The logical explanation why chess is not seen regularly on TV as a sport contest is due to the common belief that it is simply too complex a game for the general public to embrace. Another reason is a love affair of the American public for instant gratification and dumbing down of the mental couch potatoes with six packs as they view popular sports like baseball, football, and golf–all requiring little participation other than viewing and throwing a fit now and then. I dare say that by the time they quit viewing these activities their minds are dull as their bottoms are found hard to drag off the couch or easy chair. Enter now the exciting era of poker, Texas draw, where the commentators try to excite viewers while each player eyeballs what cards were dealt and stares at the opposition trying to figure what is going on in their heads. I don’t know about you but after a couple hands I felt rather bored. Oh, sure, there is the thrill of piles of chips somebody is going to win. Follow the money: that is what its about!
Chess has a history on TV. The 1972 World Championship match between Fischer and Spassky was widely viewed by the public. Thousands of young people started to play chess and found it fascinating and challenging. George Koltanowski featured a series of chess shorts, 15-minute programs on PBS. Following the Fischer-Spassky match, a few additional match games appeared by some of the elite players but it eventually folded due to the lack of audience response and perhaps also the time slots. Making it attractive by holding blitz events, interviews with chess stars, and perhaps some cartoon blurps are ideas no one has come forth with to promote; are the stations’ managers dull-witted?
A critic might argue that America followed the World Championship match because it was seen as a battle between America and the USSR where the victor would reap some political points.
In recent years ESPN has tried to present chess in such fanfare menus as the Kasparov/computer match as well as other tries by TV like the Kramnik-Topalov match which ended in a horrid and unbelieveable error on the part of the chess organizers and participants with cries of cheating and utter character damage to Kramnik with the jokes on late night TV by the comedians. Frankly I blame the chessworld for the type of chess platforms proposed to feature on the tube.
Lets look at golf as an example of the American character. At one time golf was very discriminatory unlike chess that always embraced mankind. Golf is a great game, no question about it. One can get out and enjoy the weather, play with friends and associates, conduct business while soaking up the fresh air and sun. Maybe that is why CEOs have a love affair with the game. Yet, if one looks at a golf tournament on a weekend, it really is a rather boring, mindless and time consuming activity. Again it is a case of instant gratification when viewers hope to see that magical hole in one, eagle or birdie with a host of pros driving hard to improve their standings and lower their scores. I think it must be among all great sports when the lowest score is the one that wins! I dare say that much of the time most viewers tune in toward the end to see who won the event and watch the last few holes among the leading contenders.
Today there are tens of thousands of chess players and perhaps millions of people who have some knowledge of chess for a potential audience. The benefits I will repeat here of the aesthetic beauty as an art form and value seen in a scholastic menu. Can we not challenge our artists, our producers, our entertainment industry and many corporate CEOs and their Boards to at least give attention to its possibilities and values for general consumption? TV talk shows, news outlets, and advertisers often use chess vocabulary with such terms as “push pawns, not drugs’, “checkmate” and “stalemate”, “attack is better than passive defense or indifference” as well as many other phrases that originated with chess terminology.
In the November/December 2007 issue of THE AMERICAN, a lengthy article titled “Rah Rah Block that Rook”, tells the rise of a future super star Ray Robson and goes on to relate the frustrations of former chess powers like Yale, Harvard, Columbia and other major universities who have been shaken by the upstarts of small universities like UTD and UMBC who aggressively recruit world-wide for the chess elite with scholarships, apartments for the chess team, etc. For example, UTD has about 14500 students with focus on science, technology, engineering and business education. The 10-player A/B teams swept the other 22 teams and are composed of 2 Serbians, a Costa Rican, an Indian, a Pole, a Zambian, a Croatian, and 3 Americans said Stallings, pointing to their depth and talent. Eric Ruben, outgoing president of Columbia Chess Club, noted that it is almost impossible to compete at that level. Others say it is a crapshoot to get the 3/4 places. Yale’s David Lyons suggests it would take a miracle to dethrown the champions. But the battle is not over!More and more universities and colleges are pursuing their own plans to upgrade their talent. Competition breeds desire and pride in their chess clubs. UDT and UMBC will see strong challenges in the future! That can only bode well for chess!!
Is it not time for our chess community in America and neighboring friends to ask our executive leaders in our vast country to put a little of their expertise and financial backing toward our royal and noblest of games? It is by far a most economical menu for the many benefits seen since The Chess in Schools Program was implemented for scholastic chess.