Sunday, April 02, 2006

Simple Minds

This morning's Sunday New York Times includes two articles which tangentially touch upon the topic of Chess on TV.

The first piece, located on the front page, is entitled "After Luck With Poker, ESPN Bets on New York Dominoes." That's right folks, televised Dominoes. As the article explains...
To the occasional domino player, it is a stretch to even call this quiet game of straight-faced strategy a sport. But anyone who has spent time in a Latino neighborhood in New York City could testify that dominoes played there - with the slammed-down tiles, the verbal sparring, the bragging and bluffing -— is no parlor game.

From the opening bid, a simple sidewalk match will quickly escalate into a raucous, freewheeling spectacle: a mini-fiesta where salsa and cigars, Bacardi and brown-bagged beers have as much a role as the little colored tiles with dots.

The games almost always draw spectators, so perhaps it is no surprise that the ESPN sports network has declared dominoes the next big spectator sport and is promoting it as both a colorful cultural touchstone and a highly competitive game, complete with rankings, formal tournaments, celebrity events and sponsors.
Obviously, the sports network big-wigs have taken from the poker experience, the lesson that simpler games work better on television. Yes, I know poker isn't actually a simple game at all, but as former chess player and WSOP champion Dan Harrington has stated, " is rather thin, compared to chess." What do you suppose is next on the agenda - Marbles, Gin Rummy, Three Card Monty, Candyland?

In the Business section, you'll find "Low-Cost Workouts for Young Minds." It's pretty much a standard piece on scholastic chess (including the obligatory quote from Susan Polgar), the business angle being that for most kids (i.e., those that don't get on the National Scholastic tournament circuit) the cost of playing chess is much less than many other activities " ice skating, ballet, squash, golf or the piano..." Near the end of article, they mention this interesting tidbit:
This spring, the game may make a bigger splash with the public. Following on the heels of television's "Celebrity Poker" and "Dancing With the Stars," ESPN has signed a deal to produce a televised celebrity chess tournament featuring Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and others. "This is a charity tournament, but we hope to grow televised chess with sponsors and prize money," said Giovanni James, who is producing the show with Penny Marshall.
I've watched "Celebrity Poker" and have even enjoyed it, but I realize that much of it is poorly played poker. It will be interesting to see if there is a similar market for mediocre chess.

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