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.