Miley Cyrus and the Rijksmuseum Round

Jan 18, 2014, 1:32 AM |

Did you see the live report of the fourth round of the Tata Steel tournament on CNN? You didn't? What a pity. It was great, just great. Ah, so much publicity for chess, just because the round was played in the world-famous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, instead of the tiny and insignificant village of Wijk aan Zee!  

Sorry, bad joke. There was no live report on CNN, of course. Nor was there any on the BBC, or the NOS (the Dutch national TV channel) for that matter. As far as I know, it wasn't even in the Dutch 8 o'clock news but perhaps I've missed something. I also didn't see big pictorial reports in The New York Times, Le Figaro or The Times of India, but then my knowledge of French and Hindi isn't what it used to be.

I think we can safely conclude that most of the 'publicity' this round was supposed to generate, was largely in the sponsors' and chess journalists' heads. The rest of the world just moved on. Anyway, those were the only two groups of people I heard who were really enthusiastic about it. The players themselves didn't seem to care much - although they put up a nice show, of course, and obligingly answered the unavoidable questions from journalists. 

At the same time, it was perfectly clear that they would've given the same kind of answers if the round was held in the auditorium of the Antwerp Zoo ("I love elephants, that's what we call bishops in Russian!") or Disneyland ("I have a Mickey Mouse and Pocahontas chess set at home!"). Aronian's favourite Flemish master? Give me a break, let's have a Dutch Defense!

To me, the idea to hold a chess tournament in a museum that has absolutely no connection with chess whatsoever, seems misplaced if not a terrible waste of money. I was reminded of Miley Cyrus who recently sang naked in her videoclip Wrecking Ball just so she can sell more records. 

The difference, of course, is that sex, contrary to chess (or art, for that matter), really does sell, at least to the general public. From a more contemplative point of view, it seems to me that sex and rock'n'roll are a much more natural combination than the Budapest Gambit and a Vermeer painting. Or this is an unfair analogy? 

And what did the Rijksmuseum visitors who hadn't come for the chess think? Sure, many of them were no doubt quite pleasantly surprised, enthusiastic even - as anyone would be if a special event turned out to be held somewhere on the day you were visiting - but surely very few of them will dust off their forgotten chess sets when they get back home. 

Many people with influence in the chess world, including Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov, are of the opinion that "chess needs better publicity". This seems so obvious to them as to not deserve serious questioning. But why is this actually so desirable? Chess is a beautiful game, no doubt about it, but I, for one, am perfectly happy to play it with just one opponent at the time. Who benefits most from more publicity and exposure, if not those who make a living out of it?

And if sponsors do decide for us, the chess fans, that it's a good idea to promote chess by playing it in a museum, wouldn't it be better to do it in a museum that actually has a link with chess? I would have been much more appreciative if the fourth round had been played in the beautiful Max Euwe Centrum, which happens to be just a couple of hundred meters away from the Rijksmuseum.

I can only assume the organizers did investigate this option, but concluded that it wouldn't have given them the massive non-chess related coverage they got now. I hope they're happy.