16 August 2018

Chessgames.com (2001?-2019?)

It's been a couple of weeks since I noted the passing of the only surviving founder of Chessgames.com, Daniel Freeman (1967-2018), and since that post I've taken the time to explore the site in more depth than I usually do. Archive.org claims to have 'saved' the Chessgames.com home page more than 2000 times. Its first copy of the home page looks like the following.

'Saturday, January 26, 2002'

All players with pages on Chessgames.com have forums associated with the page. From those forums we can isolate the first comment by a Chessgames.com user:-

  • The chess games of Robert James Fischer [archive] • Dec-24-01 Sneaky: The greatest chess player of all time!
  • The chess games of Garry Kasparov [archive] • Sep-22-02 Tigranvp: I viewed the series of tapes about Gari, and they are of poor quality, though the analysis by Kasparov is outstanding. Who ever that was that interviewed Kasparov (Plaskett?) He sure looked silly trying to show up GK.
  • The chess games of Anatoly KarpovSep-30-02 skakmiv: Karpov is such a great defender! :)
  • The chess games of Magnus Carlsen [archive] • Jul-30-03 MoonlitKnight: This Norwegian child prodigy has reached 12 years and will soon be receiving his IM title. He's being trained by Norwegian GM Simen Agdestein, himself once the youngest grandmaster in the world. Carlsen (2385) will never achieve that accomplishment, but nevertheless, he's a kid to look out for.

That first item, by Sneaky, is particularly revealing because 'Sneaky' was an alternate username, a pseudonym, used by Freeman himself. In December 2001, he was undoubtedly testing the functionality by seeding the site with comments to provoke reactions from other users. Here's another example of a first forum comment, perhaps to seed a theretofore overlooked page from an important player of the past.

  • The chess games of Jose Raul CapablancaNov-09-02 Sneaky: From Fred Wilson's "Picture History of Chess" • "There have been times in my life when I came very near thinking that I could not lose even a single game. [...]

Putting all of this together, we can calculate that Chessgames.com will soon celebrate its 17th anniversary. How long can we expect it to survive? Based on recent forum comments by its numerous devotees, the future of the site is not at all certain. Freeman apparently coded and administered the core functionality of the site by himself, never spending any time on succession planning.

The site is well regarded by other key players in online chess. From Chess.com's CEO Erik Allebest, who knows a thing or two about building a world class web site: Thank You For ChessGames.com, Daniel Freeman (1967-2018).

As one of the first major chess websites on the internet, ChessGames.com made quite an impact on me. As I was diving deeper into the game as an hobbyist in the early 2000s, I spent a lot of time learning and reading on ChessGames.com. I pored over famous games and players. ChessGames.com has always captured the depth and richness of the game in a pure and traditional way.

In stark contrast to this, many world class chess historians have been antagonistic to Chessgames.com since its creation. I documented one particularly vicious attack in Chess History Cat Fight (December 2013), and I could cite more examples. If chess grandmasters treated amateur players the way acknowledged chess historians treat amateur historians, no one would support the GMs. I suspect that nearly all published chess historians work mainly on their own and don't understand the nature of community, crowdsourced work. How many of them contribute to Wikipedia?

Daniel Freeman understood community work and he built a chess site that proved it. If the site eventually collapses because he is no longer behind it, I doubt that anyone else will be able to improve on his vision.

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