scharansky.

Regarding a band using chess as a video motif: this sort of thing happens quite frequently (in advertising for example). While the sight of it might be gratifying to us chess players, this type of exposure brings zero benefits (economic or otherwise) to organized chess or chess players -- as Duif has pointed out on many occasions. Zip. Nada.

I'm glad someone mentioned Scharansky. Funny, awhile back I used some search engines to try and find the score of the game where he supposedly beat Kasparov in a simul. I found numerous mentions but no game score; in fact, as I recall, there were as many accounts that said he drew Garry as that said he won.

You would think that Scharansky would have kept the game score and made sure it was posted all over -- especially since I believe he touts it publicly (he probably thinks it may benefit his political standing, at the margin).

So, since I couldn't find the score, I got to thinking maybe it wasn't true. I have run into many people over the years who say they beat this or that GM in a simul; kind of like the chess version of the "you should have seen that fish I caught". (Nowadays such stories patzers tell about beating GMs are more often true, because instead of involving over-the-board simul encounters, they usually involve 1-minute online games.)

Widespread rock video exposure would make more of a caissic difference than zip or nada. And remember Jon, a stated view is not made manifestly right solely because Duif said it. But it must be allowed that easy adherence to received opinions is an ineradicable hazard of the blogosphere.

Here's the score you were looking for:

Jerusalem 15 October 1996
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bd3 Be7 6.h3 Nc6 7.a3 Ne4 8.c4 Bf5
9.0-0 dxc4 10.Bxc4 0-0 11.d5 Na5 12.Ba2 c5 13.Re1 c4 14.Nbd2 Nxf2 15.Kxf2 Bc5+ 16.Re3 Bxe3+
17.Kxe3 Re8+ 18.Kf2 Qxd5 19.Kg1 Rad8 20.Kh1 b5 21.Qf1 Bd3 22.Qg1 Nc6 23.Nb1 Nd4 24.Nxd4 Qxd4
25.Nc3 Qxg1+ 26.Kxg1 Re1+ 27.Kf2 Rde8 28.Nxb5 0-1

GK's reaction has been widely reported and would not be much of a surprise.

As the Kasparov era recedes, the questions which once bedeviled this blog...

Is he a great player or a jerk?
Is he a great player and a jerk?
Is he a great player who sometimes acts like a jerk?

...recede as well.

And a spirit of civility dawns. We hope.

Greg Koster, Chicago, USA
I woke up this morning, April 2nd, realizing I'd been HAD! It took me a whole day! You dirty rats!

Gosh, thanks, Al!


An interesting topic and an interesting idea. I know some of the issues were raised by an April Foo's joke, but I thought I'd make a comment on the possible realities, anyway.

First, there are many celebrities who already play chess: Madonna, Shaun Alexander, a bunch of NBA guys, a bunch of hip hop musicians, Sting, Will Smith, etc. Will Smith, Madonna, and Arnold Schwarzenneger have all gone so far as to hire chess coaches from time to time.

Second, though, there is the logistical reality that none of these folks could play in any of our weekend events. They'd be mobbed by fans, and neither they nor the players around them could play seriously. The reason why most celebrities choose golf and Vegas as their "public" recreations is that those two venues provide the best physical security. Vegas uses special rooms, and is well used to dealing with security. Golf courses, because of their physical layout, don't allow for casual fans walking up and bothering players. So I just don't see any celeb, even C or D list, being able to participate in our usual "circuit."

Third, and most important, I'm not sure what we'd be trying to accomplish by turning an existing celeb into, say, a 2100 player. You could get the same amount of press coverage at a much lower cost just by focusing on stories on the celebs who already have trainers and on the trainers themselves.

Again, it all comes back to how are you going to measure the success of your efforts? As you know, I'm one of those who says the numbers disagree that "chess isn't popular"--chess sets sell more than most other games. Chess is already used in movies and on television. Chess is already one of the most popular internet games. So we don't really need to just "introduce it to the public."

