5 Things that Make Commentated Chess Watchable

5 Things that Make Commentated Chess Watchable


I love watching chess. I know, I’m weird, but try to get past that for a second.

Chess is, after all, the sport I love. When I watch people of my level or better play, I get the same thrill of competition as I do watching a soccer or basketball game.  Well, maybe a baseball game, but you get the idea.  When the position is open, the stakes are high, and a player can win or lose, I feel the tension—but only if the commentary has been done right!

Since working on chess tv, and starting my own show, what makes a good commentator has become something I’ve focused on.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about what you guys like, and don’t like, about chess commentary/shows. I’d particularly (though I’m hesitant to say this) like constructive feedback (oh god please let it be constructive) for my own series here.  But without further ado, here are the five things I think make a great chess show.

1. Dynamic commentary: If a move is crazy, counter-intuitive, unexpected, I want to hear that in the commentator’s voice. My favorite in this area is Lawrence Trent. When someone makes a blunder, you can hear Lawrence empathize with the players upcoming horror. When someone makes a brilliant move, you’ll hear him shout with shared glee. 

2. Don’t overestimate how drawn a position is: This happens particularly in Carlsen games.  The commentating team will be sure it’s a draw, and bore me to death with a lifeless struggle, only to go, oh, wait a tick, here’s a neat idea to try and get something.  And then “oh my God!” Thanks guys, I really didn’t need the thirty minutes of boredome you cause by telling me the game was a draw!

3. Personality: There are a ton of ways a person can engage the viewer.  Whether with humor like Danny Rensch, or with raw moxy like the smooth voiced Yassir Seirwan, I need a commentator to reach out and touch me!4. Speak to the Big Picture: In chess, there’s a ton of time to talk while the players are thinking, but filler can be problematic. What I love to hear instead is how this particular game runs into the big picture.  Where does this game fall in the tournament?  What are the stakes?  What does a win bring each player? How does this game fit into chess in general? 
5. Good games:  There just is no way around this.  The players have to want to win.  They’ve got to seek out imbalanced positions.  They’ve got to take risks, and they’ve got to have a game where win is possible. Whether you do it in the endgame like Carlsen, the middlegame like Hikaru, or the opening like Vishy or Caruana, somebody’s got to fight hard for the victory. 


So that’s what I’ve thought of so far in my quest to become a better commentator personally. Let me know what I’m missing and . . . if you can be gentle about it, take a gander at this video and let me know what I can do to get better!