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September 6th, 2005

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10:38 pm - Major League Chess
I was thrilled to read that the US Chess League had its first week of matches last Wednesday night. If ever there were a first sentence to make 80% of you skip on to the next post, that might be it; the rest of you, who indulge my passion for vicarious chess geekery, may enjoy reading more.

Chess leagues are nothing new; the 4ncl in my interests list (which stubbornly remains unmatched by the rest of LiveJournal) is the Four Nations Chess League, the top British Isles competition. (For a while, it had a team from the island of Ireland, though I can't tell you which side. I also note that these days there is a Scottish National Chess League with rather lower barriers to entry.) I have also long geeked over international competition between top clubs from several different countries. Indeed, this isn't the USA's first chess league; 1976 saw the introduction of the National Chess League, where teams from nine cities played matches by telephone.

However, these days, matches are played over the Internet. Playing chess over the Internet in 2005 is considerably more accessible and less weird than playing chess over the telephone in the 1970s, plus considerably more spectator-friendly, in that people can watch the games on the Internet Chess Club at all, add their own commentary and so forth. The first season sees the league with eight teams of four players; the Eastern division has teams from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, with the Western Division teams from San Francisco, Dallas, North Carolina and Miami. (That'd be the southwestern division, then.) This helps sort out the timezone differences; San Francisco play their games starting at 8:30 Eastern, whereas the East Coast teams play at 7 Eastern.

What the league does right, that (say) Britain's 4NCL doesn't do, is that they require the teams to physically gather at their home venue to play their matches. Accordingly, an arbiter can oversee the players and ensure there is no malpractice; additionally, it does turn the match into a (rudimentary) spectator activity. While watching four people use computers isn't terribly spectacular, one would hope that an enterprising club would hire a projector (can you say "sponsorship opportunity for a local computer shop?") and display the games in progress at considerable size, with optional colour commentary and so forth. There legitimately is a relationship between the team and its city, which can only be good for the chess clubs which host the matches. It also encourages teams to select female players by (effectively) counting them at 40 points under their true rating for rating cap purposes. (How about something to encourage juniors, too?)

What the league does wrong, or at least debatably, is that it insists clubs' line-ups of four have averages capped at 2400. (With considerable, sensible riders on the cap calculation.) I can see their point in that when all the players and teams gather in the same place for competition then there need be no actual link between the players' locations and the teams they represent, with the result that most of the top European teams contain many players who have no connection to the team's location. If this were an immense-money league and people would move from city to city around the US just to be on a stacked team, then yes, it's arguably an issue; however, if all the grandmasters in the US live in New York then I can't understand the rationale behind New York not being able to field an all-GM team if it wants to. Additionally, I don't like the league's logo; we've done "depiction of icon from the sport in white sandwiched between solid blocks of red and blue" way too many times already, thank you.

What the league may well do very very right in the future is that there's no reason why it shouldn't expand far, far further; the business model can expand sideways (lots of untapped markets in the US), down to minor leagues (no reason why eventually there couldn't be local chess clubs involved at, say, a 1400 rating level) or up to global operation (there was a very similar Internet 4-vs.-4 match between Paris NAO and one of the big Russian sides a year or two back). Additionally, there's no reason why there can't be more than one operation in the same city, Jets-Giants stylee. I really don't see why Susan Polgar doesn't start a team based at her chess centre in New York, quite possibly as player-manager. They could - no, couldn't not - be the Queens Queens.

This is an initiative with an awful lot of potential, especially if it can catch people's attention; I think there might be investment potential as a media vehicle here, not that the league is looking for partners yet. It's the sort of thing that EdgeTV probably ought to be interested in - cheap-to-make, nationally relevant chess broadcasting. (That is, if the EdgeTV project hasn't gone completely cold; it has been worryingly silent for a long time.) At a much lower level, there's no reason why the blessed chess.fm of legend couldn't adopt it as a regular event to get excited about.

And if we can demonstrate that people can get excited about following an online inter-team league in chess, at whatever level, think about applications for other games; compare how much business the US Chess League, and chess, might get, with what you might get for an online World Poker League...

