Chess Promotion Print E-mail
By Joel Benjamin   
December 11, 2006
Do you think that chess will ever become as popular as poker has become in recent years and if it will ever be shown on television on a consistent basis as poker currently is?

What modifications does chess need to make it more suitable for television coverage (such as shorter time controls, bigger focus on player personality/lives)? Also, what can be done to make chess more popular in mainstream American culture and society? I know that GM Susan Polgar has devoted her life to promoting the game of chess to American society. Is promotion by top US players the most effective way of making chess more popular?

Thanks, USCF member Matt Helfst

Poker has certain natural advantages over chess. Now that cameras can show the cards to the audience, viewers know exactly what possibilities the players have. It takes a lot less knowledge for the layman to follow poker. And all that money riding on the "river" cannot be duplicated in chess.

Still, poker shows us that a previously unpopular sport can break out if presented properly. Chess has been on television with occasionally promising results. ESPN dispatched professional sports commentator Jeremy Schaap to host coverage of the 2003 Kasparov-Deep Junior match. I recall the programs received respectable ratings. Of course, spectacles like high-profile man v. machine matches don't come along every day. To establish a presence, we need to produce chess events specifically for the medium.

Shorter time controls are certainly viewer friendly, but not obligatory. Longer games can work as long as a program is well edited. You can condense long games into a shorter package and fill gaps between with, as you say, player profiles, as well as brief explanations of strategy, assessments, and predictions.

Live coverage of many events would be harder because it requires so much airtime and the finish time is unpredictable (unless sudden death time controls are used). Perhaps a slow match could be part of a larger sports program that would check back to the game from time to time.

Joel Benjamin