Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Celebrity Chess Showdown

I must confess that I first became interested in poker (which I play occasionally, as does practically every chessplayer I know) when I watched the first season of Celebrity Poker Showdown on Bravo. Yeah, I know, pretty embarrassing. Sure, I had watched the pros on ESPN2 from time to time, but they were intimidating and made it difficult to imagine myself winning. But Celebrity Poker made me feel a bit superior and confident in my abilities, no matter how lame I really was. I also liked the format, with pro Phil Gordon offering critical commentary on the action while a novice host cracked stupid jokes and kept the action lively. So I was happy to read at the end of Julie Bick's interesting article "Low-Cost Workouts for Young Minds" (NY Times, April 2, 2006 - hat tips to Mig and Susan Polgar) that a similar show is planned for chess:

"Following on the heels of television's "Celebrity Poker" and "Dancing With the Stars," ESPN has signed a deal to produce a televised celebrity chess tournament featuring Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and others. "This is a charity tournament, but we hope to grow televised chess with sponsors and prize money," said Giovanni James, who is producing the show with Penny Marshall."

Now here is an idea that might actually spark some widespread interest in this complex game of ours. And the beauty of it is that, unlike poker (where it takes secret cameras to see the full action), with chess it is all there in front of you waiting to be seen (if you are just smart enough to see it). There are also a lot of celebrities with an interest in the game, including the popular and talented Jamie Foxx. If the producers can use celebrities to draw in an audience, keep it lively with fast play and fun commentary, and show the audience just how badly these famous actors and comedians are playing so that viewers become over-confident in their own chess abilities by comparison, they might actually spark a revolution....


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