Now there are those who believe we need to have more people playing OTB tournament chess in the US. There are a lot of different ways that might be approached.

However, my own feeling is that we don't need more amateurs playing tournaments--we need more endorsements for the pros we already have. So I'd rather see the money spent on sponsorship traning and outreach efforts. In other words, I think a solid connection with the promotions department at, say, P&G, would do more for chess than getting 1,000 more amateurs at weekend tournaments.

But that all comes out of my personal definition of "chess promotion." I believe that the business model for most US competitive activities relies on connecting the nonplaying fans to the corporate sponsors through the connectionpoint of the pro competitors--the top 1% of the activity.

So for me, there's not much draw in turning a celeb into another amateur.

If, however, your definition of success for "promoting chess" was, say, a chess club in every middle school, then I would look instead at the kind of thing Shaun Alexander has done in Seattle--getting local celebs to appear and perhaps even help sponsor big kids' events. Will Smith for Philly, for example. Kids want to see a lot of other kids doing it as well as celeb involvement. You can control the fan logistics, get a lot of positive press, reach out directly to kids.


But again, personally,I'd still put my money into sponsor outreach first. I think making minor celebrities out of the chess pros we already have will do more for the game than making minor tournament players out of outside celebrities. But of course that's because of the way I would measure success in chess promotion--not in column inches, but in annual income for the top pros.


One more thought...one interestig project which might meet many different people's "measures of success" in chess promotin might be a variation of Jon's idea.

Insetead of starting with an outside celebrity, start with 12 people, 6 males and 6 females, who don't already play tournament chess. Mix up ages, so that there are 2 young teens, 2 20 year olds, 2 30 year olds, 2 40 year olds, 2 50 year olds, 2 60 year olds.

Now run it like a reality show that focuses on actual skills off the show, like Project Runway or Top Chef. But put the "show" on an Internet site rather than television.

Tell the stories of the 12 people. Provide them with training and mentorship through actual tournaments. Tell the 12 stories plus stories of their trainers.

Tie into all the positive stuff about chess--academic stuff, inexpensive hobbby, good mental exercise for boomers and their parents.

Don't eliminate anyone, but track their USCF ratings over the year. At the end of the year, a cash prize for the person with the highest rating. Toss in a monthly reality-show type challenge where the twelve get brought together for minichallenges--solving chess problems, a blitz tournament, an attempt at blindfold, perhaps from a limited position start. Fritz and Chesster 2 has a great set of chess exercises in a "chess gym" of the kind that would work.

Now you've got a project that does a whole lot of things. It creates interesting human stories even for nonplaying fans. It brings in some info on the trainers. It's an interesting, if statistically insignificant, look at some of the big chess questions--men vs women, older vs younger, and so on. Choose trainers with different training philosphies to add more stories for hard core chess fans.

It would showcase some of the tournaments without overwhelming them with nonplaying fans.

It has a fixed start and end, so you get some nice dramatic cycles.

It could be fun, and very effective. It would showcase chess both as an amateur's hobby and the role of trainers, with the opportunity to introduce some of the top level pro stuff as part of the environment in which the 12 participate.

Anyway, I think that would have a lot of the advantages of the "train a celebrity" concept, but without the logistical issues.

just a thought,


Thanks for your well-thought-out response to my invitation.

The chess benefits you mentioned in your second comment (the hypothetical reality-show about several ordinary people starting out in chess and following their progress) dovetail (or "Duif-tail?") with what I was thinking when I dreamed up my proposal: a high human-interest element for non-playing fans; a place to indirectly air some of the "big chess questions"; showcasing chess tournaments and all the drama they entail in front of a general audience, WITHOUT any need to follow closely what happens on the board (the latter being the major weakness of all other chess-on-TV proposals I've seen).

But, I think that having a well-known (non-chess) personality as protagonist would layer on an extremely important, further message: conveying the idea that "chess is cool." (as Kosteniuk's posters put it) People identify with public figures -- oddly, sometimes more than they identify with ordinary people like themselves.

