Can We Please Start Formatting Chess Tournaments So People Will Watch Them?

I love blitz and rapid chess, and think that it’s a great idea to have serious top level tournaments with faster time controls.

As we speak there is a rapid/blitz hybrid tournament taking place in Paris for the Grand Chess Tour. Sadly it seems that the organizers have done everything in their power to make this tournament as unfriendly as possible for the chess fan to watch.

First let’s talk about a few important features to a live show:

1. It should not be unreasonably long.

No one except for the most die hard fans are going to sit and watch a 5-7 hour show from beginning to end. I know it may sound crazy, but my goal would be to put together a product that people will want to watch at the start, and stay until the very end. With blitz and rapid this is your chance to make this a reality.

My feeling is that a 3-4 hour show is ideal, although I’d try to lean towards the shorter side of that window. For the Ultimate Blitz Challenge in St. Louis, which was incredibly well run, I set aside the time every day to watch the show. I was able to do this because it had a reasonable running time of about three hours.

2. There should not be constant prolonged periods with zero action

After a few blitz games it makes some sense to have a break of 10-15 minutes. However to do this after every game is suicidal to your viewership, and is just going to result in large throngs of your viewers stopping to do something else.

One great thing about rapid and blitz chess is it’s the perfect way to normalize chess events. Instead of these ridiculously long 5-7 hour coverage of slow chess games, that you will never convince people to watch and stay engaged with from beginning to end, you actually have a chance to engage chess fans nonstop for 3 hours.

Instead the schedule for this tournament is:

Day 1 – 7 hours

Day 2 – 5.5 hours

Day 3- 5 hours

Day 4 – 5 hours

It could have EASILY been at least 2 hours less every single day. It’s almost as if the organizers are begging people not to follow the tournament live.

Let’s talk about what I think the key mistakes are:

1. Rapid chess should be a little faster

Something in the range of 15+3 seems much more appropriate than 25+5. The key is that if you need to have five games in a day, you should make it so that you never expect a game to go longer than 40 minutes. Then you can start the next round after the 45 minute mark.

So if you have 5 games in a day it should be something like:

Game 1 – 2 PM

Game 2 – 2:45 PM

Game 3 – 3:30 PM

now the players will get a 15 minute rest after their games…

Game 4 – 4:30 PM

Game 5 – 5:15 PM

This results in a playing day of under 4 hours, minimizes downtime, and makes it a digestible package for fans to follow at home while still using a rapid chess time control.

Instead the Grand Chess Tour is using a crazy schedule where the first round is at 2 PM and the final round is at 8 PM, for what turns into a 7 hour schedule. This is just an insane amount of chess in one day that no one can even dream of following.

Even worse, it’s absolute torture for the players. Players don’t play well or appreciate it when they are forced to suffer through such barbaric playing schedules.

2. Nine games of Blitz should not take 5 hours!

When you look at their blitz scheduling it’s even more laughable. For some insane reason, they decided there should be 30 minutes in between every single blitz round! With a time control of 5 2, the games should take about 10-15 minutes on average. Why in the world do they want 8 periods every single day where there is 15 minutes of nothing? What do you think your fans are going to do every time there’s nothing happening for 15 minutes?

The Ultimate Blitz Challenge, which was widely hailed as one of the most thrilling chess events in modern history, was a 3 hour show every day with nine blitz games per day. The Paris event is somehow a 5 hour show every day with nine blitz games per day. This is complete lunacy.

What should the blitz schedule be?

5 minutes to start with a 3 second delay, just like the extremely exciting Ultimate Blitz Challenge.

How should the schedule work?

Round 1: 2:00 PM

Round 2: Begins 2-3 minutes after Game 1 ends

Round 3: Begins 2-3 minutes after Round 2 ends

10 minute break after Round 3 and then continue on.

Chess players are capable of playing blitz game after blitz game, anyone who has played chess knows this. I would argue that the long breaks actually make it more tiring for the players.

By giving this unnecessary rest time, you are severely damaging your show and you are basically begging everyone who’s watching at home: “please find something else to do, because there’s going to be no action for the next 15 minutes, and will repeat this process 8 times during the show”.

3. It’s exhausting for the commentators!

Do you know how hard it is to talk about chess for 5-7 hours in a row? It’s absolutely mind numbing. It’s a testament to the great commentators in St. Louis that they still manage to put on a good show with such insanely long running times, but I guarantee you that they are suffering. The quality and energy level becomes so much better if you manage to make it a 3 hour show.

Especially in blitz+rapid, the games should be shorter, the rest times condensed, and the show running times reduced. Players and fans alike will appreciate three hours days.

