APRIL FOOLS: Headphone Music Added To PRO Chess League's Final Weekend
GM Magnus Carlsen listened to his own music during the Speed Chess Championship.

APRIL FOOLS: Headphone Music Added To PRO Chess League's Final Weekend

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With the upcoming semifinals and finals of the 2018 Professional Rapid Online (PRO) Chess League also marshaling in the era of chess as an esport, many exciting changes are afoot. One of them will be musical -- not usually something that plays a role in chess.

As already discussed in the mid-season announcement, the last matches will be played in person at the Folsom Foundry in San Francisco. Fans will be able to watch, and cheer, as the addition of noise-canceling headphones will prevent any distraction or collusion with players. has worked with the gaming site Twitch on the exact playing conditions, and the rules are being refined to reflect other esports.


The most notable alteration to the rules since the announcement? Players may now be listening to music instead of white noise, and their opponents get to pick the soundtrack!

Not only that, the type of music will affect slightly the starting times on the clocks, and the fans on site will be able to mimic what the players are hearing by listening to the same music on their own headphones!

"This will be another layer to opening preparation," said Vice President IM Danny Rensch. "Not only will you have to prepare for the Kalashnikov, but now also K-pop. Fans will get a mirrored experience with their own headphones if they so choose, giving them a fascinating insight into what the players are going through!"


He said the original idea started as a joke. At a planning meeting, an intern suggested the players listen to the soundtrack to the musical "Chess" on repeat. That's when Twitch executives mentioned that at a recent esports event in Taiwan, they experimented with teams getting to pick their opponent's music. Then the idea hatched to bring the idea over to chess.

Here's the outline of how the musical accompaniment will work:

  • Once lineups are chosen, the opposing team will then select an album from a list for their opponents to listen to during the entirety of that one round. A reminder: one match is four rounds.
  • All four players from a team will be listening to the same music in a given round. It is not specific to only one player.
  • At the conclusion of each of the four rounds, the opposing team will be able to confer, and decide if they wish to keep the same music for their opponents the next round, or change.
  • The albums chosen will be played from their beginning and are specially remixed to ensure there are no gaps in the music whereby players would then be able to hear the crowd. White noise is also added where needed (Twitch has used this technology at past gaming events).

Due to the last requirement, teams will not be able to choose any album under the sun (Twitch also needed to secure licensing rights). Instead, they can choose from a list of six genres, and there are three albums per genre that have been remixed and approved.

Additionally, two of the genres are considered "helpful" since they are mostly without lyrics. If a helpful musical style is chosen, then the team listening to it subtracts two minutes from their starting time (they would begin with 13 minutes instead of 15). Two of the genres are considered "neutral" and thus no time change would occur, while two genres are considered "distracting" so two bonus minutes would be awarded (a starting time of 17 minutes).

Here's the list of music that teams can select for their opponents:

"Helpful" Genres and Albums

Jazz: John Coltrane -- "Blue Train"; Charles Mingus -- "The Clown"; Louis Armstrong -- "New Orleans Nights"

Electronic: deadmau5 -- "4x4=12"; Public Service Broadcasting -- "The Race for Space"; Tycho -- "Dive"

"Neutral" Genres and Albums

Pop: Taylor Swift -- "1989"; LCD Soundsystem -- "American Dream"; ABBA -- "Waterloo"

Rock and Country: Miranda Lambert -- "Revolution"; Traveling Wilburys "Volume 1"; The Who -- "Quadrophenia"

"Distracting" Genres and Albums

Experimental: Bjork -- "Post"; Brian Eno -- "Lightness: Music for the Marble Palace"; Merzbow -- "Pulse Demon"

Metal: Metallica -- "Master of Puppets"; Van Halen -- "Van Halen"; KMFDM "Nihil"

No matter the music, players will have volume control on their headphones, with a lower limit set to ensure that they can't hear the audience or outside noise.

One final caveat to the rules: If an individual player chooses, he/she may instead listen to white noise, but then undertakes a five-minute penalty to start the game, thus beginning with only 10 minutes. Rensch said this was to make sure that chess purists don't get upset.


San Fransisco, about to drop some beats. Photo: Alexey Schekin.

Fans will be able to bring their own bluetooth headphones, or rent them on site, to "pair" their experience with the players. Alternatively, you will also be able to use regular headphones and install a newly-created feature of the app to have the same jam as your favorite team. You'll be able to toggle back and forth -- your music will be synchronized with the exact place in the album that the teams are experiencing.

And yes, you read that right, phones are very much allowed, for once. Rench said that he wanted the fan experience to include photos and videos.

Overall, he pointed to other esports such as League of Legends and Counter-Strike, which produce player and fan reactions such as the ones below. One question: If a grandmaster defeats all four players of the other team, can commentators start calling it a "quadra kill"?

Rensch said he's excited at the direction of chess and of the PRO Chess League.

"We realize this added element will be a little controversial to some chess fans, but I'm truly pumped to see how our beloved game can evolve into a game that fills the largest arenas," he said.

"We thought about other ideas like only providing the players with Red Bull instead of bottled water. Maybe we'll add that next time!"

[Edit: Of course this is not real. Obviously listening to Van Halen could only help you play better chess. April Fool's!]

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