While I respect your opinion about potential logistical problems if a celebrity (even a minor one) tried to compete in a public chess tournament, I have a counterexample: Hollywood figures often have competed in public duplicate bridge events.

This was pretty commonplace at the time I was involved in duplicate bridge, as a teenager in the early 1970s. At least one major film star, Omar Sharif, even made the transition to being a full-time bridge pro. He spent the latter part of his life writing books and syndicated columns about bridge, being an instructor on bridge cruises, etc.

I also remember browsing my first issue of the ACBL magazine and being surprised to learn that another Hollywood figure -- who was then still actively producing films -- actually was the No. 1-rated duplicate bridge player in the United States! (I think his name was Crane.)

So, I'm not convinced that mobs of fans would descend if a celebrity came to play chess. Remember, it's not currently hot celebrities I'm talking about.

Maybe I'm caught in a Catch-22: if our protagonist did have a current, passionate fan base, then chess tournaments couldn't accommodate him or her; but if they weren't at least somewhat hot, people wouldn't care what they did and the media wouldn't bother to cover their activities.

But I doubt it. I think there is a middle ground, of "not-too-busy" celebrities (ex-celebrities, really), whose names are still familiar to a broad public, but whose in-person "sightings" would not attract anything close to the hordes of adoring fans you worried about. Although no longer as newsworthy as they were at their peak, they would still attract moderate media interest, people would be interested enough to watch or read about their chess exploits -- which some viewers or readers might try to emulate by taking up chess themselves.

As for your first comment, you are right that you and I have different aims: I want to expand the population of amateur tournament entrants, while you want to attract money from outside the chess world into chess, to sponsor professional players.

But the difference may be smaller than you imply. It's been said repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere that one of the biggest problems chess has is in attracting money is that it's a niche sport -- i.e., one with a relatively small fan base.

I assume you agree that having more fans, and more-visible fans, would translate into better sponsorship opportunities.

As I see it, the best way to expand the fan base is to expand the number of people who appreciate the game for what it is -- which is to say, who have experienced for themselves some measure of what the pros and serious non-professional competitors like myself (by the way, this, not "amateur" or "player", is my preferred phrase) experience on a regular basis. The aesthetic pleasure of creating at the board and appreciating/understanding what others have created at the board; and the thrill and drama of tournament competition, felt first-hand, as a participant.

As you have pointed out, millions of Americans know how to play chess. Yet even among people who do play casually with friends or relatives, only 1% or so understand the game well enough that they'd have any reason to become fans.

Get 1,000 or so of those people up to 2100 (or even 1500) strength, and you would automatically create, not 1,000 new chess fans, but more like 5,000 or 10,000, due to the likely impact on those people's families and social networks.

Those might not sound like big numbers, but in context, they are. I believe the USCF has only 15,000 full ("adult") members.

While technically USCF membership stands at 90,000, I read that 75,000 of those are so-called "scholastic" members, a special category that pays reduced fees and has very near 100% turnover from year to year. That is, USCF officials have publicly stated that scholastic members almost never renew. These kids are involved in chess solely because their school requires it of them; once they graduate from elementary school, or otherwise stop being involved in the school chess program, they immediately disappear from organized chess.


Again, I think corporate support for top pros won't have anything to do with the number of members the USCF has. That will come instead from their sense that chess is a good image for them in reaching literally millions of consumers.

However, if your goal is to grow the adult membership of the USCF, there seem to me to be two potential growth areas for long term membership.

One, of course, is women, who are notably underrepresented compared to both the general population and their participation in other games. But I suspect that would require a cultural shift the chess community is not yet ready to make.

Second, and probably far easier, would be to use the research showing that "exercising your brain" is critical to maintaining intellectual acuity through the 60s, 70, and beyond. Again boomers would appear to be ripe to take up chess as a hobby. Some tie-ins with AARP (where membership begins at 50) and some celebrities in that age range could give you the kind of membership growth you want. But of course it wouldn't make chess more attractive to the twentysomethings.



