Reliving the Games

On December 30, 2012, in Online video, Sport, Television, by Luke McKernan

David Rudisha of Kenya winning the Men’s 800m final at the London Olympic Games (frame grab from BBC coverage)

One of the marvels of the Olympic Games of 2012 was the ubiquity of the video coverage. No more was there the experience of Olympic games of years past, when a single television channel covered as much as it could. The BBC delivered 2,400 hours of video over the seventeen days of the Games across up to twenty-four channels. You could watch any sport available, throughout the day, and this total immersion in a public event clearly played a hugely important part in the transformative effect that the Games had on British life at the time. We were completely absorbed in live dramas of sporting endeavour, in the triumphs and disasters, not selected for us but making us the selectors. We became active spectators, our own schedulers and programmers. The exhilaration of those times to a significant degree must have derived from the way in which video – through TV, PCs and mobile platforms – brought everyone together, focussing on the one, multifaceted and uplifting story.

A further marvel was how this vast video archive stayed available once the events were over. The entirety of Games, effectively, remained accessible to anyone in the UK through BBC Sport’s video pages. Nor did such access stop once the Games were over. The entire video archive has continued to be available via the BBC site: every sport, from every venue, for every hour that the BBC was able to provide coverage across those twenty-four channels. To sustain such an archive does not come cheap, nor will the BBC have been able to negotiate an in perpetuity access licence with the International Olympic Committee, which owns all coverage of the Games, the majority of which was shot by its own company, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), and merely licensed and transmitted by the BBC. So it is that the Olympic video archive is to be taken down on January 13th, giving you two more weeks in which to catch up on the Game in their comprehensive and unedited glory (including the opening and closing ceremonies).

There is another site with an equally extensive Olympic video archive, which currently remains active. The EBU/Eurovision site Eurovision Sports Live is offering all video shot by OBS during the Games (reportedly 9,000 hours), and while access to the BBC site is restricted to UK users only, the Eurovision site is available to all member countries of the European Broadcasting Union. As with the BBC site, you can browse by sport, with seemingly every event covered (see yours truly in the audience at 09:37:45 on 28 July, Table Tennis, Men’s singles, first round), including pre-event footage, which as a connoisseur of video footage where nothing much happens at all I find particularly fascinating. The coverage of the opening ceremony, for example, takes some twenty-five minutes before the event itself starts, during which we get hypnotic, incidental shots of the stadium and a marvellous helicopter journey across London to the Olympic stadium. The site also has profiles of some individual European athletes, and an extensive short features section, which includes (briefly) the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony, reports on the torch relay, tours of individual venues, and even a guide to the British pub.

Your blogger is in there somewhere, watching the men’s table tennis

How long will this wonderful archive stay online? The site doesn’t say, and I’ve not been able to track down the information elsewhere. But don’t suppose that it will stay online for much longer – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if were to disappear at the same time as the BBC’s site, January 13th. Catch it while you can. (Other territories have their own video archives, by the way – for the USA there is NBC’s Olympic site, available only to US viewers, though it is highlights packages only, not the full record)

And how about the Paralympics, every bits as immersive and engrossing as the Olympics as a viewing experience? Channel 4 couldn’t offer as many channels as did the BBC, but it still managed to enthrall the nation all over again (to the extent that I remember worrying that it might have eclipsed memories of the Olympics themselves). There is a Paralympics video site though it doesn’t have the same archive of every event as originally videoed as we get for the Olympics. Instead there are videos of key moments, GB medal winners, athletes diaries and so forth.

For those who would rather have their memories served up in more digestible form, there are DVDs and Blu-Rays of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The BBC’s 5-disc set London 2012 Olympic Games is probably done about as well as it could be. It includes the full opening ceremony in a Danny Boyle re-edit, so you see some shots that were not included in the original broadcast (and you can cut out the BBC commentary), the woeful closing ceremony, and extensive coverage of events themselves re-hashed from the live programmes and generously edited so that you do get something of a sense of being there and not just an extended highlights package. It’s not the DVD package for everyone, as it focusses relentlessly on the British achievements, as does the similarly chauvinistic DVD set on the Paralympic Games, which likewise presents the sporting events alongside the full opening and closing ceremonies, though a little more functionally than the BBC’s offering (but it does boast the superb Meet the Superhumans promo which was one of the video triumphs of the Summer). One cannot expect a national broadcaster to be impartial, of course, and sport without partiality is a dull affair (we must have someone to cheer), but posterity may look on such records with a little frustration, seeing so many stories lost because they were not British.

