The Beauty of chess


It will happen again, when the situation is right. Those matches were a culmination of a lot of things. The cold war combined with the personalities involved did actually make it pretty engaging. As I said upthread, Chess is inherently not a great spectator sport, unless you are really into it. Those matches transcended the game, because there was so much social impact and implications to those games. People weren’t interested in those matches because of chess. If for example, we could somehow end up with a chess final between USA and say…North Korea, and both the personalities involved had some charisma, it would be huge.

Chess is boring right now, unless you are really into the game, that’s always going to be a small percentage of the population. It’s when the game represents bigger themes that it really resonates, combined with some eccentric personality.


Good point.


Just want to point out that there are more people playing chess day to day than probably in its entire history - Sites like and are usually between 6000 and 20,000 concurrent players, and then you add on some lower count servers like the Internet Chess Club (1000-3000), playchess(not sure), peshka’s russian server, and various other random chess sites, and you’ve got quite a few people playing live games of chess at any given time.

The latest thing I’ve been curious about is Kasparov’s “master class”. . I am hoping it’s not geared towards low rated players though, seems like Kasparov would be wasted there.


What’s the basis for this assertion? There are still tons of young players, and young grandmasters. It’s true that Karjakin’s record is still unchallenged, but he broke the previous record by so much that’s not really surprising. It took 33 years for Judit Polgar to come along and break Fischer’s record, and that set off a torrent of new youngest-ever GMs that culminated in a 12 year-old doing it. In the 15 years since, about 20 13/14 year-olds have done it also, including a new record for youngest-ever to reach 2700 rating. That certainly seems like a fairly robust number of youths still view chess as worthy of serious pursuit, even if you grant that becoming a grandmaster is easier now than it was in Polgar or Fischer’s day (because rating inflation has continued, but GM is a fixed threshold). The top 20 players in the world are all under 50, and 12 of them are under 30.

There are lots of things that could be done to make a version of chess that appeals to a broader audience, but there’s not that much desire to actually do so. People who are passionate about chess like the intricacy of the tactics, the crazy skill ceiling, and the traditional forms of the game. People experiment around the edges of that for random products, but those rarely hit home, because if you bend the game too much you might as well just invent a new one. The more interesting question to me is how computer chess can help make the game more accessible. It will never be truly accessible on the scale of Candy Crush, but you could certainly create a version where each move earns you points based on the computer’s assessment of how good a move it was, and where the computer itself plays to keep the game interesting*, so that you can keep playing regardless of skill and end up improving as you learn to play well. Similarly, you could use the power of computer analysis to make live commentary more interesting, highlighting key variations that could be played next, providing an instant score for each move, and attempting to give viewers a sense of the complexity and difficulty faced by each player**. Then live announcers could draw on the computer variations, scores, and complexity assessments to provide the storylines and excitement that people want from a spectator sport. When people watch baseball, the commentators’ job is to build excitement and contextualize the plays: “3-2 count, tying run on first will be in motion with the pitch”; “Just outside, ball 2. That brings the count to 2 and 1. That really changes the at-bat here, now he’s got to come after him with the next pitch and that’s where it can get dangerous” and so on. There is a bit of “they should do this” but the drama is built from the game situation, the playoff situation, and the individual and team storylines like rivalries and position battles. These same things apply to football (where the average viewer only vaguely understands the complexity of each play), soccer, basketball, etc. Knowing what the best thing to do is doesn’t make those games less exciting, it makes them more exciting as you watch to see if the players can pull it off live. This could definitely be done with chess, and games like Starcraft and LoL have shown the way. Chess is starting down these lines with things like the pro leagues, but I think it needs much better 'casting and tournament staging to reach that level.

So tl;dr is: chess should embrace computer analysis, not just as a tool to make humans better, but as a way to assess and present human achievements.

*what I mean by interesting is having the computer play you and try to choose moves so that the best possible response stays within a couple points of zero without forcing a draw (that is, within a couple points, but not if that means every response leaves the game at 0). Perhaps it occasionally forces a takeback, using up a “life” when your move would hang a queen or whatever, to make sure it doesn’t completely ignore major blunders or create really absurd positions where a piece has been hanging for 10 turns.

**complexity and difficulty in this sense would mean how significant the best move is (that is, the difference in assessed value between the best, second best, and third best moves), how hard to find it is (that is, how many moves appear similarly good if you only look ahead 5, 10, or 15 moves), and also perhaps other measures like how volatile the line is (that is, how precisely do you have to understand what to do to achieve the assessment - are there many paths where neither player is making a big mistake, or just one viable path?) and how dangerous it is for the opponent (this is the reverse of the significance measure: how big is the spread of best responses for the opponent?).


