Blog Post

Chess and Participatory Culture

On September 10, 2010 I partially participated (unfortunately my late afternoon classes kept me from taking part in the entire match) in the RAW World Chess Challenge, titled “Magnus Carlsen vs. The World”, against the highest ranked Chess Grand Master, Magnus Carlsen. Now, I could go on for days about Magnus Carlsen himself, but what interested me the most about this match was not the participants or the actual game play, but the way in which the match was structured, which allowed me and thousands of others to indirectly play against a Grand Master. So here’s how it worked. First, if you wanted to participate in the match you had to create an account with Chessbase.com (the site that hosted the live match) and then after Magnus would make his moves you could pick an opposing move from the suggestions of three well-known Grand Masters, Judit Polgar, Hikaru Nakamura, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Whichever move had the most votes from the outside participants won, and that would be considered the move that “The World” was making.

 Now, to me this was one of the most interesting and innovative uses of the computer and the Internet to play chess since Gary Kasparov, who also commented on the match, played against Deep Blue, as well as the use of programs to play chess against anyone around the world. Even though Chess is a traditionally singular game, using the group dynamic brings the game into the culture of social media and participatory culture. While choosing his move suggestions in the match GM Hikaru Nakamura was tweeting his frustrations and witticisms, and as a member of the website I was able to post my results of the match on my Facebook. The entire format of the match replaced the very individualistic nature of old chess and turned it into an event where I wasn’t just a spectator, I was able to actively participate in the game, along with many other chess players, both novices and masters alike. Even though it is not likely that chess games of this kind will become common in the Chess world, I thought it was a great way to create interest in watching matches for those of us who have grown up in this highly digitized and participatory culture.     

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3 comments

I didn't get a chance to participate in this game, but I read some of the post-mortem. The use of experts to advise the chess community was an interesting twist, but seems to have led to an easy win for Carlsen. The lack of a consistent strategy apparently doomed the community's game.

Are you on chess.com? If so, I play blitz and correspondence there every day. Challenge me to a match! I'm "mwidner".

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I agree, there was definitely a lot of frustration on the part of the GM's due to the fact that the chosen moves were pretty scattered. I am actually not an chess.com, I was briefly on ICC but I spend more time now enjoying chess as a spectator, but if I get back into it I will try chess.com.

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I recommend it. It has lots of resources for improving your game. Regular articles, tactics training, computer workouts, and lessons designed by IMs and GMs. I realize I sound like a commercial for them, but I'm really impressed by the site. I was on FICS for a long time, which is a good place for a game, but it doesn't have nearly the resources.

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