Trailer for the official Olympic film First

Certainly the IOC would prefer that we look on the achievements of all nations, and not just winners but those who simply took part. The IOC is behind the official film of the Olympic Games, First, which is structured around the experiences of twelve athletes. The director Caroline Rowland made some inspired decisions when it came to picking the athletes for filming: among them were David Rudisha, the Kenyan 800m runner whose world record-breaking achievement was arguably the athletic highlight of the Games; Chad le Clos, the South African swimmer whose exuberant father became a star in his own right; and Ireland’s all-conquering and raucously-supported boxer Katie Taylor. I found First to be a bit of a muddle, trying as it does to combine sports coverage, its own beautifully composed oblique or behind-the-scenes footage (though you sense that her camera team weren’t always granted the best positions), interviews, voiceovers and intrusive pop music. Ironically First is at its best when it shows us those who did not come first. Several of the athletes Rowland chose to follow did not find the success to match their dreams, and the words of sorrow and bowed heads after years of effort are brutally ended in a few minutes of competition make for the film’s most eloquent moments. A better title might have made for a better film.

Rowland is CEO of New Moon Television, the corporate agency that made the original 2004 London bid film, Sport at Heart. She’s the third women director to make an official Olympic film, after Leni Reifenstahl (1936) and Mai Zetterling (one of eight directors of Visions of Eight, which records the 1972 Games). The tradition of an official feature-length film of the Games goes back to Paris 1924, though there were arrangement with film companies and the local Olympic organising committees going back to 1908. The idea of an official film as a work of art, exemplifying the Olympic virtues while documenting the sport properly began with Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938), still the greatest of Olympic films – or maybe equal greatest with Kon Ichikawa’s brilliant Tokyo Olympiad (1965).

Even after television from the 1950s onwards completed overhauled how the Olympic Games could be experienced, and financed, the idea of an official film has persisted as a necessary statement. In recent years the director-led idea of an art film has been supplanted by the functional, corporatised records of the late Bud Greenspan, who from 1984 effectively became the Olympic movement’s filmographer-of-choice. First represents a wish to move on, and its concentration on athletes and a view from within and beyond the Games is a good one (though interestingly Greenspan, who died in 2010, was originally slated to direct First). But its taste for the emotional, and the heavy reliance on pop music, are symptomatic of the filmmaking vices of our times, and are likely to date the film rapidly. I’d like the next Olympic film to focus not on the athletes but on the audience. It’s we who make the Games, they keep on telling us, but we are seldom seen except as a mass in the stadium making the required noise at the right times. A film that saw the Games through the eyes of those who came to see it could be a revelation, a real step forward.

But for me the greater work is that entire video archive, and the privilege we have to experience it all. Of course, with 2,400 hours and only 14 days left (on the BBC site at least), that’s 171 hours per day, so no one’s going to be able to experience it all, but if you go without sleep you could experience 14% of it. Best to be selective, but certainly best also to see something of it while you can. It will then slip back into the archives and become the preserve of the select. For the time being, it all belongs to all of us.


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The national gallery

On December 20, 2012, in Art, Collections, Galleries, Web, by Luke McKernan

Artists’ self-portraits from Your Paintings

I have, tucked away in a cardboard box somewhere, a large collection of postcards of paintings from small galleries up and down the UK. Years ago, when somehow there was more time to do such things, I would go out on regular trips to towns to pursue the kinds of paintings that seldom made into exhibitions or catalogues. Mostly they were terrible stuff, dim portraits of long forgotten civic dignitaries, lifeless still lifes, or misattributed Rembrandts. But in every gallery there at least one gem, maybe two or three, which caught the eye and stopped the breath, making the whole day’s venture worthwhile. Some little touch of genius, all the more special for being hidden away from the general eye.

And then I would seek out the postcards, almost invariably finding out that the painting that I favoured was not one favoured by the gallery’s marketing person and so wasn’t available in postcard form. But I would pursue things further, knowing that most galleries had a photographic record of their entire collection, and I would beg a black-and-white print which I promised to keep for personal research interest only. Many galleries most generously obliged, and I still have those prints, tucked away in the same cardboard box, monochrome memories of colours past.

