On Watching Chess…

I recently found myself with a case of the flu which kept me home from work for a week. Most of the week was wasted, with episodes of round-the-clock napping. When I was starting to feel recovered I checked in on my chess.com games. I had several games going when I became ill, and needed to make a move soon (or else, lose on time). 

When I navigated to chess.com, I saw an alert on the video tab. I never see these. So, curiousity prevailed and I clicked on it. The alert said that round 9 of the US Chess championships was being broadcast online. With the exception of the 2015 World Championship (that I watched on a Russian web site while I was in India), I haven’t watched a chess tournament since the last time I lived in Seattle. When I did watch them, I enjoyed the commentary a lot. 

Back then, you had your browser tuned to Chess.fm, while you watched the board on Internet Chess Club. Now, its different. This was like watching Sportcenter for chess. There were two GMs, Jennifer Shahade and Yasser Seirawan, sitting at a studio desk, discussing the games and positions, while a third GM, Maurice Ashley, was standing in front of a large board like a chess meteorologist. This led to some robust discussion and positional debates between the three GMs.

What really made it interesting, was that Maurice Ashley would often refer to “the engines” during the conversations. Back when I used to play and watch chess, there were alway articles about how chess computers were going to ruin chess. This was a case where the engines enhanced chess. With several engines and three GMs, the broadcast team usually saw things that the players didn’t. They’d discuss a line and then wait to see if the players would see the optimal line. This amped up the drama of the broadcast. All of the sudden, as a viewer of a game between 2 players that see the board differently than most of humanity, you were able to see the dynamics of the game as they played out. 

On rare occasions, there were surprises. But, when they happened, they were something special, as several engines and 3 GMs didn’t see them coming. Wesley So’s win in round 9 was a good example of this.

At the end of the weekend, I was excited about chess again. I really want to play again, like enough to start working on my game again.