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USA Schach-WM Tie-Break Sergey Karjakin und Magnus Carlsen
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/M. Altaffer

Chess, a slow sport for the smartphone generation

Holger Hank
December 1, 2016

The World Chess Championship Final between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin sparked huge interest for the game, especially on the internet. DW's Holger Hank on why this might be the best outlet for the thinking sport.


The former world champion Bobby Fischer once said "Chess is war." In 1972 during the Cold War, the American took the title from his Russian counterpart Boris Spassky after a duel that captivated the whole world. Chess grandmasters Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin could only dream of garnering that much attention, but the duo's clashes brought a wind of change when it came to news out of New York. Chess provided a breath of fresh air from all the Donald Trump stories. Chess fans across Europe stayed up past midnight glued to their computer screens following every move through live streams. Even after eight long matches, the interest did not fade. Fans continued to cheer on Carlsen as he continued to battle Karjakin's defensive game.

No TV air-time for the sport

The World Chess Championship has been the official tournament of the board game for almost 150 years and about 500 million people are familiar with its rules. However, this is still not enough for the century-old game. Watching chess grandmasters thinking for seven hours is not exactly a thrill and the sport is not apt for TV. Chess was not made to be easily consumed. In order to understand what Carlsen and Karjakin do on the board, it takes a mix of serious interest, some practice - and time. Chess is definitely a "slow sport" and thus a contrast to our current fast-paced world.

The matches in New York showed the "nerdy" game of chess has a place in this world and that is on the internet. The moves can easily be followed along with live commentary that works as guidance and a precise computer analysis allows spectators to see who has the upper hand and what could be the next best move.

The dynamics between top chess and the internet go hand in hand in the digitalized 21st century. In theory, it should just be a matter of time before signing contracts with long-term sponsors and advertising partners. However, recent scandals involving FIDE (the World Chess Federation) have made this unlikely.

Many fans but very little support

Chess has been sponsored partly by the state and partly by philanthropists in places such as India, China and the US. But in Germany, there has been very little support despite already having a champion - Emanuel Lasker was the title holder from 1894 until 1921. The German Chess Federation has more than 90,000 members and is responsible for more players than the country's hockey organization.

Yet the public is relatively unaware of it. Politics in German sports have overshadowed the global interest in chess. In recent years, the Federal Ministry of the Interior, responsible for promoting the sport, has tried to remove chess from its funding list. The new German sports reform focuses mainly on obtaining Olympic gold medals and is a financial threat to the future of chess in Germany. Chess stands no chance under the new reform as it focuses on future success. A chess world champion from Germany under these circumstances is very unlikely unless a talent like Magnus Carlsen or Bobby Fischer appears out of nowhere.

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