And now look where we are, and how good the times are in which we live, some of the time. Your Paintings, a joint project between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation and participating collections and museums from across the UK, has made available online all 212,000 oil paintings held in public collections in the UK. Every one. All digitised, described, and browsable by artist, gallery or subject. It’s such a glorious offering – a model example of how the Internet has brought out the best in us.

Where to begin? Well, I’ve been seeking out favourite artists: R.B. Martineau, a Pre-Raphaelite whose unfinished works are that much superior to those he completed; Ivon Hitchens, he of abstract landscapes where trees, fields and houses blend in together lyrically; Adolphe Monticelli, he of mysteriously detailed paintings with thick impasto that influenced Van Gogh; David Jones, symbolist and visionary (not much represented because he mostly painted in watercolour); the glorious, just glorious Jack Yeats. And I’ve been strolling virtually through favourite galleries: Manchester City Galleries, Aberdeen, York. So many familiar images, and so many more unknown til now, paintings brought out of the stores, displayed at last on the infinitely extendable walls of the Web.

Not surprisingly, they don’t just show you the artworks – they make you work for them too. The 212,000 oil paintings come with title, artist and gallery name, but lack descriptions. SO the public is being asked to tag the paintings. If you sign up for the Your Paintings Tagger, you are presented with a painting selected at random. This you have to classify according to the Things or Ideas you can see in the painting (an interesting challenge when it comes to abstract works), with suggestions appearing from an online dictionary as you type; once you’ve done this you go on to People (selecting from a Wikipedia-generated list); Places; Events; Type (a bit limited this – you can choose Abstract, Landscape, Portrait, Seascape, Still Life or Other – I’ve ended up picking a lot of Others); and finally Subject, for which a classified list is provided. Once you done this, one come the next painting. And so you go on, with the site congratulating each time you reach some small milestone of paintings described. The odd celebrity image turns up to say well done – I’ve received the thanks of Frank Skinner and Monty Don so far. It is, to be honest, a bit on the dull side – compared to the curation tools provided by the Rijksmuseum, as described here in an earlier post – and more might have been done to make the process of classifying a little more rewarding than getting a photo-message from a TV gardener.

Talking of celebrities (this is a BBC resource – there just have to be celebrities), there’s a section of the site called Guided Tours where people you love because you’ve seen them on a screen somewhere tell you about their favourite paintings. There’s also a My Paintings option where you can build up your own gallery, for which you need to sign in with a BBC iD, something that I’d not come across before and which I feel strangely reluctant to try out.

Your Paintings has been funded out of charitable donations with the simple aim of making what is owned by the public available to the public. The images have been made available for viewing on the site only (they are each “protected with a secure invisible digital watermark” the site assures us, to prevent unauthorised reuse), and you will have to go to the galleries themselves if you want copies yourself, though the PCF will be offering a print on demand service soon.

There so much else that could be done with such a dataset – imagine if it included the price that each painting had cost your local museum or gallery – and I am sceptical of the scattergun approach to subject-indexing that is crowdsourced tagging. Much of the artwork is mundane; some of it is truly dire; the better part is enthralling. It won’t mean the end of visit to galleries – it will if anything send more people to galleries. But it does challenge the idea of what a gallery is. It used to be somewhere that you went to to experience things that were finer than the plain world around you. Now the gallery, every gallery, comes to you. Has that brightened the plain world more generally? I think that it has.


Going to the cinema

On December 16, 2012, in Cinemas, Film, by Luke McKernan

I am out in London, and it has been a long day. I am walking towards the train station for the journey home, when I pass close by a shopping centre with an art house cinema in the middle of it. It is still early evening, and I think to myself why not see if that film you read about is still screening. I turn up at the cinema and find that its next showing will be in ten minutes’ time.

There are two queues, one for each person manning the the ticket office. I join one of them. The people in the queue are a mixed crowd, some young, some middle-aged, generally of the sort one expects to see queuing for this sort of film. It is to be a cultural treat. We stand by a display of DVDs of other art house films, each with quotations announcing that film’s exceptional qualities. There is nothing average on display here; everything proclaims itself remarkable. I wonder how so many films can all be so good and worry about those that I have not heard of, let alone seen. I feel reassured about those that are familiar to me. I have come to the front of the queue. It will cost £11.50 to see this film, which seems a lot of money to purchase something that you cannot take away with you afterwards. Were it a DVD I would hope to pay less.

