Watching the World Chess Championship on Twitch

By Rich Stanton on at

Whenever a world championship chess match comes around, it demands attention. The current champion Magnus Carlsen (Twitter bio: "The highest ranked chess player in the world") is currently defending the title against Fabiano Caruana and, at the time of writing, they've played to eleven draws in a row and are enmeshed in the 12th game. It sounds like a bit of a bore, except it's a tremendous tug-of-war between two terrific players.

This is also the first time I've watched a chess championship in the modern era of Twitch, liveblogs, and endless apps. I remember waiting for the TV coverage of matches in the 90s and, depending on the match's importance, even relying on newspapers to find out what Kasparov or Karpov had been up to. Now not only can I watch the match live easily, but I can watch it with the full Twitch crowd experience.

Yes, that is someone suggesting Bb6 for White, and adding "Bishop to the face FeelsBadMan." I'm used to this stuff when watching video games but, with chess, it feels like being back in chess club, laughing about a game with your opponent. Or perhaps as close as one can get to watching great chess players in a rowdy and appreciative pub setting. Chess is both a solitary and a shared experience: you need to study solo; you need comrades of similar skill levels to stay interested and get better. This makes the irreverence of Twitch chat, and the joy it takes in the chatter and minutiae, an unusually good fit.

GM Levon Aronian, the 11th-ranked player in the world, is a chat favourite because of his capacity for delivering lines like this with a big smile: "I respect you [the host] enormously, but not for your chess." Cue the collapse of chat into LMAOOO, REKT, an assortment of face emojis and calls to the burn department.

I've been following the match since the start and, inevitably, it's inspired me to start actively playing again. A big surprise was that the chess.com app, which I used to hate, is now very good indeed. I re-downloaded it and was surprised to find it now has a wealth of excellent tutorials, puzzles, and sets up games with your chosen preferences quickly and without fuss.

I wholeheartedly recommend the chess.com app anyway (it's free, though there's a premium subscription option). It has one other 'new' addition since the last time I used it: pop-up achievements. This the point where the game of kings runs into gamification and the results are unintentionally hilarious. Here's what happens when you find checkmate with a bishop.

KILLER BISHOP! As Twitch chat would say, lmaaoooo. They even gave it nasty red eyes! Then, of course, we get:

Which only makes me think of one thing, and it ain't the beauty of Bobby Fischer's play.

As it stands, the 12th game is currently heading towards what looks like a draw, though Carlsen looks like he has a sexier position. If it IS a draw, Carlsen and Caruana will face off against each other in a series of quicker games on Wednesday. You can follow the match live on Twitch.