Sochi, Game 6. That was the one with the drama of that incredible double blunder. The games that came next, though - the incredibly long one and the incredibly short one - did rather demonstrate that chess is not exactly suited to generating specific moments of excitement.
If the very nature of the game is against us in PR terms then what we have to do, I believe, is sell a different narrative. Shift the story from the individual game to the match. Explain how a short apparently uneventful draw can build the tension rather than dissipate it.
Anyhoo, that’s a post for another day. In the meantime, here’s another one of those rare moments when chess commentary really nails it.
As a bonus item, there’s an ISE to view in the videos.
2014 ISE Count: 74
Here’s the thing: if you combine struggling to hold a job down for longer than ten minutes with a quarter of a century in the labour market you end up doing a lot of different things of money. Which is how it came to pass that I once made what an optimist might describe as my living as a stage magician. That, in turn. is how I came to know of a magician called Doc Eason. Specifically, it’s how I came to learn of his motto:
They don’t remember what you did. They remember how you made them feel.
It turned out that was a pretty important thing for a working magician to know. The relevance for today, is that is also the secret to giving chess - and chess broadcasts - a wider appeal and making the game a real spectator sport.
You remember that video from Sochi, Game 6? The chess24 broadcast with Trent, Vallejo and The Other One? I’ve watched it a dozens of times this past couple of weeks. Watched it, tweeted it to chessers, and showed it to non-chessing friends.
You want to know what serious competitive chess is like? You want to know what it’s like to make a dreadful mistake? It’s all in that video. No matter if don’t speak Spanish and have little or no understanding of chess. You see the drama. You feel the emotion.
If we want people - by which I mean normal non-chessing people - to pay attention to the big events then that’s what we have to get chess commentary to do all the time. It’s not easy, to be fair. It might not even be possible. Still, if* we want chess to become a genuine spectator sport, finding a way to share the emotion of the game is the way we’re going to do it.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything that quite compares to that chess24 video. There was one time, though that RDK came close. It was the third game of the Speed Chess Challenge between Short and Kasparov which aired on British TV more than a quarter of a century ago.
Broadly speaking I would say that Ray’s commentary for these programmes was 'chess standard' so so. A bit dry perhaps, and certainly hampered by the fact that he was on his own, but essentially OK. Not great, but not terribly poor either.
That all changes when he sees Short’s famous king march, though. You want building excitement? Just listen to him. From "he’s done it" when Black advances ... Kg6, through the small laugh that comes along with his initial mention of the seemingly absurd possibility of ... Kh5, to his voice breaking in his rush to get his words out when it’s actually happened.
"He’s done it again!"
You don’t need the meaning of the words. You know something special is happening from the sound alone. A great moment. If all chess commentary was like that there might even be as many people watching World Championship chess as Susan Polgar says there are.
If you’re pushed for time, the key minute starts around 6:20 n the second clip.
* I’m far from convinced that we (or at least I) do want this. That’s a question for another day, though.