Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chess on Fitchburg TV

Martin Laine, left, of Lunenburg, and George Mirijanian, right, of Fitchburg, re-enact a famous chess game on the set of their local access TV show, 'Chess Chat.'

Two recent articles on "Chess Chat" with George Mirijanian and Martin Laine of the Wachusett Chess Club:


Chess show is a whole different Monday night game

By Margaret Smith
GateHouse News Service
Posted Aug 12, 2008 @ 02:37 PM
Fitchburg —

Stop by Fitchburg Access Television on Monday evenings and you will see the world in black and white. In a lighted studio, cameras move in on a set decked with comfy-looking arm chairs, checkered mats, a surreal chess print, and a chess board.

George Mirijanian of Fitchburg – a long-time fixture on the area’s chess scene – and champion player Martin Laine of Lunenburg, greet viewers amiably, and spend a few minutes talking about a great figure in chess history, or a great moment in chess history.

Then, they get down to it – a nail biting game, which they walk the viewer through, but with the same grit as if the game were being played for the first time.

The game is in fact, a classic; chess games can be entirely improvisational, but devotees of chess know that they can also be recorded, preserved and replayed by generations – much like a revered symphony.

It might not be a Hollywood square, but each episode of “Chess Chat,” the local access show about all things, people and places chess, is garnering a following beyond the cable subscriber base in Fitchburg with a Web cast that draws in chess fans from all over New England and beyond.

Mirijanian – among other things, a certified chess tournament director, chronicler of chess and program director of the Wachusett Chess Club at Fitchburg State College – said the show launched about two years ago and credits the encouragement of his niece, artists and events promoter Sally Cragin.

“She told me, ‘you people at the Wachusett Chess Club should have a TV program.’ We talked about it, but it was Sally who spurred us on.”

She even supplied the show’s first guest, her three-year-old son, Christopher Cragin-Warner.
The show is also seen on Bellingham-Mendon’s local access television programming.

Mirijanian said the show tries to draw in laypeople as well as seasoned chess players, noting celebrities such as the late Ray Charles and his friend, Willie Nelson, known for their love of chess.
If there’s a sport of kings, perhaps chess is the game of presidents: Thomas Jefferson played, as does former President Bill Clinton.

While revealing chess history and mysteries, Mirijanian said the games played on the half-hour show “are actual games that are played. What we do is explain them. We give analysis -- not complicated analysis. We gear the program to someone who plays chess who would understand the game tactics.”

Since the show became incorporated into a Web cast, Mirijanian said, “ I’m getting now people around new England, who say the show is great. One of the most prominent people who has posted is Susan Polgar, runs a chess institute in Lubbock, Texas. She has posted chess chat on her site. She gets thousands of hits per day.”

It has also given Mirijanian and Laine a bit of name recognition around town. Mirijanian said, “I have had people come up to me in the supermarket to say, ‘I enjoy watching Chess Chat, because I learn something new.’”

Tyler Knapp, program director at FATV, said, it’s impossible to determine how many viewers actually tune into the show, although he said Fitchburg has about 11,000 cable subscribers who can tune into FATV program offerings. Knapp said the Web cast gets a healthy number of hits, saying that one recent episode got more than 500.

“TV online is starting to get really big,” Knapp said. “People are jumping on the bandwagon.”

“Chess Chat” airs Mondays at 7 p.m. on Fitchburg Access Television. For more information, and to view the Web cast, visit

Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor of Community Newspaper Company’s Northwest unit. E-mail here at


Article published Aug 10, 2008

Check! —and mate! Cable TV show aims to educate

By Anna L. Griffin


The game of life can be played on a board that contains 64 squares and holds 32 pieces. So say George Mirijanian and Martin Laine of the Wachusett Chess Club’s “Chess Chat” television program. “Chess Chat” is produced at the studios of Fitchburg Access Television by the members of the Wachusett Chess Club. It airs on local cable; however, several of the episodes have been posted on FATV’s Web site and can be viewed online at the FATV on-demand video section. The show has gained some notice, and was mentioned on a blog by grandmaster Susan Polgar who, among her many achievements, has won four world championships and is a five-time Olympic champion.

“Chess is like life,” Mr. Mirijanian said. “There are seemingly limitless combinations with regard to the moves that can be made. You have to use your intelligence to play, devise a strategy and map out tactics. There are many things the game can teach you.”

“Chess is a game that all ages can enjoy and be engaged in,” Mr. Laine said. “People of different ages can play together and have an equally challenging and enjoyable experience.”

