The Couch Potato’s Guide to the World Chess Championship

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Carlsen and Karjakin, Photo Cathy Rogers

On Friday November 11 in New York, Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin will commence battle for the world title. Defending Champion Carlsen, 25 is the overwhelming favourite to beat Karjakin, 26 – one betting site has been offering 7 to 1 on a Carlsen victory – even though, as underdog Gelfand showed in 2012, 12 games matches are rarely a walkover. Indeed, there is reason to believe that the upcoming world title match could be a classic and a treat for those watching at home on the internet.

As at the Sochi 2014 match between Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand, total prize money in New York is the FIDE minimum of 1m Euros ($US1.1m), even though organizer Agon’s original 2012 agreement with FIDE – the one which handed World Championship rights to the hitherto unknown Agon for a decade – stated that the minimum prize money for a world title match must be double that figure.

Carlsen’s favoritism in the New York contest is deserved; he is rated 81 points above Karjakin and has a 4-1 record (plus 16 draws) from their past classical encounters. He has already played and won two 12 game world title matches, a format in which Karjakin has no experience.

And yet…

Anyone who saw Karjakin’s victory at the 2015 World Cup in Baku would know that the Russian challenger can never be written off. Winning the final against Peter Svidler after being two down with two to play, as well as his fine performances in other rapid playoffs during that tournament, would suggest that Carlsen needs to win in the classical phase of the match. (Mind, Carlsen’s record in rapid playoffs is also far from shabby.)

The players will be competing in a one-way glass box at the Fulton Street Market building in Lower Manhattan with spectators (having paid upwards of $75 a ticket) able to get up close and personal with the players.

Competing so close to socializing crowds is of course risky, as Agon discovered when players complained about inadequate sound-proofing at March’s Candidates tournament in Moscow.

This reporter also remembers the 1995 New York world title match at the World Trade Centre where commentator Yasser Seirawan had to be asked by the arbiter to keep his voice down as Kasparov and Anand could hear his velvet tones (if not exact variations).

Top players have suffered worse. Carlsen himself competed at Sao Paulo 2011 where it was discovered that if you squatted down low enough you could see the commentators’ analysis board! The Grand Slam Final in Shanghai 2010, – luckily missed by Carlsen due to a clash with New York Fashion Week – was perhaps the worst top tournament in recent times for noise levels; play was constantly interrupted by announcements in Mandarin along the lines of “World Expo guests are informed that the Dutch pavilion has started serving Peking duck croquettes” – though only Wang Hao was seriously distracted by the announcements as he was unlucky enough to be able to understand them.

In any case, for those not lucky enough to go to New York to test out if the glass box is genuinely soundproofed, here is a guide to the best way to enjoy the battle between the two world title contenders.

Before the Match

To inform yourself about the openings which might be used in the match, try playing through every previous game between Carlsen and Karjakin, e.g. via Chessgames.com.

Of course many of the games between the two New York combatants have been analysed by GM commentators but it is hard to beat analysis by the players themselves so here is Carlsen explaining his win over Karjakin in Norway Chess 2013. (Incidentally, Carlsen may have won that game but Karjakin won the tournament.)

For a workmanlike summary of how Karjakin qualified to become Carlsen’s challenger, the following documentary about the Candidates tournament tells the story.

Carlsen can be seen competing in multiple videos – most recently in his Chess.com match against Nakamura, but the following interview, made two years before he became World Champion, gave some insight into how Carlsen thinks (even if the host became hung up on a modest blindfold exhibition).

In general, Google and Youtube are your friends – you can search for everything from for embarrassing photos of the players as teenage Grandmasters to pre-match previews.

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Sergey Karjakin, Photo Cathy Rogers

Games begin at 2pm New York time, so fans will need to have a healthy afternoon snack ready for the second hour of play when the players begin thinking long and hard and the commentators start waffling.

As every New Yorker knows, the healthiest afternoon snack is a New York baked cheesecake. This should be prepared the previous night and may be used as snack food throughout the game.

