Monday, September 01, 2014

The End of Chess Blogging...

...where The Kenilworthian bids farewell to his readers.

I have been blogging about chess since May 2005 and have received the Chess Journalist Association's award for "best blog" three times: in 2008 (the first year of the award), 2010 (there was no "blog" award in 2009), and 2014 (announced this month).  Though I started the blog ostensibly to bring attention to the Kenilworth Chess Club, my motivations were mostly internal.  Like Walter White from Breaking Bad, "I did it for me; I liked it; and I was good at it."  As I wrote back in July 2007, this sort of work "seemed to bring together all of my strengths, as a researcher, writer, analyst, chess player, and budding web designer."  Compiling bibliographies, researching what had been written about a line, putting together a detailed analysis, and turning it into a blog post (complete with playable java board, diagrams, header graphic, and links) immersed me in a state that Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi calls "flow."

I am giving up blogging mostly because I have other projects into which I now want to get immersed.  So chess and chess blogging will have to be put away. But this also seems like a good time to withdraw from the field because I am convinced that professional chess blogging has made the amateur chess blog increasingly irrelevant.  

When I began blogging nearly a decade ago, Garry Kasparov had just retired from competitive chess and had closed down his chess mega-site just a couple years before, having demonstrated, it seemed then, that it was very hard to make money from publishing about chess on the web.  The world of chess seemed to have no center, and chess writing on the internet seemed a field completely opened up to amateurs -- all of this just at the moment when Blogger and Wordpress had made posting online easier than ever. Chess blogs also seemed to offer a refreshing addition to the sometimes stodgy and slow-paced news cycle of chess in those days.  Most new material came out on a weekly basis (for instance, at The Week in Chess and ChessCafe), mirroring the weekly chess columns found in print media.  I don't think that even ChessBase News was daily at that time.  The USCF website was a total joke.  And the most frequently updated and most closely watched site was Mig Greengard's The Daily Dirt chess blog.  Blogs seemed to fill a void in the world of chess news, as chess fanatics had begun looking for daily updates about their favorite obsession.  And a group of chess amateurs like myself began publishing online. 

Today, chess blogs and daily posts are no longer the domain of amateurs but also part of the offerings of professional chess websites.  ChessBase News is the most widely read chess blog on the planet and generally has more than one post a day. ChessCafe's daily blog offers nearly comprehensive links to everything of interest on the internet connected to chess. has absorbed the ChessVibes blog and has multiple new blog posts daily featured on its main page, many with video. Even "The Week in Chess" has daily updates, despite its name.  We have LIVE coverage of chess events on ICC, ChessBase, Chess24Chessdom,, and multiple other sources. The world of chess news is completely saturated, and at nearly any hour of any day a chess fan can sit down at the computer and find more interesting chess than he or she has time to absorb.  Amateurs might have a place in the growing ranks of bloggers for professional publications.  But they will never get paid, and their writing will become less self-directed.

I think that my blog has been rather different from most in that I have always begun with a local perspective and tried to offer a comprehensive treatment of a topic, striving always to offer readers a definitive source of information or analysis (at least up until the moment of publication).  You can see my ambition for being definitive in many posts, whether I was compiling bibliographies (on the Smith Morra Gambit, Grand Prix Attack, b3 vs the Sicilian and FrenchUrusov Gambit, Vienna Gambit, Glek Four Knights, Scotch Four Knights, Spanish Four KnightsElephant Gambit, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 White Repertoire, Bird's Defense to the Ruy Lopez,  Stonewall in Black and WhiteKavalek KID, Byrne Saemisch, KID with Na6, KID with h3KID with exd4, Fianchetto Pirc, Blumenfeld Gambit, The Cochrane Gambit, or a Five Easy Pieces Open Sicilian Repertoire), doing chess analysis (The Complete Caveman Caro-Kann, Vienna GambitLabourdonnais - McDonnell Attack, Mad Dog Pirc, Monte Carlo Exchange French, Panther, Anti-Petroff with d4, Two Knights Anti-Modern, Black Jet in the Steinitz French, The Philidor Countergambit, The Bryntse-Faj Gambit, The Steinitz-Sveshnikov Attack I and II, Left Hook Grand Prix, Fritz Ulvestad and Ulvestad, Marshall's Anti-Italian d7-d5, Sicilian Dragon Trap with Nd5, Black Fianchetto in the Open Games I and II, Saemisch Attack vs the Alekhine, Spanish Four Knights, etc.), compiling webliographies (The Panov-Botvinnik Attack, Chekhover Sicilian, Budapest Fajarowicz, Lasker's Defense to the QGD, Anand - Topalov, Caro-Kann Fantasy Variation, The Sicilian Dragon), reviewing books (such as The Dark Knight System, Mayhem in the MorraModernized, Openings for Amateurs, Frank Brady's EndgameAmerican Grandaster, Calypso Chess, Zuke 'EmKoltanowski Phoenix Attack, Alterman's Gambit Guide: White Gambits, SOS #10, or No Passion for Chess Fashion), uncovering chess history (such as The Dimock and Alrick Man Theme Tournaments, Lake Hopatcong 1923 and 1926, or Fischer vs Castro), or covering other topics (BBC's The Master Game, Endings with Bishops of the Same ColorSame-Colored Bishop Endings Again, The Big Clamp, Chess and Table Tennis, Morphy vs MephistophelesChess and Evolutionary TheoryCryptochessanalysis or Chess and Self-Control).  And that barely scratches the surface of my 1,200 posts.

Always trying to dive deep meant that I needed plenty of time to work on each article, and so posting became less frequent and more time consuming -- which is all the more reason I now have to set this uncompensated labor aside so that I can devote my energies to more socially rewarding work.  I hate to reckon how many hours I have spent on the blog.  But at least it has taught me that I have that many hours, despite my work and family commitments, if I decide to make good use of them.

The time commitment has always been the problem with chess.  As Savielly Tartakower famously said, "All chess players should have a hobby" -- implying that playing chess is more like having a second career than a relaxing pastime.  This might explain why so many chess players find that they have to give up chess completely to get anything done (following the lead of economists like Ken Rogoff and Tyler Cowen for instance).  As chess enthusiast Sir Walter Scott once wrote:  “It was a shame to throw away upon mastering a mere game, however ingenious, the time which would suffice for the acquisition of a new language.  Surely chess-playing is a sad waste of brains.”  I wonder how many additional long novels Scott might have written had he succeeded in giving it up.

It seems like chess has gotten more interesting than ever -- with a fascinating champion in Magnus Carlsen, amazing tournaments like the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, and an incredible array of online sources for news, analysis, live coverage, and play...which makes it all the more important for me to put chess aside right now, before I get sucked in again!  

So farewell.