The club started producing the program in September 2006. “It was one of those things,” Mr. Mirijanian said. “People in the club thought we should do something on FATV to help promote chess, promote what the club does, and finally, we did something.”

As Mr. Mirijanian is the program director of the Wachusett Chess Club and is a certified by the United States Chess Federation as a tournament director and Mr. Laine is club champion, the co-hosting responsibilities fell to them. Both men have been involved in chess for many years. Mr. Mirijanian traces his interest in chess back to the 1950s; Mr. Laine, to the 1970s.

“At first we did programs about the game itself, such as what the pieces are, how they are moved, those types of things,” Mr. Mirijanian said. In those early productions, a camera was used overheard to shoot the game board. “And the overhead shot really didn’t work, because everything was flattened out; the pieces were indistinguishable,” Mr. Mirijanian said. A stationary camera was set up that shoots over the shoulder of Mr. Laine for a shot of the play on the board. That proved to work out well, as it provided definition to the pieces.

Other technical glitches were addressed, and as they produced more shows, the co-hosts said, they worked on refining the format of the show. “I think we’ve finally found the format that works for us,” Mr. Mirijanian said.

At the beginning of the half-hour show, a topic is introduced and there is a brief discussion. Following that, a match is replayed with commentary by Mr. Laine and Mr. Mirijanian. Mr. Mirijanian said he looks for games that are more tactical in nature. “Something that is in the range of 25 to 30 moves,” he said, “because we only have a half-hour show and time is very important.” Mr. Mirijanian said he has a “cheat sheet” next to him, while Mr. Laine commits the game to memory. As the moves are made on the board, a chess notation graphic is placed over the shot that describes the move. As the match progresses, each men add commentary about the moves.

Mr. Mirijanian said the show in its current incarnation would appeal to someone who has a basic knowledge of the game as well as “the rank amateur.” And it has nothing to do with age, he said, “because you could have someone who is young and who is very good at playing chess.”

Given the history of chess and the city of Fitchburg, it makes sense the program would be recorded at the FATV studios. “Chess and Fitchburg have a long history,” Mr. Mirijanian said. “There has always been a great deal of interest in the game in this area, and the Wachusett Chess Club remains a very strong club.” At one time, the club numbered more than 100. “There was a time when chess was really growing in interest in this country,” Mr. Mirijanian said. “And Fitchburg was one of the places to be, if you were a chess player.”

For example, on March 2, 1964, Bobby Fischer came to Fitchburg for a simultaneous exhibition — that is, he played several players in one setting — at the Unitarian Church on the Upper Common. “He played 55 matches, played white throughout, lost 5, won 48 and had a draw in two,” said Mr. Mirijanian. “It was quite something.”

The club today numbers approximately 20 active members. “Many are helping us out with the television production,” Mr. Mirijanian pointed out. The club meets Wednesday nights at the McKay School on the campus of Fitchburg State College. “We’ve found a great home at Fitchburg State College,” Mr. Mirijanian said. “They let us have plenty of room.” The club draws members from a wide geographical area, he said, “and from all walks of life, from retired professors, to teachers, to lawyers, to students. The ages of our members range from 13 on up.”

Mr. Mirijanian said there is a strong interest in chess among younger students. “But as they grow up, there are competing interests and they get pulled away from it, which is a shame, because chess can really add so much to a person’s life.”

Both men said they hoped there would be a resurgence in interest in chess in this country. “During the time of Bobby Fischer, many people were interested in chess because of Bobby Fischer; just the strength of his personality,” Mr. Mirijanian noted.

The eccentric Fischer (1943–2008) was an American-born chess grandmaster and the 11th world champion. He became famous as a child prodigy. In 1972, he became the only American to win the official World Chess Championship when he defeated Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky. Because of the Cold War and the players’ countries of origin, the match drew intense international attention.

“This country does not have a tradition of chess such as they do in Europe or in the former Soviet Union, where everyone either grew up playing the game or watched others play the game. Then Bobby Fischer comes along. Bobby Fischer drew the spotlight to Bobby Fischer, but also the sport of chess,” Mr. Laine said. “And there was something about him, the way he played, the way he pursued the game that captivated this country and drew people to it.”

Perhaps “Chess Chat” will in some way contribute to a rekindling of that interest? “People ask me, “Where are you going with this program?’ ” Mr. Mirijanian said. “We’re on FATV, we’re on the Web, we’ve had requests from a few other access television stations to play the program. I would like to see interest in chess in this country grow. If ‘Chess Chat’ helps, well then, we’re very happy to have been a part of that.”

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