The Loop

The Loop

Hear me out, America: You should watch chess online on Monday afternoon

November 30, 2020

Dean Mouhtaropoulos

I probably don't need to tell you this—you already know from the headline—but I am 100% one of those doofuses who is really into chess right now because of Netflix's The Queen's Gambit. I watched a show, I liked a show, and now I've become a sad lemming, addicted to a game I will never be remotely good at. I am worse than a newly hatched poker bro, fresh off his first viewing of Rounders. At least the bro might luck into some money. (Note: I pretty much am one of the poker bros too. I make no excuses for myself.)

Anyway, whether this obsession lasts another week before I go back to letting my brain wither by looking at Internet memes until 2 a.m., or whether I become a stoic 72-year-old Russian man who plays all morning while eating cod at a park in Moscow, is irrelevant. What matters is that I've discovered chess as a spectator sport, and I'm here to tell you—while realizing this is a hard sell—that it's actually very good.

If you know anything at all about high-level chess, you might know the name Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion and probably the single greatest player in the game's history. He's currently in the finals of the Skilling Open, which is the first tournament of the Champions Chess Tour, a ten-tournament, year-long online-only series that functions as their PGA Tour equivalent (albeit with far fewer events and a fraction of the money). Importantly, all these tournaments use the rapid format, where both players start with 15 minutes and a match lasts, at most, about 30 minutes.

I decided to dip my toe in the waters this past weekend, mostly because Magnus was involved, and let me tell you, it's riveting stuff. I have no idea why they play the moves they do, and I barely understand the explanations the commentators give, but it's somehow excellent TV. At noon eastern on Monday, Carlsen will take on the American challenger Wesley So in four games, with the possibility of a sudden-death blitz tiebreaker (think of high-speed, Washington Square Park-style chess).

You can watch the whole thing live on Chess24, complete with excellent commentary, a board to follow the moves, a computer that tells you which moves are good or bad, and video feeds of the two players. (This last one is crucial; after blowing the endgame in one match on Sunday, you could watch Magnus yell at himself.) None of this, I realize, quite gets exactly why it's fun to watch, and the best I can tell you is that there's inherent drama to watching these geniuses square off, pieces dwindling by the moment, tension building with every move since a single mistake is likely deadly. Plus, even though I can't really understand why they make certain plays, it's still possible through the game play and the commentary to get a sense of how stupidly brilliant they are, and how far into the future they're seeing. The whole "think 30 moves ahead" bit is a cliche, but, uh...it's also real. Terrifyingly real.

All I'm saying is, if you've got nothing else to do on your lunch break, tune in for one game at noon. It's a short time commitment, and if nothing else, you'll be able to watch someone who is the greatest at what he does in the history of human endeavor, at this specific thing, work his magic. He's obviously the favorite, but Wesley So, the American, managed to go 2-2 against him on day one—a shocker all on its own—and has a shot to pull off a great upset.

Plus, you can tweet at the commentary team and they'll read your name on air. Great competition, entertaining digital TV, and a possible ego trip to boot? If you needed any more convincing, I dare say that is...

(do not end the chess section with the words "checkmate," Shane. Do not do it. Do not do it.)

...checkmate.

(Dammit.)

Jaw-Dropping Stat of the Week: Tyreek Hill

We already knew the Kansas City Chiefs were an absolute blitzkrieg machine on offense, but on Sunday, Tyreek Hill somehow managed to rack up 269 yards and three touchdowns on 13 catches. It's astounding...the guy was so good that he had time to backflip into the end zone:

And also, the dude had over 200 yards in the first quarter alone:

I'm not sure what's more amazing—his performance, or the fact that it took the Bucs so long to double-team him. It got so bad that he started doing some Shannon Sharpe-style taunting on the sidelines:

By yards alone, it was one of the 15 best receiving games in NFL history, and he's only the fifth guy to go over 260 yards and also net three TDs. This man is a star, and if there's a Super Bowl this year, it's hard not to see the Chiefs winning it again.

The "Off to a Great Start!" Man of the Week: Juwan Howard, Michigan

Howard went 10-10 in the Big Ten in his first season at the Michigan helm, which is below Michigan's usual standards, but 2020 is already looking just a little worse:

Fighting with your players in a November game is always a bad sign, and so is the fact that Michigan almost got beat by winless Oakland at home. They squeaked by in OT, but they're bound to lose their top-25 ranking soon, and morale already seems to be streaking toward rock bottom. I hate to write off Howard completely, because a lot of people liked what he did last year and he was schooled by the great Erik Spoelstra, but...I hear John Beilein's available.