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On Chess: The Future Of Chess Entertainment

Jennifer Shahade and Yasser Seirewan
Austin Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club
Jennifer Shahade and Yasser Seirewan doing color commentary on the set during a recent broadcast.

After spending three weeks as the grandmaster-in-residence at the St. Louis Chess Club, I have come to the realization that the future of chess, as an entertainment vessel, lies in the online, livestream medium.

The reason I arrived at this conclusion was thanks to the team of tech-savvy individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes of every top-level event, every norm invitational, every live broadcast. All the work that goes into making the finished product that online viewers consume can easily go unnoticed, but being fortunate enough to know them on a personal level got me thinking about what makes a great show. Moreover, they walked me through the process of setting up an account, instructed me about who are the "top dogs" (a healthy list of avant-garde chess streamers can be found here: http://www.chessheadlines.com/watch-chess/), and gave me pointers for what makes some shows better than others.

Everyone is familiar with the great commentators (or teams of commentators), such as Yasser Seirawan, Daniel King and Dmitri Komarov. However, this is a small segment of the chess entertainment market now that Twitch has conquered the world. In fact, one gets the impression that people’s imaginations have barely begun to wrap their heads around the possibilities, let alone lived up to its full potential. But whatever might come our way in the future, a truly great show must have a firm footing in the following three areas: charisma, content and aesthetics. But what do these mean? And, most important, what do they look like?


My favorite commentator is Dimitri Komarov. He is a grandmaster from the Ukraine who specializes in blitz commentary, usually at the World Blitz Championship. When he speaks in English, he has a thick accent, but he always does his commentary in English. The reason for this? It sounds hilarious, and he knows it! It sort of reminds me of Werner Herzog doing the voice-overs for his documentaries in English, even though he has a thick German accent. So, what is charisma? Finding the thing that makes you unique and amplifying it for the world to see! You can actually check out one of Komarov's videos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3mDNDI3acU


Are you just going to make a lot of noise and entertain the public for a few seconds, or are you actually going to show something that people will still remember the next day? This is, by far, the most time consuming of the three pillars and a true craft, since it also involves presenting the material in a didactic but concise way. I am particularly fond of Ukranian (yes, another Ukranian!) grandmaster Mykhaylo Oleksiyenko's Youtube channel. Every time I watch his videos, I feel like I'm learning something new. Sometimes several weeks will go by, and the depth of his ideas will still linger in my mind. You can check out his videos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oc7NRjRY_q4


This is where the silent heroes come in. By far, the most impressive production I have seen can be found in the St. Louis Chess Club's channel, whether it be on Youtube, Twitch or anywhere else. If the SLCC is involved, you can rest assured that the finished product will look like a million bucks! You kind of have to be there to really take it all in. I would actually love to see the club put out some "behind-the-scenes" videos of how they put everything together.

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