In 10 days time the chess world has a most exciting prospect, a Candidates tournament offering the winner a shot at Anand and the World title. However you'd hardly know about this as there has been so little coverage in the chess media and especially by the organisers, Agon. Now when Agon were invited to organise the World Championship cycle by FIDE it sounded as if chess would be pushed into mainstream media and that coverage of the events would be highly jazzed up. But on the contrary, chess coverage is where it has always been and the website for the Candidates Tournament doesn't seem to be something to revolutionise the way chess is perceived.
Am I being a bit harsh here? Maybe the true litmus test will be the World Championship Match proper and the coverage it receives. I mean, do other sports hype the qualifiers for the World Championship, or pinnacle event? And if so, how long before the event does the build up begin? I know that soccer is constantly hyping itself, but it would probably be optimistic to put chess into the same category with the World Game. However if chess does want to grab headline news, then somehow it has to hype itself and events where the top 4 in the World battle out for a single World Championship place seems something that everyone can understand whether they are into chess or not. Add to that elements of youth versus experience, the top 4 players in the World doing battle, a World number 1 who didn't care about the World Championship now competing, and for a country with little World class chess pedigree. I have to say it has some newsworthiness if it was only presented right. Or if it was presented at all!
I've been hyping this championship at my classes and I now enter a class and kids are asking me who is winning. I have to remind them it doesn't start for 2 weeks, but then they get excited about who is going to win. Most kids I teach want Carlsen, some because he isn't from Russia, some because he's number 1 and they like a favourite, some because he is young, and some because his name is a bit like mine! But there are others who want other players and among the hundreds of kids I teach chess to each week, I reckon that every player in the candidates has at least one fan. And we are talking grades prep to 6 (5-12 years old), so not the kind to normally take much interest in the chess world, but who would rather just be trying to beat their best friend.
So let's hype these guys. This is what the kids hear from me:
Carlsen: World number 1 and unbeaten in tournaments for a year.
Kramnik: World number 2 and Mister Solid....the no. 1 from the World's top country.
Aronian: World number 3 and more of a risk taker...the last man to beat Carlsen in a tournament.
Radjabov: World number 4 and the mystery man, a great resourceful player.
Grischuk: World number 10 and great in time trouble which he always gets into.
Ivanchuk: World number 13, ex number 2 and on his day able to beat anybody, but very nervous.
Svidler: World number 14, a big soccer fan and 6 times champ of the strongest country Russia.
Gelfand: World number 18, last year's beaten challenger though he was really close to taking the title.
This is the sort of things the kids can understand, simple qualities that they can relate to and the kids that I'm teaching can't wait for the event to start. But then again, they've had constant weekly reminders for the past 6 weeks.
I must admit I was getting worried that I'd imagined the whole event and have been waiting for some announcements and hype. Thankfully, Chessbase have started the ball rolling with a profile of the players. Perhaps by this weekend I'll be complaining that there is too much Candidates Hype....I doubt it though!