It's great to hear you say that about bringing in the older folks who are my age-peers, because that is the kernel of a business idea I've been pursuing for the last 6 months (alas, with minimal results thus far).

Since I would like to continue the discussion with you away from Mig's board, I will email you via your own site.

Their format is interesting but not the one that will deliver an audience over an extended period of time. My prediction is it will be a "one-off".
There is something more exciting coming... stay tuned.

I hear that if the celebrity chess tournament is successful they will make a reality based chess show. The winner will not be decided by wins but by voting of the viewers. Let's see how Hollywood can really make the game look stupid.

does n e 1 kno when espn will air celebrity chess

It seems to me that if the goal is to increase the public interest in chess (and ultimately, it's viability as a televised spectator sport) celebrity matches could do more toward furthering that end than any of the suggestions laid out in this thread. After all, what reason does the general public have for watching Kramnik, Topolov, Leko, etc. battle it out against each other in matches that take hours to complete, making moves too sophisticated for the average viewer to appreciate, and that are more likely than not to end in a draw? Televised matches of celebrities playing each other would have several advantages that top pros cannot have right now:

1) A casual audience would already have an emotional interest in the participants. Only chess fans are going to tune in to watch high level chess played by people they've never heard of. A favored celebrity they will watch just because they like that person (the same as they would watch if a friend or family member were involved).

2) Celebrity matches would be much more likely to be decisive. It's hard to conceive of a reason why two amateur celebrities would declare a game theoretically drawn, after twelve moves. And an audience doesn’t want to invest 2+ hours of their time into watching a game that results in a declared tie (as in the last Kasparov vs. computer match, televises by ESPN).

3) The game being played at a lower skill level would make moves more easily understandable by viewers. Professional chess players, commentating, could point out mistakes the consequences of which would be more immediately seen, rather than one participant losing half a tempo which would cost him position ten moves later.

If people became interested in watching celebrities compete, you could then build upon that. Once the audience becomes a bit more sophisticated, through watching the celebrity games, then maybe they will become more interested in watching higher level matches, with games between chess pros. The ultimate goal being, the pros become celebrities in their own right (having pros do commentary for celebrity games would further this end).

Suggestions like pairing a celebrity with a top pro makes no sense to me. That would only make them to an object of ridicule (which the TV audience would resent) or reduce them to the role of a sock puppet (as there would be the likely consequence the celebrity would hesitate to make any move with confidence, since they know all their ideas would be second guessed by their professional teammate). If the people are tuning in to watch the celebrity, why make them an afterthought? Let the celebrity be the star until an actual interest in chess is cultivated. You can’t force that interest upon an audience overnight.


I agree that if the goal of chess promotion is to get chess on television, celebrity chess as you describe is the best way to go about it.


My own professional feeling (I did promotion for many years, including very small amounts of work with the NBA, NHL, PGA, and the Olympics) is that television is not at all necessary to producing enough corporate sponsor interest to enable the top 1% of chess players to earn $30,000 per year in the US in individual endorsements.

The example I usually use is Fear Factor vs the LPGA. Any Fear Factor episode gets television ratings of 3 to 4 times that of any LPGA event. Yet corporate sponsors always choose LPGA players, even #40 on the tour, over the top Fear Factor Champion.

It has to do with the iconic value of chess, the willingness of a sponsor to use chess as a symbol to communicate a message even to fans who don't watch the games themselves.


When I worked with retail projects (among others Macys, Home Depot, and Sharper Image), the first challenge we always had was getting our own team of programmers and designers to stop thinking like customers and start thinking like the people who owned the store. Thinking like a customer meant thinking that every retailer should be providing the level of service of Nordstrom.

Thinking like the people who owned the store meant understanding that different stores offer different shopping experiences, and sometimes customers are happier with much lower prices and a little less service. There was room for many different approaches.

