15 November 2018

Chess @ 538.com

At the 2018 World Championship we've had four games, all draws, and the assembled journalists search for any scrap of info that might be considered newsworthy. For me, that means looking at the journalists. I ended the previous post, World Championship Yahoos, with,

It's the second time in a month that I've used FiveThirtyEight.com as a reference. The first was Out with the Old!, about the forced retirement of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Maybe I should give that news resource a deeper look.

The chess writer for 538.com is Oliver Roeder ('He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied game theory and political competition.'). His reports on games three and four demonstrate that he knows his chess:-

A unique feature of the reports is a graphic overview of the match so far. Let's call it, 'How to summarize a World Championship match in 100.000 pixels or less'.

Match overview through game four (538.com)

We can easily see that Carlsen held a significant advantage in game one and that the success of the Black pieces in all games has been the main story so far. But what about that 'Biggest Blunder' in the headline for game four? Was Woody Harrelson knocking over pieces again? No, that pre-game excitement from the first game was overshadowed by a more sinister incident. The report went on to explain,

The day’s humdrum play was overshadowed by some excitement off the board, though. A chess-world controversy -- or at least what qualifies as one -- erupted. Before the game, the posh Saint Louis Chess Club posted, and quickly deleted, a YouTube video appearing to show aspects of Caruana’s pre-championship preparation sessions.

The report included a still shot of a computer screen where the image could be expanded to make everything on the screen readable. And, yes, it's the sort of information that might prove valuable to the opposition. Some of the less knowledgeable comments on the incident wondered, 'Why the fuss?' In brief, because match preparation is opening preparation, nothing more and nothing less -- how do I press for a quick advantage playing White and how do I avoid a quick knockout playing Black? A couple of old posts on this blog delved into the nuts and bolts:-

The resulting brouhaha convinced one respected chess journalist, GM Ian Rogers of Australia, to resign his job working with the American team: @GMIanRogers: Sadly parting ways with @ChessLifeOnline after a decade... (twitter.com):-

...I declined to accept edits to my round 4 World Ch'p report which would downplay responsibility of editors of the Caruana video, downplay the effect of the video on Caruana's chances, and omit the key image from the video.

On top of that, all of the videos produced by the St.Louis Chess Club disappeared from Youtube. Out of sight, out of mind? Hardly. Someone in St.Louis is guilty of an unprofessional lapse of judgement. That's the person who should resign -- not a journalist doing the job he was paid to do.

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