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Are you watching closely?

The recently concluded world championship between newly crowned Norwegian prodigy Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand was a rare moment when the spotlight was on the world of chess. At these high-profile moments the same question is asked: Can chess ever truly make it as a spectator sport? Here are 10 reasons why it might not.

1. body language

The body language of the players is hardly visible. Many players sit with their head cupped in their hands. The players’ faces barely flicker. Poker players are animated by comparison.

2. Cold war

The Cold War is over. Chess’ benchmark historic occasion was the contest between American genius Bobby Fischer and Soviet champion Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972. The geopolitical backdrop added piquancy to an occasion that dominated headlines around the world – it was billed as individualist American against machinelike Soviet.

3. movies

Chess isn’t like it is in the movies. The movies like to use chess as either a) a signal that a person is brainy and possibly devious, or b) a metaphor for some kind of struggle.

4. insight

The layman gets no real insight into the extraordinary minds of Carlsen and Anand. In a sense they cancel each other out. Carlsen is said to have something in the region of 10,000 games memorised. He can play 10 opponents simultaneously. Blindfolded. This level of remarkable brainpower would impress a layman but it doesn’t naturally come out in the world championship.

5. draws

About that canceling out. The first game of this series ended in a draw after 16 moves. So did six other games in this series.

6. understanding

There were good reasons for those draws, but most people who have never played chess competitively would struggle to understand them, even after patient explanation. For those who don’t know the broad strategical issues, chess is baffling. You need to know that a doubled pawn is generally bad. Retaining both bishops is generally good. And about 59 other strategic points of varying degrees of esotericism.

7. drama

In the cloistered atmosphere of the world championship, what tension there is arguably exists only within the head of other chess aficionados in the vicinity. The game is played in total silence, with Anand and Carlsen competing in a soundproofed glass box.

8. Bobby Fischer

There’s no more Bobby Fischer. Fischer was a one-man highbrow soap opera in his pomp. As snooker’s relationship with Ronnie O’Sullivan shows, a sport benefits from a controversial figure at its centre.

9. slow

It’s all rather slow for the non-aficionado. These world championship matches can last more than six hours. Some sports have made things quicker to pique interest. Arguably, chess should take a leaf out of the T20 book.10. board game

No other board games are spectator sports. Scrabble fans don’t agonise over the fact that its never going to be at the Olympics. You wouldn’t want to see Monopoly on a big screen either.New York Times News Service



Piquancy – stimulating, interesting or attractive

Devious – departing from the most direct way

Esotericism – the quality of being esoteric, i.e, private and confidential

Cloistered – secluded from the world

Aficionados – an ardent fan




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