World Chess Championships Comes Back to the U.S.

The game of chess has a long, long history in New York. People were playing it for hundreds of years before Bobby Fischer came along as a 13-year-old kid in 1956. And it’s back, thanks to this year’s World Chess Championships, which were held in the US for the first time in 21 years this November. Pia Peterson reports.

 

This is the sound of two people locked in competition…duking it out…on a chess board.

 

((SOUND: Ambi of chess pieces, stopclock 0:02))

 

At the World Chess Championships at the Fulton Market Street Building, there is chess everywhere. On T-shirts, being played on tables, broadcast on screens and on devices. And in a dark room, behind sound proof, bullet proof glass, the two greatest chess players in the world are about to start playing.

 

((SOUND: AMBI of [Applause] Good morning [fade down] 0:02))

 

Of the two competitors, the one favored to win is Magnus Carlsen from Norway. Both Carlsen and his opponent were born in 1990, and grew up in the computer age, making them part of the newest generation of chess players. Also included in this generation are Alex Selden and Ben Kazanoff, both 23, both from Long Island (DON”T NEED BEN, JUST SAY ALEX}. They came out today to watch the match, along with about 300 other spectators

 

ACT 1 SELDEN: Almost like a cattle car type environment, a packed, crowded dark, room where I can basically see the hairline of the best chess player in the world from 50 feet, I’m still happy to be here and have the opportunity.

 

This is one of the problems chess has struggled with as it tries to grow as a sport. How do you make it exciting to follow the moves of two guys, two chairs, 32 pieces, and 64 squares of chessboard? Michael Silver and his kids are standing in line, looking into a mysterious small black box.

 

ACT 1 M SILVER: Well this is a black cardboard box that folds around your phone to create a picture, it almost looks like you’re holding a pair of binoculars.

 

The Silvers are a self-described “chess family,” they’re here today to catch a glimpse of the match, but they’ve been following it online and with this VR headset for over a week now.

 

ACT 2 M SILVER: And when you look into it, you are looking directly into the room. I’m able to be right next to the board. Magnus is taking a drink of water, and oop! I got a little on my face. It’s ok.

 

The Silver family is able to watch the championship, which lasts for almost a month, from home, the kids can even watch at school between classes. They are thrilled about this. And the guy they have to thank? His name is Ilya Merezon.

 

ACT 1 MEREZON: We’ve changed the way chess is watched all over the world [fades under]

 

Merezon’s company is broadcasting the competition in Virtual Reality for the first time this year, in an attempt to make the sport more appealing to today’s viewers through tech. For an old game, chess loves tech. Here’s Francine Silver, Michael’s wife, who is standing in line with Michael and their ten and eleven year old sons.

 

ACT 1 F SILVER: If people were to look at us sitting on the couch at home with all of our phones out, sometimes we are all on chess.com, the four of us, each playing chess on chess.com.

 

The game is having a surge in popularity among younger players, the biggest chess website, chess.com has grown its traffic 400% in the last four years, and even created a spin-off site for players 13 and younger.

 

ACT 2 F SILVER: Sometimes life is so busy that playing a game on our phones instead of having to set up the whole chessboard you know, this 2016, computer age, digital age, it works.

 

It’s not only that the internet and apps make the game more accessible, all of this is actually making chess players better at the game. In 1950, the grandmaster status was introduced. It basically means you can earn your black belt in chess, the highest honor in the game. Back then the average age someone achieved this status was 28. For today’s players, it’s 18. I checked back in with Alex Selden, the spectator who was watching the game earlier, to see what he thought about the effect technology is having.

 

ACT 1 ALEX: Technology has gone at such a pace with chess that it’s kind of losing the human element in a lot of ways

 

He has some misgivings.

 

ACT 2 ALEX: It kind of scares me because this is a game that I first found because my dad showed me it on a cute little wooden chessboard. At what point is it…is the experience enough.

 

[AMBI of chess pieces, stopclock 0:02]

 

Kids can still learn to play on boards at home, in the park, or at school. And while they one day might become champions thanks to the help of computers and algorithms, in the beginning, all it takes is sitting down with someone, and making your first move.

 

Pia Peterson, Columbia Radio News.

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