Sun, Dec 02, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Tense final drives up interest in chess

The Guardian

Magnus Carlsen poses after winning the World Chess Championships in London on Wednesday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Not since the 1972 Cold War showdown between US grandmaster Bobby Fischer and Russian Boris Spassky has chess been so high-profile.

This week’s tiebreaker, which saw world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen from Norway beat American challenger Fabiano Caruana, has sent both heart rates and interest in the game soaring.

“We’ve seen a lot more interest in school chess. A lot more people phoning up for lessons. A lot more inquiries online,” said Malcolm Pein, CEO of the charity Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC), which has seen increased Web traffic.

There was also increased foot traffic at the Baker Street chess store in London run by Pein, a chess international master and director of international chess at the English Chess Federation.

“People were coming in off the street to watch it on the screen. There is definitely a mini-boom going on,” he said.

Chess is also big on the Internet and growing.

“It was made for the Internet,” Pein said. “You can play chess with anyone, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day.”

Research suggests that at least half a million games are going on at any one time.

However, it was the intensity of the World Championship, held in London over three weeks, that gripped an audience drawn by the prospect of sudden death by blitz or Armageddon — evocatively named speed chess games — after 12 consecutive draws.

In the end, Carlsen retained his title when the games, which can last for seven or eight hours, were set at 25 minutes, causing Caruana to lose 3-0 in a playoff.

“So we didn’t get to Armageddon. It would have been mildly sacrilegious if we had: A bit like settling the World Cup final with a game of keepy-uppy, because, frankly, it’s that random,” Pein said.

Afterward, Carlsen went for a quiet pint in a pub near the championship venue in Holborn.

Coincidently, members of Wanstead and Woodford’s chess club also nipped in following their London Chess League Wednesday night game in a nearby hotel. To their delight, Carlsen joined them.

Club tournament secretary Mark Murrell said that six members had been having a drink when they looked up and suddenly saw Carlsen quietly enjoying a pint and winding down after the championships.

“They just nipped into the boozer after their match and there he was,” said Mark Rivlin, secretary of Hackney chess club, who was also playing that night.

“A lot of non-chess players have been interested, including friends of mine,” he said, predicting that it would take time for the trickle-down effect.

“There is interest, but Magnus Carlsen can still walk into a pub and no one will recognize him unless they are chess players,” he said.

Rivlin would like celebrities and those in the public eye to join clubs to attract others.

He cited the October match between Carlsen and Liverpool soccer player Trent Alexander Arnold.

“Magnus obviously massacred him on the board,” he said.

The London Chess League has divisions for players of lower ability to pull in less experienced, post-beginner players.

“This is chess’s moment. There is no doubt about it. Chess is now cool. There is a resurgence and we need to capitalize on that,” Rivlin said.

Pein believes its success would continue to grow because of how easy it is to watch it on the Internet.

“You can tell a game of chess better than you can football on Sky Sport,” he said.

Computers, watching in real time, can immediately detect a blunder, with an on-screen bar rising or falling to highlight crucial mistakes. Flashing arrows point out obvious moves.

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