I pay the money, take my ticket, and go down a set of stairs, where there is a bar with a few people seated on stools with drinks and snacks. There are posters on the walls for films past and film to come. I go down a second set of stairs. A young man takes my ticket, tears it in two and hands it back to me. It occurs to me that this is not much of an occupation for anyone. I go into a darkened room with seats in rows, each with a letter to differentiate it from the next. There are seats for around 200 people. Probably 50 or so people are arranged at various points, facing a large screen. I calculate how much revenue the cinema may take from a single screening such as this and how this helps pay for the women at the box office and the young man tearing tickets. I find a corner three-quarters of the way back, away from other people and with some leg room. I set down my bag of recently-purchased clothes, take off my coat and switch off my mobile phone. The seat is soft and comfortable. The room itself is sloped so that those at the back are higher than those nearer the front, enabling those behind to see over the heads of those in front, so long as we are all of uniform height.

The screen in front of us is showing advertisements for products. These advertisements help pay for the cinema; we understand this. There is one for a Beetle car, another an animation with young men self-consciously walking down a street with their shoes changing colour – it is advertisement for sports shoes of some kind. Another advertisement attempts to be amusing in a laboured way, and I concentrate on my knees until it is over. Two women behind me laugh at what they see on the screen. Then we are shown trailers for films that the cinema will screen in future days. One trailer tells us that its film is the best produced in Ireland this century. I try to consider what this might mean. I have not heard of any of the films trailed, nor do I feel any compulsion to see any of them. The screen then shows us advertisements for the cinema itself, including its upcoming screenings of live opera from New York. The operas look sumptuously staged. I almost forget that I do not much care for opera. The trailers show the highlights and none of the trials that may come between.

A disembodied voice asks us to switch off our phones. Some rustle with objects in their coat pockets. The film we have paid to see is about to begin. There is a message from the British Board of Film Classification to tell us that this film has been classified as 12A, which means that it is considered unsuitable for children under 12 unless they are accompanied by an adult. There are no children aged 12 or under in the cinema. All is well.

The film has started. It is an earnest work about an elderly couple, one of whom suffers from a stroke, leaving the other one to care for her. Probably we would not normally have chosen to pay money to see a film with such a theme, but it has received awards and many favourable reviews, and the director has made notable films before now, so we expected to be impressed. Certainly we are not expecting fast-paced action or the any of the other kinetic thrills of a cinema film. We are prepared for what we see. A mobile phone goes off five minutes into the proceedings, and I wonder for a moment whether it is part of the film. But it comes from the women behind me and is swiftly turned off. The film rolls on. It is in French, and there are subtitles. It is very accomplished work, with exceptional cinematography capturing interior natural light with a quality that makes me think of Norwegian paintings of the late 19th century. Perhaps this is intentional. The director is clearly very skilled, and nothing seems incidental or without relevance. One cut from close-up to medium shot of the couple jars by its unnaturalness, but that is all. There is no story to speak of. There are incidents, because a film is drama and must have incidents, but they are not important.

We admire the flat where the couple live. It is filled with books and paintings and interesting objects. I wish my own home had some of these books and paintings and interesting objects. Probably others in the audience are thinking the same. The film shows us some of the paintings in close-up, filling the screen. The director knew that we would like to look more closely, and knew when we would want to do so.

The film runs for around two hours, during which time we sit still and watch it. I sometimes arrange my legs to the left, sometimes to the right. Sometimes I think of other things, such as whether I will want to eat after the film or not, but mostly the film holds my attention. Occasionally I wonder when it will end, and how, but I never look at my watch. One of the subtitles has a grammatical error, and this bothers me. The film is filled with significant sounds, such as a tap running, a pigeon flapping or the clink of plates being washed. There is no music, except that which is played on a CD player or by the people who are acting in the film. It is a film about musicians. The main protagonists are more cultured and accomplished than we the audience watching them, but we do not resent or envy them for this. It is simply who they are. This is one of the film’s accomplishments.

The ending comes, and end credits follow which tell us all the names of the many talented people who made the film. They roll past in silence. Some of the audience get up, but I stay to the end out of a long habit which says that I must see the name of every person who contributed to this work, even though their names mean nothing to me. When the film has had its final say, we get up and walk out of the auditorium and up the stairs once more. The film has been bleak and sad and all are silent at first, then turn to chatter as they near the open air above.