Making the cake is surprisingly simple, though you’ll need two pounds of cream cheese, plus basics like eggs, caster sugar, cream, butter, plain flour and a cake tin (preferably with a removable base).

Mix together 1.5 cups (7 ounces) of flour with a third of a cup (2,5oz) of caster sugar, 4.5 ounces of butter (softened) and a whisked egg.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and rub butter around the baking tin.

Spread the mixture in the tin and put in the oven for 15 minutes, then allow to cool.

Meanwhile, mix together all the cream cheese, lots more caster sugar (1.75 cups or 12 ounces), 5 eggs, 2 heaped tablespoons of flour and, if you can manage to separate them, two extra egg yolks. After mixing a lot, add four tablespoons of cream and spread it throughout the mix.

Spread the mixture on the base and place in the oven, preheated to 450 degree F. After just 10 minutes reduce the temperature to 230 F and bake for one more hour. Then turn the oven off but keep the cake in the oven for another hour. Then place in the refrigerator overnight.

At once slice every five moves, this should last you for the entire game.

During the Games

You may not be able to attend the opening moves at the Seaport District’s Fulton Market Building but this should be the best ever World Championship match for coverage, with multiple options for chess fans sitting at home.

The organizers Agon have decided that this will be, in theory, the first pay-per-view World Championship match, asking a one-off $15 fee to watch the official video stream.

Given the very mixed reviews with which Agon’s coverage of the Candidates tournament was greeted, the organizers have pulled out all stops to convince a sceptical chess public to pay for what has traditionally been free; watching a chess game with video footage, computer analysis and commentary.

First and foremost Agon have signed up Judit Polgar as a commentator for the New York match; an elite player who can entertain as well as explain the games.

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GMs Pelletier and Polgar in Zurich 2016, Photo Cathy Rogers

Agon also promises a virtual reality experience which likely involves being able to view the playing arena from any angle (rather than having the facility to place yourself in Carlsen’s seat and beat Karjakin – virtually – in 20 moves).

As they did during the Candidates tournament, Agon are trying to force spectators on to their site by banning competition. Agon have stated that other web sites may show the moves from New York by taking Agon’s widget but if they do so they agree not to provide commentary.

Agon have threatened to take legal action if sites independently broadcast the moves, but fortunately for couch potatoes this is an empty threat since the moves of the games are non-copyrightable. (The only one of the three cases Agon claimed to have followed through on after the Candidates tournament in March to have reached a court, against Chess24, was lost by Agon, so the strategy appears to be mostly a SLAPP, to scare sites into obeying.) Fortunately for couch potatoes who don’t fancy paying $15, the intimidation tactic has not worked and there will plenty of choice when the first pawn is pushed in New York.

To watch video footage of the game, NRK, the Norwegian broadcaster has paid for television rights but newspaper VG has the Norwegian internet rights. However you may need a VPN to view it, because the footage is likely to be restricted to those with Norwegian IP addresses.

Internet Chess Club – who were threatened with legal action by Agon in March but have heard nothing since then – have an attractive and varied line-up, including smooth-tongued old favourites Seirawan and King, as well as more excitable GMs (e.g. Alex Yermolinsky and David Smerdon) and oracles such as John Watson and TWiC’s Mark Crowther.

Game 10 will be a highlight with ICC promoting family disunity by placing Susan Polgar (paired with Ray Robson) in the commentary box in competition with her sister on the official site.

Chess24, who have left Agon with a metaphorical bloody nose after their Moscow court win, will offer commentary in English, German and Spanish.

The English language broadcasts will feature Jan Gustafsson, Eric Hansen, Robin van Kampen and Fiona Steil-Antoni but the big draw will be everyone’s favorite commentator Peter Svidler.

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Svidler, the Russian cricket fan, has honed his skills by listening to cricket commentary (where a single game can last for 30 hours – and then finish in a draw for lack of time to finish) and understands the way the commentators retain interest when not much is happening. Svidler’s most famous effort in 2014, (starting at 3.02.45) during a particularly sterile endgame, was explaining why ‘Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo’ was a grammatically correct sentence in English.

