Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Xtreme chess, James, Cancun

Jennifer, Daniel, and Greg's first installment of their tv pilot, Xtreme Chess Challenge, is up here:

(sorry it's so primitive with the lack of hyperlinks-- I'm without my laptop in Cancun, writing from Jonathan's iPad, and I guess he needs to update his browser.)

I have a few things to say:

1) Overall, it's entertaining and fun and gives you a nice little dose of chess. I think it's really hard to get the balance right in talking about chess with a mainstream audience, keeping it intelligible without pandering, and I think they do an excellent job on this.

I wish I had my copies of all the recent mainstream books that have tried to talk about chess: Counterplay, the Chess Artist, King's Gambit, and Bobby Fischer vs. the World with me, because I think they all faced something like this same issue in written form: how to talk about chess without getting too technical or too simplistic/symbolic. I want to read their chess passages side by side and compare their approaches/ success.

2) I think a lot of the success of this series will be determined by often the hosts can get the kids to open up and say interesting things on camera. Kassa stands out with his "I'm calm, cool, and collected" but most of the kids' sound bites don't grab me at all. I hope that changes as we get into the later episodes, but I know it's not easy getting kids to talk about themselves. There are some nice brief clips of them doing non chess stuff, but they are very short-- I wish we saw more of Alisa dancing and Justus playing judo.

3) Jonathan, who has no real interest in chess beyond a polite one, wanted to see Survivor-like challenges added in: to advance to the next round a contestant would have to talk to a pretty girl in the lunch-line, or change a car tire.

4) I like the NYC/MTV/fast paced feel, but I'd like to hear more a more extended blurb from the players about their lives and what place chess has in it. Maybe a 2 minute "this is who I am," like they do in the winter Olympics?

5) one of the most interesting things about the event was the weird Greg-inspired rules: you bid a low amount of starting time to get white. In the event of a draw, players switch colors and play again, but keep their remaining time. I'm a little confused why this wasn't explained-- maybe to keep here video short? It's a cool, completely original twist that also maybe provides a jumping off point for the kids to talk about their tournament strategy/approach to each opponent.

6) I can't tell if it's weird to have 4 hosts. I know 3 of them, so it wasn't for me, but I suspect it might be more than most shows have. It also seems a little weird that Greg, the highest rated player and someone with a cult following of video watchers, doesn't do any of the commentary.

Overall, I think making a popular tv show about chess is extremely difficult and they've done a great job.

In other news, James Black is 2313! It took him 14 months to go from 2100 to 2200, but only 3 months to break 2300. He will be the second highest rated 13 year old in the country on the next list, just 25 points behind Kayden Troff. Justus Williams is also doing extraordinarily, beating both Kassa Korley (2378) and Eli Vovsha (2531) in his last tournament.

I'm in Cancun, enjoying the sunshine and the all-inclusivity of the resort. I've read/ am reading 1Q84 (Murakami, great, but I was disappointed in the lack of an ending), Thinking Fast and Slow (Kahneman, about cognitive bias), and Everything I Never Wanted To Be, an entertaining /touching memoir of drug addicted family life by a female comedianne/ grocery store cashier from Albequerque.


Philip Sells said...

Point 5 about the X-chess program was not at all obvious from the show--I just thought it was all G/20. This demonstrates your point, I think.

About your point 4, I agree.

Philip Sells said...

Oh, and congrats to James! I'd like to see a match between him and Deepak.

Anonymous said...

I hope they're not giving up their day jobs. Yawn.

Robert Pearson said...

Dear Liz,

(The flame war from your "Shy Chess Blogger post in 2008 will be included! :) )

You and your readers are invited to submit items to the The Best Of! Chess Blogging Carnival. Deadline is January 27. Hit the link for more details, and please post a link on your blog or chess forum.

Best regards,

Robert Pearson

Leon Akpalu said...

Congrats to James and the ChessTV gang.

You know, there was a BBC show in the 80s called "Master Game". It was an elimination G/30 (I think) tournament that featured standard top Brits like Nunn and Miles, and promising kids like, you know, Short and Hodgson.

After the game, the players would explain their thoughts during it, and these would be turned into a voice-over of the original footage of the game while it was in progress.
Dead time (that is, when they thought for longer than there was voice-over) was edited out.

In his best games collection, Nunn said "I found that a glass of wine helped [in making the voice-over comments] but of course there were a couple of hilarious incidents where someone took this too far."

Seems like a simple but productive way of doing things, with some better chess than blitz. In their last season they got cocky and invited a bunch of top foreign players to participate, so now we have recorded voiceover by people like Karpov and Larsen.

Jan said...

I'm curious as to what kind of ending you expected out of "IQ84." Admittedly I read the book eons ago and all I remember about it now is that (1) it's still on my bookshelves and (2) it was about an experimental drug that took a borderline "idiot" person to the IQ of beyond genius -- and then the slide back to "84" as the effects of the drug wore off. Something like that (I could be very very wrong).

The book was meant to be a morality tale from start to finish. What other kind of ending could there possibly be except something not happy?

Jan Newton

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Thanks for the entry! If he wins, the anonymous guest blogger will hopefully come forward to claim his laurels. :)

I've heard of the British show, good things. Everyone loves to listen to British people, also.

1Q84 is a recent publication-- probably not the one you are thinking of. :)

Robert said...

Awesome blog! I just stumpled over it and it's definitely bookmarked:)