I can’t speak for the youths, but this middle-aged man is more interested in chess than ever, thanks to YouTube. I’ve discovered that after a long day at work, there’s nothing more entertaining and relaxing than sitting down to watch a couple of chess videos.

Sometimes it’s coverage of major tournaments, usually by Jan Gustafsson on He’s an excellent analyst with a dry wit. More often it’s John Bartholomew, a chess instructor from Minnesota who is incredibly clear and lucid.

All of this chess-watching hasn’t really translated into chess-playing. No one in my family plays, and I’m not brave enough to get my butt kicked online. But that’s OK – like any other sport, there’s a lot of fun to be had in watching the best go at it.


I am also getting back into chess.

Very humbling.



As I’ve said above. It’s just my anecdotal experiences and the impression from the people I interact with in my daily life. I’ll be glad to be proven wrong as time goes by.

Curious though about the average age of the players of Chess. I don’t have the data, but when I was younger (maybe I had a bias for people like Bobby Fisher, Capablanca, Botvinnik, Kasparov, Karpov etc and may be biasing my own ‘data’), the average age of the top players seem to be younger. That is a good measurement to track whether any field is being refreshed.

Edit: Just occured to me that another good tracker would be to see the lifetime earnings of professional chess players. That would influence the decision and opportunities to turn professional.


These days the top players tend to be younger, and players are definitely reaching GM strength at a younger age. You still get older people playing at high levels though, such as Korchnoi who has still battling until a couple years before he died.

Players these days have access to extremely powerful engines, databases containing millions of games, and the ability to play people online at any time or receive coaching remotely. For most people that earn money through chess it isn’t by playing, but through teaching. The number of players that can make an actual living with just playing is very small.

Live ratings of top players (shows age):

so you still have folks like Gelfand, Ivanchuk, and Anand competing at a high level. Wei Yi at 18 is currently #14.


Top 10 players in 1975 (11 were listed, I assume that meant a tie for 10th, source:, sorted by age, compared to today (also 11 players to make it even):
Petrosian - 46 Anand - 47
Korchnoi - 44 Kramnik - 42
Polugaevsky - 41 Aronian - 34
Larsen - 40 Grischuk - 33
Tal - 39 Mamedyarov - 32
Spassky - 38 Nakamura - 29
Portisch - 38 Vachier-Lagrave - 26
Fischer - 32 Carlsen - 26
Huebner - 27 Caruana - 25
Ljubojevic - 25 So - 23
Karpov - 24 Giri - 23

Average age, 1975: 35.8
Players under 30, 1975: 3

Average age, 2017: 30.9
Players under 30, 2017: 6

Even if you cut out Giri (who is 11th today), there’s more players under 30, half as many over 40, and the average age is 31.7, which is 4 years younger.


Good to see my bias dispelled. :)


Chess is also taking off* in China and 5 of the 6 top Chinese players are in their 20s. I expect over the next 10 years the 2700+ field is going to have a lot more young, Chinese GMs.

*from a very low base


But so far as I know there’s still no hope of purging FIDE. One big difference between 1975 and today is that back then FIDE wasn’t a corrupt organization run by criminals.


There was some nonsense earlier this year where it sounded like Kirsan had resigned, but I’m not sure what the end result of that was. The system is a bit screwed up because federations with very few players have the same vote as anyone else, and he is able to bribe people to get the votes he needs. Even Karpov and Kasparov have not been able to unseat him.

As long as Kirsan has the backing of Putin and the Russian Chess Federation he probably isn’t going anywhere.


Kirsan isn’t that important. Makropolous is doing the daily business and pulling the strings, and has so for decades.


Kasparov sitting at -1 after 6 rounds of the Rapid/Blitz tournament in St. Louis. Not bad considering it is his first rated games in 12 years.


As an aside, I recently read: Mortal Games, the Turbulent Genius of Garry Kasparov by Fred Waitzkin and loved it.


AlphaZero walking over Stockfish is pretty amazing. Especially the style of chess it seemed to play


No wonder it beat Stockfish - AlphaZero has an ELO of over 5,000! That’s insane - the previous best computer chess program had an ELO of around 3,400, while Carlsen is around 2,850.


I’ve been playing on this new site

It has play money gambling. Like your position? “Kontra” the opponent and double down on the stakes. Reminds me of when I used to play chess in washington square park in new york, except we doubled down AFTER the game :)