Clash of titans

Perhaps the greatest assemblage of human chess players ever converged on, of all places, St. Louis, for the 2014 Sinquefeld Cup. Included in the group were the world's top-ranked player Magnus Carlsen and the world number 2 Levon Aronian.

But, as Seth Stevenson writes, neither of those two players triumphed, and the run by the eventual winner might be one of the most incredible feats in chess history.

By the time Caruana won his fifth straight game to open the tournament, destroying Nakamura while playing with black, the commentators were struggling to situate this performance in historical context. Some brought up Anatoly Karpov’s run at Linares in 1994, when he won his first six tournament games (including one against a then-babyfaced Topalov) before Garry Kasparov at last slowed him down with a draw. There was also a magical Viktor Korchnoi showing in the 1968 tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands. But many think the field in St. Louis is stronger than those Karpov and Korchnoi faced. And Caruana was still going. Were he to win all 10 games without a blemish, it would likely be considered the greatest feat in the annals of tournament chess, stretching back to the 1800s.

I asked some experts to explain, to a layman, what sort of accomplishment it would be to go on a 10–0 run here. When not reaching for analogies from other sports—one grandmaster, in complete earnestness, likened it to pitching 100 straight innings of no-hit baseball—they invariably turned to Bobby Fischer. Fischer’s streak of 20 consecutive victories against grandmasters. Fischer’s mindblowing tournament performances. Fischer’s near-hallucinatory leaps of chess logic. Stumped for further superlatives with which to describe Caruana’s excellence, one chess expert resorted to the highest possible praise: Caruana, he said, was “Fischer-esque.”

I wish I had learned to play chess when I was younger. Now I don't even know where to begin.

I can appreciate the difficulty of most sports and also enjoy watching for them the dramatic uncertainty. However, I lack an appreciation of chess tactics and strategy, and that makes watching a chess match akin to watching some semiotically opaque performance art.

The ultimate World Chess Championship viewing setup

Indeed, although we gave our heartfelt recommendations for the best experience possible, there is one way to make it even better: two screens. Before you close this article feeling you will not be able to use this How-To guide, first scroll down and look at the list of requirements since the two screens do not need to be two monitors.

First, you need to know why this setup truly beats a single screen setup. The official site, as well as, will be providing live high-definition video coverage of the players, boards and more, There is no question that watching the game live on Playchess with grandmaster commentary is as good as it gets, but if you have ever seen the great video coverage offered by some events such as the Tal Memorial, you also know that being able to see the players, their expressions, their concentration and their nervousness, brings an added dimension to the viewing. Choosing either this or the board and analysis becomes a question of pros and cons, gives and takes. But what if you did not have to choose between them, and could watch both at the same time? You can!

The full scoop here. I never played chess much growing up so I wonder if I'd appreciate the matches. Still, I'm tempted to try.

We live in an age in which you can watch almost anything online, from sex to people playing Starcraft to people just living their everyday lives. The next frontier, as indicated by examples like this proposed chess setup, the NFL Sunday Ticket Red Zone channel, or hole cameras in poker broadcasts, is even more enhanced viewing experiences. To compete with these great experiences, sports stadiums are going to have to up their game in a big way. As one example, I can barely get a signal from the AT&T Park wifi network during games. Someday that will be an expected amenity at every park.

A mental heavyweight championship bout

Chess is an all-consuming focus. “Sometimes when people are talking to me I will suddenly remember some chess position, and then it’s very hard for me to concentrate on what they are saying. They can see in my eyes that I am drifting away.” Yet contrary to his good-natured image, he admits to a steelier side. “What you can concede outside the chessboard will eventually haunt you in the chessboard as well. A match is really a contest of space between two people, and you can’t give the other one any quarter.”


He describes the preparation process as akin to plotting an ambush in a giant forest. The terrain is too vast to comprehend in its entirety, he says. “But there are areas that you will know better than your opponent”, and that is where you prepare to attack, aided in your preparation by the most important change to sweep through the game of chess in decades: computers. “The way people play chess nowadays, which is to keep on switching their openings, being much more opportunistic – I think that is a direct result of computers. Even the way people play tournaments – everything has changed.”

Top competitors who once relied on particular styles of play are now forced to mix up their strategies, for fear that powerful analysis engines will be used to reveal fatal weaknesses in favoured openings. The result has in some ways made chess more defensive, increasing the risks of daring, adventurous gambits. But in championship matches, where draws are common and the final result is likely to be decided by just a handful of victories, unexpected approaches become even more prized. “Anything unusual that you can produce has quadruple, quintuple the value, precisely because your opponent is likely to do the predictable stuff, which is on a computer,” Anand says.

From an interview with chess grandmaster Viswanathan Anand a few days before his World Championship match against the heavily favored young prodigy Magnus Carlsen. Some interesting material throughout about the impact of computers on how chess is played at the highest levels, but even more insight into the stress of such prolonged mental combat.

I predict increasing novelty appeal for contests in which humans do things that computers can do better.