I come up to the foyer, where a new set of people is gathering to see either a further screening of this film or another film showing on a second screen. I step out of the doors, where the cold air greets me. I do up my coat, head out into the dark and think not so much of the film but rather of the strange rituals involved in seeing a film. Once it was an act of faith, now it is an act of remembrance. What did that film mean, and why did I see it? I knew these things once, but now no more.

The cold wind blows and I head for home.


Watching people think

On December 3, 2012, in Games, by Luke McKernan

London Chess Classic with (L-R) Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Judit Polgar, Vladimir Krammik, Magnus Carlsen, Luke McShane (standing) and Michael Adams (opponent Gawain Jones off-stage)

Can there be a stranger human activity than watching people play chess? To sit in an audience looking up at two people seated and staring at a table, thinking? And sometimes thinking for a very long time. I remember one glorious Channel 4 TV transmission at the time of the Gary Kasparaov-Nigel Short world chess championship in 1993, when after the first flurry of moves the two men sat and thought over the next move for the rest of the programme – thirty minutes of looking at two heads with a board between them. Of course there was a commentary which attempted to explain what might be going on inside those heads, but to all intents and purposes the viewer was simply reading minds and faces. Channel 4 has never again made so Warholian a programme.

But there I was, seated near the front row, watching eight people seated at four tables, thinking. This was the London Chess Classic, an annual event held at Kensington Olympia, to which attracts some of the world’s best players. Star-spotting is part of the appeal of going to chess events, of course, and here were Magnus Carlsen (current world no. 1), Viswanathan (Vishy) Anand (the world champion, which rather confusingly is not the same as the world no. 1), world no. 2 Levon Aronian, the greatest of all women players Judit Polgar, former world champion Vladimir Krammik, the world’s leading amateur player Luke McShane, USA no. 1 Hikaru Nakamura, Britain’s no. 1 Gawain Jones and Britain’s best player (again, a tad confusingly for the outsider) Michael Adams. Any chess fan would travel some distance and pay good money to see that lot in a room together.

I’ve been playing and following chess since I was eight or so, probably. I’ve never been much of a player (too absent-minded), but I admire the art of chess hugely, and its great practitioners. So when they turn up, you go and see them, thinking. Of course part of the appeal of watching chess is to think through the moves yourself, hoping to outsmart (mentally at least) the persons actually playing the game. A chess tournament is also an opportunity to be in the company of other chess enthusiasts, and to play chess. Entering the London Chess Classic venue, there are dozens of tables laid out, each with a chess set and two people – from eight to eighty years – oblivious to the world around them, fixated on sixty-four squares and thirty-two pieces, jotting down their move, hitting down the button on the chess clock, awaiting their opponent’s response. There are stalls filled with chess books (How to Build Your Chess Opening Repertoire, Declining the Queen’s Gambit, Chess for Tigers, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, The Complete French – one of my favourite book titles), chess experts standing by monitors or upright board explaining games, and rather bizarrely two people dressed head-to-foot as chess pieces wandering about with as much freedom as the tapered shape of a king might allow.

The visitors play chess at the London Chess Classic

In the auditorium the crowd sits down waiting for the contest to begin. Nine players are playing in a round-robin tournament, so eight play today and one sits out. The tournament organiser welcomes us and introduces the players. Two jazz musicians play for no particular reason, but we applaud them generously anyway. The eight players sit at four tables on a stage, with a screen above them relaying their moves. The first move is played, a host of photographers snap away for a permitted five minutes, and then fascinatingly three-quarters of the audience leave the room. The reason is to go to another room where commentary is being provided, by grandmaster Nigel Short and the ninth player, Vishy Anand. Around one hundred of us die-hards remain. We like to see our chessplayers live. We like watching people think.

But they do not just sit and think. There is much activity. A player makes his move, then gets up and leaves the stage for refreshment or simply to leave his opponent to contemplate the enormity of the problem set before him alone. Every movement off the board is as much tactics as those at the board. Often they stare at the other games. Magnus Carlsen, with the air of a brooding adolescent (he is only twenty-two) excels at this, looking with passing interest (or is it contempt?) at the struggles of those who share the stage with him. He is an outstanding player. His games are seldom creative masterpieces; instead he simply plays the right move for every occasion, methodically, a little coldly, remorselessly. His opponent, McShane, plays with boldness and imagination, and for a while we sense an upset and our hearts lift. But Carlsen has out-thought his opponent, certainly he has out-thought us all, and unflappably leads McShane to the point of resignation.

