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Saturday, 28 October, 2000, 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK
Best mates: Chess and the web

The World Chess Championships in London is the first to be broadcast exclusively on the internet. No surprise, really - the slow pace of the action suits the nascent technology.

The game of kings - and rooks and pawns - is in the midst of a shake-up.

Vladimir Kramnik at the world chess champs
Kramnik: The man who would take the king
The world champion, Garry Kasparov, is in danger of losing his throne - and a $2m prize pool - at a tournament in London.

The challenger to his 15-year reign is his former pupil, Vladimir Kramnik, who leads the 16-match contest by two points.

Not only is Kasparov's supremacy under threat, the contest itself is an attempt by the UK-based company to overthrow the world chess federation (FIDE).

Its trumpcard is to put the proceedings online, thereby finding the sport - scoff if you will - an ideal habitat.

Sport online

At present, live coverage of most sporting events are ill-served by the internet - limited bandwidth just does not do justice to fast-moving action.

Until broadband becomes widely available, netsurfers cannot get TV-quality pictures on their monitors.

Football players, for instance, are blurred almost beyond recognition as they as bob and weave across the pitch.

Who's the champ?
Garry Kasparov: Quit FIDE in fury after title bid halted
Alexander Khalifman: Won FIDE title in 1999
Anatoly Karpov: Ex-champ, boycotted 1999 match
Bobby Fischer: Stripped of title in 1975 but never beaten
Yet in chess, the action typically involves one grandmaster staring intently at the board for minutes on end before - wait for it - scratching his head.

Record numbers of chess fans are logging on to watch the matches, and several thousand have signed up for text message commentaries or live coverage over Wap-enabled phones.

Instead of streaming a video that refreshes the whole image, the site just updates the segment of the image that moves, spokesman Dan Ward says.

"You see their facial expressions and gestures, but 80% of the image, such as the static background, is not refreshed."

While watching the grandmasters lock horns, fans can e-mail expert analysts or place an online bet.

Saving the game

Kasparov has even gone as far as calling the internet "a saviour for chess".

Yet this has been at the expense of chess clubs.

Chess board
A spectator sport? Paint dries faster
Players who no longer have the time or inclination to attend club nights or tournaments can instead link to opponents around the world.

And wants to give these players a shot at participating in its next world championships.

Competing online, successful entrants will get a shot at playing against the likes of Kasparov and Kramnik in 2002.

"Everybody in the world will be able to enter, even if they're ranked three-millionth," Mr Ward says.

"There's a nice correlation between chess players and internet users - more than 60% of players have access to the web and they do use it."

The company has also set its sights on other "brain games", such as Chinese chess, backgammon and bridge.

Desperate measures

The internet is but the latest medium to try to sex up the game.

Kasparov at play
Mind games: Kasparov is known as 'The Beast'
When Channel 4 last televised a world title contest, it resorted to wonky camera work and enlisted Carol Vorderman as presenter.

Yet the tournament was never going to rival the likes of ratings-winner Big Brother for C4.

Kasparov v Kramnik has proved a much better bet for for

"We are predicting hits of several million over the month-long tournament," Mr Ward says.

As for being the latest rival to FIDE's position - chess politics has been likened to the world of boxing - Mr Ward dismisses the notion.

"We want to unify the world championships, we don't want to challenge FIDE.

"But I suppose we have by staging the world championships."

The next games begin at 1500 GMT on Saturday and Sunday, and the tournament runs until 4 November.

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See also:

08 Oct 00 | Europe
Kasparov fights for his title
08 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Fury at computer's next move
23 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Kasparov outplays the planet
27 Sep 98 | Europe
Calls to boycott Chess City
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