I’m just so tired of chess organizers making no effort to make their events fan friendly. Let’s please just try to ask ourselves before a chess event “What can we do to actually encourage people to watch our show”, and then after asking that question, let’s do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Can We Please Start Formatting Chess Tournaments So People Will Watch Them?

  1. I think a lot of people will watch 7-9 hours of *recorded* content. There’s value in broadcasting and uploading it and letting people watch at their leisure.

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  2. This is probably a stupid idea, but is there a way to do real-time pairings without waiting for each round to fully complete? It would be interesting if each players’ next game could start 5 minutes after their previous game, against someone whose game also ended around the same time.

    If it is mathematically possible, it would be an extra challenge for commentators, but the running time would no doubt be greatly reduced.

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    • The fact is, you will not have much more viewer for blitz or rapid events, and you will lose all the art and science part of chess (because fast time control = more blunders). You spoke about the Ultimate blitz chess challenge, but the UBCC was not interesting and thrilling because of the time control and game schedule. It was thrilling because “oh my God Kasparov is playing – do you remember his game against Topalov at Wijk 1999 – I think he is the greatest in chess history”. And Kasparov’s fame is typically a product of long time control, because he is not only famous for being strong, he is also famous because his games were beautiful. And the game against Topalov in Wijk, or the many beautiful games against Karpov would be impossible in blitz or rapid.

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      • If you want to see less blunders, make players to only play force draw line where all of their moves are perfect and have 0 mistakes. BOOM! You have a perfect, beautiful game with absolutely no mistakes from either players.
        You think Kasparov’s games against Topalov were beautiful? Those games were full of mistakes and blunders which you belittle in your first sentence. I don’t know why you brought up those games just to contradict yourself.
        In all seriousness, art and science part of chess is created by human blunders. So fast time control = more blunders = more art and science = happy AngeloPardi 🙂

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  3. The actual numbers of viewers turned out to be way greater than Dailymotion’s (Vivendi group) best expectations. The same phenomenon was noticed for the world rapid and blitz championship in Berlin and in the Zürich chess tournament. In my opinion, rapid should replace classical as the main time control, for several reasons :
    * It will make chess more popular, and more people will watch top events (they outnumber the advocates of classical chess), because the games will be shorter and less games will be drawn.
    * The importance of the preparation will diminish. In rapid chess, obtaining an advantage in the opening does not matter as much as in classical. Pure chess skills will prevail.
    * The best chess players in classical are the best chess players in rapid. Carlsen won both last rapid championships. Anand finished undefeated in Dubaï while Kramnik finished undefeated in Berlin, in 15 rounds. Other top players finished in the top places, and not the 2600s.
    * It helps fighting against certain forms of cheating (going to the toilets at each move, talking with a stronger player during when the opponent is thinking, …).
    * Those who point out that the quality will greatly diminish should be reminded that chess tournaments are competitive, and not about theoretical chess. You play your best chess under time constraints. By the way, top players can still play amazingly well in rapid.
    * More amateurs will play in chess tournaments. I know many people who stopped chess when they started working, because they do not have much holidays as before and cannot spend 8 consecutive days playing chess. We need tournaments lasting around 3 days (they exist, but being >2200, I cannot play them …)
    Fortunately, some top players are of the same opinion. Anand said this week-end that “the old wisdom of playing classical chess is dated”.

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  4. I’m fairly new to watching chess so maybe this is dumb but: why does everyone play at same time and have breaks at the same time? You can’t follow 6 blitz games simultaneously and then you have long breaks where no one plays. Why not stagger games?

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  5. You make a common error. The point of chess tournaments, is to serve business interests. That’s why the VIP box at the Candidates was allowed to be sponsored by a non-IOC approved vodka company, and even when Karjakin complained after an early round about the noise from their parties, it was not a priority. So you get loooonnnngggg breaks, so that the kingpins can make deals, in-between watching the chess performers in the center circus ring. Norway Chess similarly had a chess and business tie-in event this last year, and Blitz/rapid Berlin champ last year was highly business oriented, with the 4-page Financial Times exclusive, and Goldman Sachs sponsoring a luncheon (but *not* sponsoring any actual chess!).

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  6. “The Ultimate Blitz Challenge, which was widely hailed as one of the most thrilling chess events in modern history,”

    Widely hailed by whom? (can I make it look like Wikipedia does “by whom”)? By looking at the European chess magazines in the month after, about the only interest UBC had, was Kasparov’s comeback (and So’s “Immortal”!??! Game), and maybe a little riff-raff about Caruana vs Naka for #1 in US Champ (in fact, the UBC was almost a postscript to US Champ coverage). Norway and Bundesliga were much more notable.

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