In other news, a mailing list I'm on provided a link to an - the? - excellent article about sudoku puzzles, with their history and some variants. Very fine work, even by Ed Pegg Jr.'s usual high standards. Additionally, byronosaurusrex points to the Bulgarian Puzzle Championship, their local WPC qualifier, but which also invites the rest of the world to take the test unofficially. (Double thumbs up, Bulgaria!) The neat gimmick is that you are permitted to participate any time you have 2½ uninterrupted puzzling hours from the 5th to the 13th of September, though this does throw into question the possibility of people seeing the questions in advance before their self-allotted 150 minutes.

You can see last year's test (at the bottom) for practice at US Puzzle Championship style puzzles at less than US Puzzle Championship difficulty. Unfortunately they're all written in Bulgarian, but there are worked examples of each one, so (especially if you've seen the puzzle types before) you'll find that you can speak puzzle pidgin Bulgarian easily.
Current Mood: impressedimpressed
Current Music: brakusjs's Bemani 3-65 online radio station

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 7th, 2005 02:15 am (UTC)
Cool idea.

Queen's Queens eh? What about Brooklyn's Bishops? Poughkeepsie's Pawns?

Are you a member of Britain's 4NCL?

Not sure that it will be as popular here as say, online poker sites, but it certainly has it's followers. Any numbers on the total number of chess players vs other online activities/puzzle players?
[User Picture]
Date:October 4th, 2005 03:29 am (UTC)
I'm sure there are local leagues within NY with those teams you mention and many, many more. How many of those could provide flourising USCL teams is another matter, though.

I'm not a 4NCL player myself because I'm really very poor at chess - I've played fewer than 20 games of it in my life, probably only about ten, and there are other games I far prefer. I do enjoy watching and listening to analysis of it, though, and I like chess players.

Last question: hard and interesting. Taking a quick look around, Yahoo! Games has 7,720 people playing chess at the moment, out of 138,394 players online. The MSN Games Zone has 1,064 people playing chess out of 118,728. Pogo has 1,786 playing chess out of 243,587. Those are possibly the three biggest online games sites, though I may well be out of date in my information. That said, none of those are terribly serious chess sites: the most serious are probably the Free Internet Chess Server with 445 players online right now and definitely the (not-free) Internet Chess Club with 1908 players online (fairly low considering it's 8pm Pacific), of whom 20 are real-world GMs or IMs. Compare that to 52,550 poker players on PokerStars alone (probably the world's biggest poker site?) and you have some sort of clue.
[User Picture]
Date:October 4th, 2005 02:13 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks for the data. Don't go looking :) , but I wonder how these numbers have changed over the last two years (esp. in the US) with the advent of televised poker tournaments? Not to mention, the increase in illegal gambling around the country. It was always there, but now...instead of headin' for bars with fake IDs...college students gather in dorms and play poker on Sat night. Also, is this going to be a continuing enterprise with wide-spread appeal over time or is it a temporary fad that will play itself out when a new idea comes along???

Good luck on Sat!
[User Picture]
Date:October 20th, 2005 12:07 pm (UTC)
The increase in the number of players in the $10,000 main event at the World Series of Poker is probably as good an indicator as any. Going up to the current year, the numbers are something like (about 5 years of 250s) - 300ish - 400ish - 600ish - 800ish - 2500ish - 5800ish, roughly, off the top of my head. Hard to tell whether Internet poker or TV poker is the main driver, probably both encourage each other.

I missed one of the very big chess sites in my previous comment - playchess.com, which is advertised through major computer chess brands. Apparently they get something like 8,000 chess players there at once. Accordingly chess is doing a little better than I made it appear.
Date:September 18th, 2005 10:34 pm (UTC)
Request for vague English instructions for Bulgarian puzzles #8 and #17 from 2004, please? Thank ye!
[User Picture]
Date:October 4th, 2005 03:14 am (UTC)
OK. Number 17: divide the box into rectangles with one number in each rectangle such that the number is the area of the rectangle. Unfortunately we don't see the borders thickened properly, so it's not clear, but I think the answer goes a little like "top-left 6 as middle-right of 2x3 rectangle, bottom-left 6 as top-middle of 3x2 rectangle, bottom-right 6 as middle-left of 2x3 rectangle, 3 as middle of 1x3 rectangle, 4 as top-right of 2x2 square". (Scroll into a zoom of 200% and this is correct.)

Number 8: again we can't see the thickened borders properly unless we zoom in to 200%, but it's a standard fences problem - draw a continuous loop along the edges so that each number represents the number of adjacent edges included in the loop.

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