What I see in these discussions is almost everyone thinking like a fan rather than a sports promoter. To a fan, regular television appearances with high ratings seem key, because that's the most visible aspect to the fan.

But the sports promoter understands that there are many different possible business models. Fear Factor is one. The LPGA is an entirely different one that doesn't require regular television outings to support a professional class of competitors.


I'm sure LPGA fans spend a lot of time on their message boards talking about how to get more LPGA events on television more often. Because that's what the fans would love to see. But the top administrators know that the key to their financial survival and the survival of their pros is putting together the right package for corporate sponsors. Since they just don't draw the ratings to make television work well, they concentrate instead on showing corporate sponsors how being associated with the LPGA can help them reach the millions of people who don't watch golf on television, but who are nonetheless impressed by the iconic image of golf.

We can spend a lot of time thinking like fans and trying to design a perfect chess TV show. Or a little time thinking like sports promoters and concentrating instead on using the assets we have (the positive iconic image of chess) to bring more money into the sport. I suspect thinking like fans is more fun, which is why message boards will always be dominated by those discussions. But for those who want to truly see it easier for top pros to stay with the game (an ongoing issue in the US), then I think sports promoter thinking will be a bit more practical.


You want a celebrity who can play? Carmen Cass!

Thursday, January 4, 2007
Hard Core Chess

Chess boxing is the next big thing in sports and if you don't believe it then check the website of the World Chess Boxing Organization (wcbo.org) or ESPN (espn.com) article on chess boxing to see how it has taken Europe by storm... I am starting chess boxing clubs around the city and a Chess boxing tournament will begin in NYC in May 2007 under the heading of ' Hard Core Chess ' which will also be the name of my magazine coming out in June 2007 to coincide with the bigger events of the summer lasting well into the fall of 2007... if you have any thoughts or any suggestions, I am open to them and have created this blog area for conversations... talking will be allowed and any one who has played on the streets or in the parks of NYC knows all to well the wit and sarcasm that comes out during these games. Females, novices will also be allowed to enter the tournament. I have already started a buzz among celebrity players like Jaime Fox, LL Cool J, Lenox Lewis, Byron Allen, Winky Wright, Chris Rock, Howard Stern, Will Smith, Nicholas Cage, Matt Damon. Even Madonna and her husband Guy Ritchie, who both play, has expressed and interest in knowing who is better? The fighter or the player? I even heard recently from Alicia Ashley the Jamaican-American women's boxer who is a former Bantanweight champion and the sister of Maurice Ashley (Grandmaster) who will train her in chess for a match against Lila Ali if I can arrange them on the same card with Lenox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko... Wow, can you image that! Brains vs Brawns...so if you would like to participate or start a chess boxing club have comments - whatever - here's your chance to speak out on ' NEVER SEEN BEFORE IN USA ' CHESSBOXING!
Labels: chess, chessboxing, chesshand, parks

posted by Chesshand: " Without fools there would be no street chess! " at 1:26 AM | 0 Comments

About MeName: Chesshand: " Without fools there would be no street chess! "
Location: Brooklyn, New York, US
I was taught to play chess at the age of 8yrs old by my uncle Bumpy Johnson, often referred to as the first black original gangster and the Mozart of chess among hoodlum chess players. So, my time at a young age was spent hanging around 'hustlers' and killers like 'Snake' and 'Shot Gun' George. I always found a reason to be in the 'Rhythm Club' or 'Wells Resturant' where all the hustlers played chess or shot pool and talked.The only chess opening I can recall from my first conscious memory was taught to me by uncle 'BJ' - Spanish Opening - which he called the Spanish torture because it slowly rung the life out of his opponents game. He played chess against the biggest gangsters in NYC, not just in Harlem, and I always wanted to a part of it. I was entered in many tournaments and took on all challengers from 8 to 80 blind, crippled or crazy!

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on April 3, 2006 10:31 AM.

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