In the next-door room the commentators go through innumerable variations on their computer screens, trying to see what each player might play and what would be the implications of this. Of course, Carlsen out-thinks them every time. In 1993 I witnessed the Garry Kasparov-Nigel Short world championship match which was held at the Savoy Theatre in London. We in the audience all had headphones with which to hear the running commentary. The commentator would pronounce a position impossible. “If he moves his knight to f5, then all is lost”. The the player would indeed move his knight to f5, at which point the commentator would suddenly realise the brilliance of the move. The players were simply smarter than those trying to describe how they were thinking. Inevitably we laughed at this, which disturbed the players, and now all is silence in auditorium, no headphones allowed, and commentary takes place in another room.

The games begin a little after 2pm, and two of the four games are still running when it is past 7pm. Judit Polgar (who I first saw play as a child prodigy alongside her sisters Susan and Sofia at the Barbican, London in the mid-1980s – they were raised as chess players as an educational experiment by their father László) played boldly but paid heavily for a piece sacrifice and a bold queenside pawn attack, which was calmly eviscerated by Krammik. An exciting game to watch, but one with an inevitable conclusion after a mishandled opening by Polgar. Nakamura somewhat surprisingly beat Aronian. So two games still going after five hours. In other rooms everyone is fixated on the Carlsen-McShane game, hoping against hope that the UK’s McShane (another former child prodigy, now a financial trader most of the time, having bowed out of professional chess) might outsmart the Norwegian. The commentators and analysers replayed move and studied possible continuations. Ah, if only he had played g5 on move 19. Ng6 for black was then forced, when he could have played Bxc7! (exclamation marks in chess annotation indicate a brilliant move), then after 20…Qxc7 21. gxf6 gxf6 Black’s pawn structure would be in a mess and White would have winning chances. Or so we may dream. Chess is as much about what is played between the two personalities as it is between the pieces on the board, and Carlsen looked set to win the game whatever McShane’s romantic strategies. I left at 7.30, not interested in Jones v Adams and certain that McShane had no chance, which indeed proved to be the case. He resigned after move 62.

Chess is a meeting of great minds. It is sometimes believed (often by chess players themselves) that to be great at chess is to be wise and capable in other fields, but this is seldom the case. Chess players such as C.H.O’D. Alexander were among those recruited as cryptoanalysts at Bletchley Park, and there are chess players who have been skilled at writing and mathematics, but for the most part being good at chess means you are simply good at chess. Garry Kasparov was the world’s greatest chess player, but has proven to be less than the world’s finest politician, for all his belief in a noble cause. I recommend reading Fred Waitzkin’s delightful account of his experiences as the father of a chess prodigy (his son Josh), Searching for Bobby Fischer, and the tales he tells of chess parents who are struck with amazement at how their child has turned into a genius, yet faced with strangeness that such genius is played out over the chess board, with the rest of life (if they are to continue as chess geniuses) needing to be set to one side.

Yet for all that chess is a meeting of great minds. No other game brings together so perfectly the abstract and the artistic, so many variations in such a small space, so much opportunity for the expression of character (unlike Tolstoy’s view of families, all of the great players’ individuality comes out in the games that they play, while all bad players tend to play alike). While most other games are just games, chess is closer to poetry. Both are the concentrated expression of beautiful ideas. Chess, like poetry, is also a form of immortality. No other game, or sport, can live on in quite the way that a chess game can. Games are annotated and reproducible. One can replay the moves and witness the intricacies of thought, the tactics and the strategies, the blunders and brilliancies, and by doing so the chess geniuses of times past – Alekhine, Capablanca, Tal, Fischer – live on. Simply by replaying the moves, time falls away. Again, we watch them think.


  • All of the games at the London Chess Classic (which continues to 10 December) can be replayed at
  • The finest of all chess books is Bobby Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games. Bitter and twisted in real life, Fischer was grace itself over the board, and modest too – it is one of the few chess books where a player includes some of his losses.
  • The compelling documentary Bobby Fischer against the World recently won best cinema documentary at the Grierson Awards
  • Magnus Carlsen could change your perceptions of chess players – here he is modelling shirts for G-Star
  • is a good place to start for playing chess online.