Community chess: Garry Kasparov on his transition to social play

Garry Kasparov calls himself “the first knowledge worker to see his job threatened by a machine”. It is not bitter, however. “We shouldn’t cry over spilled milk.”

The grandmaster and former world chess champion chats with The Drum of New York, where he has lived in exile from Russia since 2013. Our conversation is about the future of artificial intelligence – the genre of the game and the kind that could put us all out of work – as well as the future of chess.

Amid renewed interest in the latter, he launched a new chess platform – a passionate project for years – and before the interview began, had a few questions of his own: “Play it. you ? And if so, how good are you? “

I admit my mediocrity and admit I spent the hour before our call to be sent with ease by AI opponents on Kasparovchess. “We all lose against computers,” he reassures me. “Nowadays, there is nothing to be ashamed of! “

Alongside current world champion Magnus Carlson and former world champion Viswanathan Anand, Kasparov is one of the greatest statesmen in chess. Having retired from professional gaming in 2005, he spent much of his time selling the sport to the public. And now, with Kasparovchess, he hopes to compete with established online chess platforms and build on the game’s current popularity.

This is my second attempt, after releasing a previous iteration in 1999. “It didn’t go well because the technology wasn’t there to support my ambitions of promoting chess to a global audience. and create something that would be financially viable. ” The relaunched platform, made by Vivendi subsidiary Keysquare, is available through a website and iPhone app and offers puzzles, tutorials, articles and documentaries to subscribers, while limited content is available for subscribers. non-paying users.

Aimed at seasoned players and newbies alike, it hopes it can fill a gap in the chess content market with high production values ​​and a social element provided by a dedicated Discord server. “It’s a key element. It’s entertainment, education and community.

“I’ve always wanted to make sure that our contribution to global chess and our audience would focus on educational and entertaining elements. But I also wanted to make sure that we created a global community – that people join our platform and feel a sense of belonging.

It also has, of course, its own gaming platform to take on other players and its AI.

Deep thinking

Playing and sometimes losing against computers is something Kasparov is very familiar with, having lost to IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997 when he was the world chess champion.

His playing career was already linked to the early days of AI and modern computing and by the 1980s he was involved in some of the early attempts to introduce computers to sports, including the first basic website. ChessBase data. In 1989, he eliminated Deep Blue’s predecessor, Deep Thought.

“It was probably my blessing to have been world champion during the most revolutionary changes in the game. What happened during the 15 years of my reign changed the nature of chess – not because of me, but I knew it was happening. I saw computers coming, I gave my friends in Germany the idea to do ChessBase. It was the beginning of this kind of fusion between chess and computers.

In the years since his match against Deep Blue, he became an ambassador for AI, working with security firm Avast and lecturing TED arguing that human and machine intelligence should complement each other rather than to compete. “I preached human-machine collaboration, just saying ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’

“Naturally, I didn’t feel well after the [Deep Blue] game in 1997. But now, almost a quarter of a century later, I think it was a blessing that I was a part of that experience.

Rather than feel threatened by the increasing use of AI in business and industry, he suggests we should seize new emerging opportunities. “It wasn’t the end of the world – on the contrary, it was the start of a brave new world.

“We could really move forward if we stopped worrying about killer robots and recognized that evil, unfortunately, is still a human monopoly … the danger does not come from killer robots but from the people who control them.”

The proliferation of commercial AI will serve to highlight the real genius, he says. “It is important for us to recognize that we still have our advantages, based on exclusive human capabilities. Human creativity is not a ghost, it is a real thing.

The test of time

The royal game is more popular now than it has been in years, and Kasparov credits the web with the youth of current world chess champion Carlson and the recent Netflix crash The Queen’s Gambit, each playing a role – even if the game does not occupy the same space in the imagination of the public or the press as it did during the Cold War.

“When you look back to 1972, the Fischer-Spassky match, or my matches with [Boris] Karpov in the 1980s, chess often made the front page of a newspaper. It was really a big deal. But the main reason he was there was that the competition for public attention was meager.

“Chess has grown in size… maybe 1,000 times since 1972. The problem is, the rest of the field has grown a million times. This is why it occupies a much smaller space.

He jokes that his consulting work on the Netflix show (he gave advice on everything from the body language of the actors to the way they held the parts, to the development of the movements in the matches broadcasted). ) made him almost as famous as his playing career. “For so many years people have presented me as ‘the first man to lose to a computer’. This one is gradually replaced by “the consultant on The Queen’s Gambit”.

The show, he says, reminded viewers that chess can be a conscious activity, refuting the association of gambling with mental illness. Efforts to popularize the game have encountered “certain psychological barriers resulting from public perception based on images of the game developed over decades,” he says.

“Let’s be honest, great literature hasn’t helped much. And Bobby Fischer’s stories haven’t helped demonstrate that chess can keep you sane and not potentially endanger your sanity.

Thanks to The Queen’s Gambit, however, people have changed the image of gaming in their minds. “It is no longer seen as a potential destruction of their children or endangering their mental stability. Rather, it is seen as a kind of test that can help them overcome certain character traits, like the story of [protagonist] Beth Harmon overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. The image of the game has increased considerably.

The show’s impact, he says, proves that people want personality with their chess content. “Every story you sell, every lesson you teach, has to contain that element of personality, because that’s what people want to hear. It’s not “Oh, that’s the right decision”. Instead, it’s ‘When I was a kid I took this step because …’ This way of addressing the audience will hopefully be our signature.

Unlimited challenge

Kasparov is hoping that his own personality, combined with the focus on community building, can help Kasparovchess stand out from competitors such as Chess.com or Play Magnus, with Carlson, whose parent company has made an investment of £ 40million when it was listed on the Norwegian Stock Exchange. Last year.

Community building will be done in an “interactive context,” he says, using his dedicated Discord group chat platform and relying heavily on Grandmaster Ambassadors to attract a crowd. The public, he notes, has become accustomed to direct access to esports personalities. “That’s why Twitch is popular these days, because it’s spontaneous … it’s a very important way to connect with new audiences, especially a younger audience.”

With that in mind, Kasparov plans to offer his brain to chess fans, providing “spontaneous content in quotes” in the form of advice and analysis. He also recorded an exclusive tutorial for the site, giving members the chance to learn directly from the master.

Global lockdowns have prompted even more people to take up their chess boards and apps, and Kasparov is hoping his timing and strategy of combining learning and playing will seize the opportunity.

“There are so many people who have discovered chess recently and many others who knew how to play but didn’t because they were too busy, always with other things to do. If you can train them and excite them, if you provide this element of entertainment for them through education and learning, we can dramatically expand the global chess audience.

“I’m not a professional player anymore, but I know how to sell the game. And I know how to bring people in because, again, it’s all about the excitement. We need to get people interested in gambling and what gambling has to offer. “

To learn more about what the pandemic-propelled popularity of the gaming industry means for marketers, head over to The Drum’s gaming hub.


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