Nov. 20th, 2016

chris: (mso)
Between 2005 and 2010, I made a habit of making one post each year about chess. Now seems like a reasonable time to restart the habit.

The world's number one player is Magnus Carlsen from Norway. (There is no decisive number two.) Magnus is now 25, so thinking of him as a child prodigy is a little out-of-date. Carlsen won the World Championship in 2013, defeating six-year titleholder Vishy Anand of India; Anand won the Candidates Tournament in 2014 to earn a rematch and Carlsen beat him a second time. Carlsen is currently defending his world championship title against Sergey Karjakin, another former prodigy of comparative vintage; their stars shone brightly during their mid- and late teenage years, representing the current generation of talent. The first two games of the twelve in the match were both drawn; the third game is in progress, taking place through the afternoon and early evening in New York, and Magnus is trying to press a very slight advantage into a possible win. (Edited the next day: due to slight inaccuracies in the sixth hour of play, it was a draw as well. Games four to six, completed while I wrote this slowly, also proved drawn.)

British chess has not notably kicked on in the past few years. Michael Adams had a fantastic result at a very strong tournament in Dortmund in 2013 but is gently falling from being a firm top-ten player to being a fringe top-twenty player; Nigel Short is the oldest player in the top 100 at age 51. David Howell briefly represented the generation after (well, half a generation after, being 16 years younger than Adams) in the top forty, but has since faded; there are no British players in the top 100 juniors list. The British Isles' 4NCL has got larger but it's been a while since there's been a team to seriously challenge Guildford for the title.

The London Chess Challenge has been one of the very strongest tournaments in the world in the last couple of years, being part of a small Grand Chess Tour circuit along with a counterpart similarly strong event in St. Louis. Chess in St. Louis is hugely strong thanks to benefactor Rex Sinquefield, who was even able to drag Garry Kasparov briefly out of retirement for a blitz chess tournament in April; Kasparov remained competitive against opponents roughly half his age.

I've long been fascinated by the online United States Chess League from the perspective of sport organisation, both considering chess as an e-sport and considering a mind sport as a spectator sport, or at least a sport that might develop a following. Over the course of eleven seasons, from 2005 to 2015, it grew from eight teams to twenty. It has long been an initiative very much in the image of its commissioner, IM Greg Shahade, though not without very considerable assistance from Arun Sharma and others. Greg has a blog worth reading; a recurring theme is calling out sexism where he sees it, which helps me feel he's on the side of the angels. (Anyone who volunteers to run something starts with a ton of credit in my book, but calling out sexism is more important.) Another recurring theme is the promotion of rapid chess, even at the expense of classic-time-control chess, and this has inspired his latest major change in his online chess league.

The United States Chess League is no more. Instead, starting in January 2017, welcome the Professional Rapid Online Chess League in its place. In practice, it's referred to as the PRO Chess League; this is not quite a GNU's Not Unix recursive acronym, but a little artistic licence for the sake of a really good acronym can only be a good thing.

Read more... )Mind sports e-leagues are a fascination of mine; I have followed the USCL through its existence, I have written about the Learned League quiz phenomenon, I keep an eye on the Pandanet European Go Championship and I wrote about taking part in the Croco-League, for logic puzzles, from 2012 to 2014. The PRO Chess League is one of the most interesting and ambitious yet.

I'd need some pretty serious convincing that this whole operation might work in practice if it had been organised by someone who had no track record, but Greg's track record is a very strong one. It's worth noting that as well as starting exciting schemes up, Greg also has a habit of closing them down when he feels they are no longer working (see the USCL, but also see his Scramble With Friends league, which has a few similarities in league design philosophy, and also see his New York Masters live tournaments) so I would be inclined to believe that the PRO Chess League might not be around forever, and not just in a trivial "nothing lasts forever" sense. It's definitely going to be fun to follow while it's around, though!

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Chris

November 2016

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