I have titled this one something I plan to expand upon. There is some confusion as to exactly what I’m talking about when I talk about turning chess into a commercially viable form of entertainment and I decided to just lay that all out in this column.
First and foremost, get the idea of live chess on TV (I will be using “TV” for any form of video presentation, whether on actual TV or on the Internet) out of your head. Live chess events, unless there is a severe time limit placed on them and some wicked great commentary, are not going to work. Nothing that we can do will jazz up live chess short of making that into something closer to WWE rather than actually just playing chess. Having said that, there are ways to turn chess into something interesting to watch.
I’ve mentioned the Master Game and how they did it. I think that is a good means of presenting chess, especially if there is some great and hard work put into recreating the game for video. There is a more recent effort, though, and an effort that I thought had a lot of potential but ended up being an “Entertainment Weekly” version of chess, which in my opinion didn’t do anything justice. I’m talking about the Xtreme Chess Championship.
The commentary was interesting, the players had some personality, and the players also weren’t rated so highly as to be “politically correct” when they were speaking. What I mean by that is how Anand or Kramnik speaks, like “my opponent is very skilled and he played great.” There wasn’t a lot of “smack talking” but there was still a little bit about the players themselves.
The presentation was too much about getting to very specific points in the game without seeing how we got TO those points. The presentations were too short and not enough talk was done about the game or explored into what should have happened. I’m critical of this effort because there was a lot of potential here and that just didn’t get developed correctly.
Why? Why would the potential not be brought out when they have all the time in the world to work on it? What could possibly be the problem with the game and the people that created the Xtreme Chess Championship?
The people that created this are too close to the game.
The three people responsible for creating Xtreme Chess Championship are Daniel Meirmon, Jennifer Shahade, and Greg Shahade. The Shahades are married chess players and Meirmon is some sort of photographer/videographer… of chess. They, together, are too close to the product they hope to bring to the entertainment side of things. They made what they hoped would work rather than making what will work.
Stop trying to do reality TV. Stop trying to present chess AS IS. Stop trying to dive into commentary like a bunch of IM or GM level players are the only ones watching. These things are what chess players think people want… and they aren’t what people want.
Look at the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour, and other poker entities producing poker for TV. There is a concentration on the players’ personalities, the important parts of the game, and commentary that is down to Earth. This is the template, but isn’t immutable.
If I had the time, I’d produce the whole experience from the latest World Chess Championship. I do not currently have that time, though, and maybe in the next column I’ll mock up what I would have done instead to make the event a little more “general audiences” friendly.
Until then, though, I’ll let you think about what I’ve already written.