Chess on TV

Jun 28, 2009, 9:20 PM |

The other day I was minding my own business listening to the Derek Guille radio show on 774 ABC Melbourne. They were discussing the impact of the introduction of digital radio and the new channels that this would allow. A caller rang up and said “With all these new stations why don’t they broadcast sports like lawn bowls and chess on the radio”? There was a stunned pause. The caller continued, “Yeah, and they could get some of those footy caller blokes to call the action.” Eventually Derek and his guest attempted to point out some of the difficulties in broadcasting the “action” in chess and lawn bowls games, but it set me thinking. Isn’t it a pity that chess is not a spectator sport that can be broadcast on TV and the radio. No TV coverage = no sponsors = no money. Or can it?

Back at the height of the Fischer Boom, when the American Champion Bobby Fischer was pitted against the Soviet World Champion Boris Spassky, chess had heaps of coverage in the media. I remember that after each game I was picked up by the Channel 7 news team and whisked into the Melbourne Chess Club and given 30 seconds to demonstrate what happened in today’s game on their big demonstration board. 30 seconds! “Fischer played the Sicilian defence then 40 moves later we reached this position where Spassky blundered with R-d8 and Fischer played Bxh2 check winning the game!” It was very difficult.

There was however an interesting chess TV show in those days from the BBC. I think it was called “Move by Move” and it consisted of a beautiful wooden chess set with a totally black background. The pieces moved by themselves with arrows showing the move just made. A BBC announcer with a deep voice announced the moves and commented on the game. I was told later that a chess player dressed in black velvet, so as to appear invisible, actually moved the pieces. It was quite a slick production but did not have a huge audience.

The trouble with chess is that to appreciate good play you probably have to not only know the moves but also be a good player. Compare this with tennis or football where we can all appreciate a good shot or clever goal without being able to play ourselves. There is hope however for chess in the media as chess is quite well adapted for coverage on the internet. We can all follow live games from any top tournament being played anywhere in the world. We can watch live commentary or video interviews about the matches or even watch web cams of the tournament hall if we want to get a feel for the action close up. You never know. If enough of us start following chess tournaments on the internet chess might even one day find a sponsor!