Friday, April 24, 2009

Current Chess Scene - Part Two

Are you tired of hiding the fact that you play chess? Do you want to see your local Grandmaster quit his night job at McDonalds? Do you want to finally get the respect and admiration you deserve for spending years of your life staring at little wooden pieces?

In order for any of these things to happen, we must make chess more popular. And I am here to say that this is actually much easier than most people think. People have said for too long that chess will never achieve mainstream success. But in reality, an activity is irrelevant to its popularity. The largest determinant to whether something is popular or not is its promotion. And the promotion of chess in this country sucks.

Sure, we have problems with the federation that is technically in charge of promoting chess in this country, but that is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem, as I see it, is the lack of the human element. We tend to forget that 2 people are playing the game. These people have stories and personalities, but we never get to hear them.

The most horendous example of this problem is the Computer vs. Computer matches! Is there anything more boring and damaging to the image of chess than that? Are we suppose to revel in the glory of the computers' perfect play? Who gives a shit about perfect play!? That's like going to the movies to watch a film about a perfect life. BORING! Show me some guy who's life is fucked up and tell me how he overcomes it...that's what I want to see. That's what makes me cheer, laugh and cry.

To promote chess, we must make chess more human. So how do we do this?

1. The Internet. This has been a huge windfall for chess and chess communication. Chess blogs are all over the place (don't look now, but you're reading one) and online play has created millions of closet chess players. The best example of this is the one-stop, chess playing, social networking masterpiece called Chess.com. Anyone can play as well as connect with other chess players and truly feel like part of an online communty.

2. Focus on Character. Every person has a story. And the story of chess players in an amazing one. The incredible personal sacrifice to a game that never promises to give back as much as you put in? These people are not lured by flashy cars and supermodels. They are not leaving high school to go pro. They are sacrificing everything to play a game with little financial reward or prestige. Many get to the end of the road, and like a bitter drunk staring at a bottle, wish they had never seen a chessboard. Or others come from far away countries, dodging and weaving through years of beauracracy and political instability just to find a home. I don't give a shit about the tournament where they achieved their second GM norm, give me the stories of thier lives!!!!

3. Away from the Board Promotion. Chess is a very intimitating game for those who don't know how to play and can be downright cruel to those who do. And while the pieces may be beautiful, they aren't too cuddly. We need something softer, like....t-shirts!! Oh snap!!! See what I did there? I brought it back around to Endgame Clothing, The Original Chess Apparel. Apparel has been a standard for promoting activies for years. There are millions of people who wear Quiksilver or TapouT without every stepping foot into the ocean or an octogon. But people buy and wear the t-shirts because they support what the sport represents. Endgame Clothing t-shirts are an off-board expression of the love of chess.



My parents have never played poker. But my parents love watching poker on TV and they know all the players' names. They know who is nice and who is a jerk. Poker has done something very, very, right. They focus on the drama of the players, not the game.

"Hey, Mom, do you know any names living chess players?"

"Of course, honey, Bobby Fischer."

"Actually, he died a while back."

"Really?"

...Yeah, really.

9 comments:

SonofPearl said...

Hear, hear! Totally agree on all counts! Would love to know more about the people behind the moves...

John aka Endgame Clothing said...

SonofPearl - I know! One of the things I love about chess is the history and all of the characters, but this type of material is hard to find.

Be sure to check out Blunderprone's blog at:

www.blunderprone.blogspot.com

He's got some great stuff there. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

SonofPearl said...

Hi John! Thanks for link - looks really interesting. I've added blunderprone to my feeds.

John aka Endgame Clothing said...

SonofPearl - You're welcome. Blunderprone is a good blogger and a good man.

Tommyg said...

I do agree that Chess could be better promoted in this country (although based on the amount of kids that showed up in Nashville for the super nationals Chess ain't doing THAT bad...)

My question is: Why does chess need to be super popular? If it is, that is great, if it isn't that is fine as well. Again it seems that with all the various website, blogs, never ending amount of books being published and all the tournaments I see listed in Chesslife every month, the game is doing okay.

And didn't I read somewhere that Chess is the most widely played game in the world??

Have you ever seen a poker match on TV? Like everything that ends up on Television it had to be glammed up, sped up, and dumbed down for it to be accepted on the major networks. It is like watching WWF Smackdown, except they are at a card table instead of a in a ring AND no one bleeds. Poker was (and is) a great game that has a a very important social tradition attached to it. It was never meant to be a hurry up affair. Our country no longer has any patience for anything that isn't complete in five minutes or doesn't change to a new screen before their mind wanders.

Our culture doesn't have the greatest attention span. Chess is all about attention span.

I am not in any way against the promotion of the game but I am against the promotion of the game at the expense of the game itself.

I apologize if I am ranting a bit, but I just love the game and don't want the beauty of it to be debased just for it to be popular. Our culture is one big reality TV show, everyone needs to be popular just to be popular.

Music did that to itself, and the only thing that will Music is the advent of digital distribution. Which I DO think is going to completely save quality music...but that is another subject. :)

Tommyg said...

Oh and I should add that I LOVE chess.com! I can't always get to the local club's OTB games and I love the turn-based games at the site. I am a paying member at chess.com. It is a wonderfully run site but wouldn't you know it there seems to be a groundswell of activity on the forums regarding people losing patience waiting for people to move in turn-based games. I have even had one person message me during a tournament to try and put pressure on another person who was moving a little slower then everyone else. I politely told him that no time control rules were being disobeyed and that we was suggesting sounded a lot like bullying to me. Every one wants faster time control implemented (even though those option are already there and for the taking...)

Again I am sorry to be so verbose but the whole hurry up-hurry up thing that is going on on our country (and world) is just getting me down. I LOVE the OTB tournaments and the vibe that is created by 40 people in one room ALL concentrating on their game. It is exhilarating and relaxing all at the same time.

John aka Endgame Clothing said...

Hey Tommyg - First of all, thanks for the great comments.

I agree that we do not want to promote chess at the expense of destroying the game. But I see 2 reasons why chess NEEDS to be more popular.

1. Chess will continue to lose great talent until more players can make a stable, comfortable living playing chess. I get sick every time I see another interview with a GM elect who says he won't go into chess professionally because there is no money.

2. Chess becoming more popular, will make intellectualism in general more popular. I think the US could use a little more "think before you act" in its diet.

Thanks again for stopping by!!

Tommyg said...

Great great points!!

I agree with you completely. What do you think is the best way to promote it and preserve its beauty?

John aka Endgame Clothing said...

Tommyg - There are many, many ways to promote chess but perserving its beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many people think the Internet and rapid games have hurt chess, but others would say it's the greatest thing ever.

One thing that does have to happen is the USCF has to settle down. They don't have to do a good job, they just need to not be a public relations liability. I think there are many celebrities and a lot of much money that is willing to support chess, but nobody is willing to take the first step. Its kind of like when your friends don't want to come over to your house because because your parents are always fighting.