Innovative Technology Turns Top-Level Chess Into Spectator Sport Print
Monday, 25 March 2013 11:09
chess news

“Making the invisible visible!”

London, UK – March 23, 2013 – Visitors to the FIDE World Chess Candidates Tournament, currently under way in London, got to be the first to test drive a revolutionary new software platform that will become the standard for chess entertainment broadcasting, turning the “oldest game” into an exciting spectator sport.

The technology was conceived by AGON, FIDE’s commercial partner responsible for marketing and commercializing the World Chess Championship Cycle, part of their effort to make the pinnacle of chess more accessible and engaging and to create an attractive platform for marketing partners to broadcast their association with chess. AGON’s CEO Andrew Paulson unveiled the technology dubbed ‘ChessCasting’ at the Opening Ceremony. The ChessCasting platform uses data visualisation to transform a tablet into performance-enhancing goggles for spectators, allowing them to watch the game with the eyes of a Grandmaster while witnessing the human struggle close up, whether in the arena or a thousand miles away.

For the London event, Samsung is providing Galaxy tablets to the audience sitting but metres away from the battling Grandmasters. Spectators follow the games via pre-installed software on a new interface designed by world-renowned Pentagram Design. (The players are also using a new “Championship” chess set designed by Pentagram, the apotheosis of the standard Staunton set created 150 years ago) The tablets offer close-up video of the players, the current state-of-play on the boards supplemented by analytical, statistical and behavioural analysis of the positions and lively audio exegesis by moderators commenting nearby. The technology is also available online via browsers and with video streaming from the venue around the world.

ChessCasting consists of a number of engaging activities for investigating or demonstrating what is going on in the games; the user can be active or sit back and follow the commentary. The Tournament View shows all four boards in progress with an immediate graphical representation of who is currently winning each game and how long since the last move was made. The Game View reprises the relative advantage bar, notes recent moves, gives a timeline of the game up to the present moment, and provides for navigation for the viewer to move around the game. The BoilerRoom View breaks down the ‘advantage’ into the components the Komodo chess engine uses to analyse the current position: material, king safety, pawn strength, mobility, initiative. And, in the Sandbox View, the audience can test their moves on spare boards and share their ideas with pop-up mini-communities in the playing hall and around the world, in real time.

ChessCasting is being developed by ThoughtWorks, a U.S.-based global software company. In future releases, biometric parameters will be added to the BoilerRoom View and mapped onto the time line: heartbeat, blood pressure, galvanic skin response. Greater commenting, sharing and playing features in the Sandbox View will allow users to become commentators on current and historic games, their own games, and broadcast audio in their own languages. And finally, AGON will shortly be releasing the ChessTree View App which for the first time allows Grandmasters and novices alike to view, compare and analyse not just positions, but entire games, entire careers.

On the first day of play, a Londoner, one of the early users said about the tablet: “Such a simple idea, but such a tremendous innovation. Sitting in the grand, silent playing hall, this secular holy-of-holies, totally immersed in the four games in front of me on my tablet. It kept me engrossed for hours.”

A Lebanese investment banker, taking off the afternoon from work, regretted that he couldn’t come every day to the tournament venue, but noted that “with ChessCasting, the experience in the hall is more intense, but the experience at my desk will not disappoint. I doubt I’ll get much work done over the coming two weeks.”

A French Grandmaster concurred: “It is a brilliant idea. Lots of interesting new tools and having Nigel Short whispering in your ear while you are meters away from Kramnik burying his head in his hands or Carlsen’s feline prowling and stretching. Wow!”

An American software developer and chess enthusiast, just off a flight from JFK, understood the potential: “I assume that soon I’ll be able to record my own games with my friends, add my own commentary and when I slaughter my friend in a particularly cruel fashion, I’ll be able to post my ChessCast to Facebook. These guys understand the social potential of chess; the sooner the better.”

“The ChessCasting system is a natural development from the big advances we have seen in recent years from the transmissions from the World Cup or London Chess Classics. There are strong new functions and some nice graphical features. Whenever you try something new not everything is right the first time around. Personally I would probably have gone for pieces that were a bit more standard, but this is certainly debateable. Also it should be considered that red on grey is not helpful for the colour blind. But despite these minor quibbles, I am sure that people will get to like it more as they get used to the new functions and design. Especially I think we will be very happy with Version 2.0 at the World Championship later this year, when the programmers have had time to take in the feedback from this event,” said Danish chess grandmaster Jacob Aagaard.

The FIDE World Chess Candidates' Tournament is taking place March 14th-April 1st, 2013 at The IET, 2 Savoy Place, WC2R 0BL. It is suupported by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and organized by AGON and the World Chess Federation (FIDE). Games and information can be found at http://london2013.fide.com.

 
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