A choice between Svidler, Seirawan and Judit Polgar will be a sweet one. One strategy which couch potatoes may consider this time around is to pay their $15 to watch the live feed of the world title match from the official site but frequently adjust the volume and listen to commentary from a variety of sources.

There are also plenty of places on the web to discuss the game in progress.

ChessGames.com is the biggest discussion forum – so big that they had the honour of having Agon threaten to sue them in March for covering the Candidates tournament. Their reaction – “We refuse to be bullied by specious arguments” – shows that they are willing to take the risk of being sued again to continue their usual game discussions. (For example, ChessGames.com fans often report details when an interesting piece of commentary or guest has appeared on the commentary channels.)

Chess.com are going to broadcast the game using Agon’s widget and will use their chat and Twitter feeds to enable discussion, during which they expect some super-GMs to take part (plus of course Chess.com have their three reporters on the spot in New York).

Plenty of other sites will be worth checking out, for example Chessdom, while Chessbomb deserves a shout-out as being the site which the official Agon commentators turned to to get the moves during the Candidates tournament in March when the official site was crashing. {“If they are not on Chessbomb tomorrow I don’t know where we will find the moves,” said official commentator Evgeny Miroshnichenko.) For their troubles, Agon threatened legal action.

The official Twitter feed for the New York match is @theworldchess but for inside information from a Norwegian viewpoint, Tarjei Svensen – @TarjeiJS – will probably be the go-to Twitter source for juicier gossip.

After the Games

About 90 minutes after the game, Chess.com will become the go-to site, with a video round-up of the day’s play and a text report from their three reporters on site, Peter Doggers, Mike Klein and Robert Hess. Doggers has become a ubiquitous figure on the international circuit and his post-game videos should give a good feel for the atmosphere at the match.

There will be many pundits analysing the games via text and Youtube. Of the sites without the advantages enjoyed by being on the spot in New York, ChessBase often finds young and entertaining text annotators for big matches, but Chess24, ICC – both with video post-mortems – and Denis Monokroussos (text) have traditionally produced analysis worth following.

This site will feature reports from Chess Life Magazine Editor Dan Lucas toward the start of the match, and later on, from GM Cristian Chirila.

One site always worth a visit is The Week in Chess for an easily downloaded pgn version of the games (and every other important game played in the previous week).

So, once you have baked the New York cheesecake, followed the games online, eaten the cheesecake viewed the press conferences, watched the videos and read the pundits’ opinions of each game and baked a new cheesecake, it will be time to emulate Carlsen and Karjakin and spend time playing some ping pong or tennis; otherwise you will end November with potential for a higher Elo and a much higher BMI, only one out of two being desirable.

2016 World Championship Match Schedule

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World Champion Magnus Carlsen in table tennis, Photo Cathy Rogers

Game 1  Friday     November 11 (All games at 2pm New York time)

Game 2  Saturday   November 12

Game 3 Monday     November 14

Game 4 Tuesday    November 15

Game 5  Thursday   November 17

Game 6  Friday     November 18

Game 7  Sunday     November 20

Game 8  Monday     November 21

Game 9 Wednesday  November 23

Game 10  Thursday  November 24

Game 11  Saturday  November 26

Game 12 Monday    November 28

Playoffs (if needed) Wednesday November 30

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Sergey Karjakin at the tennis courts, Photo Cathy Rogers

Comments

  1. Great preview and insights from GM Ian Rogers. Really appreciate this post and has helped with all of my WCC pre-game prep! (recipe and all!!)

  2. The AGON presentation of the World Championship is a bad joke. Their web portal is faulty, full of bugs, script overloaded, in a very bad layout and sloppily designed. In the beginning nothing, later only parts of the promised functionalities worked. But they were yet not able to program a simple and reliable chat window. I’m angry about every $ I paid there, but perhaps should have known better from former presentations.

    But I love this article ;-).

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