Monday, August 06, 2007

The Future of Chess is Electronic

- and, in more than one way. Three of which are featured in this post.

First off, chess e-books. At least according to Dan Addelman of chess publisher Everyman:
As trade publishers bemoan the slow uptake of their ebooks, Everyman Chess has had quite the opposite reaction. The publisher launched its first e-books on 14th July and is already selling up to ten copies every day, around the world.

Not only are the ebooks universal but Everyman Chess ebooks have extra value compared to that of the standard pdf ebook which most publishers produce – they are interactive! The publisher is convinced that this is the way forward for ebooks.

In anticipation of the launch, Everyman Chess has been trialling the project since January this year by making one chapter from each title available as a free download from its website,

Already over 15,000 chapters have been downloaded.
I'm struggling to think of a disadvantage of the interactive e-book against a normal chess book...

But how about the game itself? I have long wondered if the future of chess is Freestyle Chess. This form of chess consists of a fairly quick on-line tournament, where the rules for each individual player are: anything goes. Want to hire Bobby Fischer and have him on your side? It's allowed. Kasparov, too? Sure. Plug in three Rybkas, as well? And how about that tablebase, or Fritz's opening book? Yup, no problem.

The various attractions of this "Wacky Races" form of chess for various parties are not entirely inobvious. The issue of cheating in on-line competitions is removed, since anything goes. Amateurs can compete with pro's; anyone with an internet connection can enter. There is room for both chess specialists and computer specialists - and both on the same team. The short time-frame of the tournaments - a few days - is exciting for spectators (as compared to, say Correspondence tournaments which feature a similar integration of man versus machine.) The quality of the games will always be very high. There are various opportunities for advertisers and sponsors - from micro-advertising on the playing server itself, to companies promoting their specialist equipment by entering it. World Champions may visit the toilet as often as they wish. And so on.

Where can you hear about Freestyle Chess? The answer for a long time now has been Chessbase. But their reports have never really been quite my cup of tea: too much off the board stuff, not enough about the games or what it's like to play this form of chess. So it was intriguing for me to read GM Tony Kosten's insider's account of the latest Freestyle tournament in the latest issue of KingPin. His excitement is palpable and he includes two pages of annotation. But for my purpose here, just a quick quote:

"It [Freestyle] is certainly a different type of chess, maybe the chess of the future..."

Finally, the rise of chess videos this year is not an undocumented phenomenon, one flagged first by About Chess. These videos differ from their 20th Century predecessors that took a month to arrive in the post, were over-priced, and perhaps a bit dull. Instead they are short, produced by passionate amateurs, and available for free via youtube. So what? Old news? Ah, but what London players might not know is that Tryfon Gavriel of Barnet Chess Club has started to produce his own. (If you're outside of London, you might also know of Tryfon - but this time as the amiable webmaster of correspondence site Lets Play Chess, where he plays as Kingscrusher.) He generally analyses classics or well-known games, in a style perhaps aimed more at intermediate players than advanced players well-schooled in the history of the game. But enjoyable and entertaining they are - popular on youtube too - and you can find them all here.

Reading, playing, communicating, more - the future of chess is electronic. Maybe.


ejh said...

I'm struggling to think of a disadvantage of the interactive e-book against a normal chess book...

Well, there are several, which would include the lack of proper binding as opposed to having a file full of papers, and the fact that speed of production is not conducive to depth of thought.

The death of the book (a qualified librarian writes) is very often being predicted and yet it very rarely actually happens.

Tom Chivers said...

I'm not sure I'd print one out, though. Maybe I ought try one.

Btw, as a PS to the post: those interested in computer chess might like to know Rybka kicks off another odds match again today, this time against GM Joel Benjamin. Link.

Anonymous said...

I find that the time I get to do chess training is somewhat limited. The best time for me is during odd gaps when traveling abroad, either for business or pleasure. At these times, I still prefer the paper format. When on Holiday, I don't generally lug a laptop around with me.

Also, I recently purchased an e-book on ebay in PDF format. When I printed it all off and binded it, it was larger in size and weight of the book proper. It was also of lower quality that the original. Taking into account the cost of printing it, one has to question the value of buying an e-book for reading in paper form.

Personally, if I'm going to buy a book, I would still prefer to by the paper copy. There are other forms of training, but I don't look upon them as books. There are videos, which seem to be verbalisations of opening books, offering little value add. Training programs look quite interesting, but I have yet to experiment with them (and shell out for). Anyone have experience with Fritz training modules?

Tom Chivers said...

Mm. My personal hunch is that I should try these out for opening books. I find it very hard to learn from opening books - I regularly get in a muddle and forget the connections between chapters, which note I'm trying to play out now, etc... In general I find chess books hard to learn from, and am up for an alternative...

Anonymous said...

The other thing I will point out is that Chessbase format files are only supported on Windows platforms.

There are still a few of us who believe in having a choice, although in reality, if you want chess software there is very little being produced for other platforms.

There is Shredder, scid/crafty, jin and a few others, but this is little compared to what's available on Windows. Even so, I can't bring myself round to condone the use of a vendor-locked format.

Anonymous said...

Why aren't there paperback-size portable computers with screens extending across most of one of the major sides?


Tom Chivers said...

Which reminds me. My housemate was once upon a time doing a PhD in nanotechnology; he mentioned 'computer paper', ie, it'd be a sheet of paper or card, except it could rewrite itself like a computer screen too. I'll ask him when he's back from holiday if that's really in the post, or not.

Anonymous said...

Ah, now we're talking about future technologies. I quite like the idea of the electronic scroll. This is a slim cylindrical device, with a pull out flexible touch-sensitive screen, that can present electronic books with hyper-linked content at high resolutions (300dpi). Of course, it would be smaller and lighter than a paper book.

I think research is close to producing such a device, but I expect it will take a good while for it to go into volume production.

As always with portable devices though, there is still the issue of batteries. Any book replacement will have to have a usage time of a working day (9 hours duration or so), while remaining smaller and lighter than the paper equivalent.

I can dream. But yes, if/when the above technology becomes reality, the future of chess publications is indeed electronic. And probably all other publications too!

Joye 510 said...

The short time-frame of the tournaments - a few days - is exciting for spectators (as compared to, say Correspondence tournaments which feature a similar integration of man versus machine.) The quality of the games will always be very high.