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|The Rise of Internet Chess|
|The Internet -- meaning technologies that link networks together -- has been very good to chess.|
Chess and the Internet: (May 2007) The last word on computers and chess is a long way from being spoken. The experts are still undecided whether machines will prove to have been a boon or a bane for the game. One thing is certain: the Internet -- meaning technologies that link networks together: Usenet, Internet, Web -- has been very good to chess. The pre-Internet era goes back to the Dark Age of chess: no online play, no live broadcasts, no instant news, no chatting with other fans around the globe.
Rec.games.chess: For many early Internauts, whether chess hobbyists or not, the introduction to networking was the Usenet newsgroup. The group rec.games.chess (rgc), was created in the mid-1980s. The networked discussion groups like rgc permitted technology savvy chess enthusiasts from all over the world to post questions and exchange comments with like-minded hobbyists. The first chess FAQs appeared in the early 1990s. The rgc concept was so successful that the group was split into four in June 1995.
Internet Chess Server (ICS); Internet Chess Club (ICC); FICS: The great potential of online play was unlocked by Daniel Sleator, a professor of computer science at Carnegie-Mellon University. Starting in 1992 with a free service that was the work of others, Sleator improved the technology and copyrighted it. In 1995, he and his partners changed the name to ICC and started to charge $49 a year. A large portion of the ICS user base was outraged and bolted to create FICS, the Free Internet Chess Server (FICS). Both services thrive today.
Portable Game Notation (PGN): It may seem unusual to include PGN in an account of Internet chess. The moves of a chess game are easy to digitalize, and the Internet made the data easy to transfer. Before PGN, every chess software vendor had a different way of encoding chess data. PGN, developed in 1993 by Steven J. Edwards, was discussed and disseminated via rgc. It became an immediate success because, as a readable text format, it satisfied the needs of people as well as of computers.
International Email Chess Group (IECG); Correspondence Servers: Email was one of the early enabling technologies for the Internet. It was a good way to communicate and a great way to manage time efficiently in an increasingly structured, fast paced world. Chess by email allowed a keen player to spend as little or as much time on a game as desired, whenever the time was available. The IECG, founded in 1994, gave players an easy means to find other players. A few years later in 1998 the first email server, ItsYourTurn.com, began operation.
The Week in Chess (TWIC): For chess players, no news was never good news, it was normal. Except for high profile events like World Championships, the mainstream media had always ignored the little world of chess. That was no longer important when rgc gave everyone the means to broadcast their own news. In 1993, Mark Crowther started to post chess news items on rgc regularly. In 1994, he posted TWIC no.1, and quickly built up a global network of correspondents providing local news. Nowadays everyone reads TWIC.
Web Pages, Sites, and Directories (WWW): After the invention of the Internet, the greatest technological development was the Web. In the early 1990s, the first web pages were created in research centers and at universities. In 1994, Crowther started one of the first chess web sites where he worked at Bradford University. Another 1994 chess site was www.traveller.com/chess, which continues today as www.logicalchess.com. The year 1995 saw the first chess directory (aka portal), Chess Space, later to become InternetChess.com.
Kasparov vs the World; KasparovChess.com: Garry Kasparov has often been a driver of chess related technology. In 1999, he played 'The World' in a game hosted by the MSN Gaming Zone. The moves of his opponents were decided by majority vote, with guidance from a team of young IM-level players. Kasparov won, the mainstream media took note, and other GMs copied the format. In early 2000, Kasparov was less successful in playing the Internet startup boom with KasparovChess.com. His timing caught the start of the bust and the venture folded end-2002.
Chess Web Logs, Weblogs, Blogs: Given so many opportunities to pursue their hobby with the aid of technology, chess players have always been early adopters. It's impossible to say who had the first chess blog -- the concept predated the term -- but the wave started building in 2002-2003. The best chess bloggers, beholden to no higher authority, are among the most perceptive chess writers on the Web. Of special interest is the group that calls itself the Knights Errant, started by the 'Man de la Maza' blog in 2004.
Online Play and the Future of Internet Chess: In chess, 'the play is the thing'. The online play servers ICC and FICS, now into their second decade, were joined by strong, deep pocket sites like ChessBase's PlayChess.com. The correspondence servers, with lower technical barriers to entry, became legion.
Notable online play events were the FIDE Internet Qualifier for the next stage of the World Championship in 2001, the Paris / St. Petersburg match in 2003, and the start of the United States Chess League (USCL) in 2005. Games are now broadcast routinely for the strongest over-the-board tournaments like Corus Wijk aan Zee, Mtel Sofia, and numerous national championships.
The unqualified successes for Internet chess have also brought new problems. Net 'disconnects' are routine for certain players who reach a hopelessly lost position. Faceless competitors are sometimes tempted to display a level of mindless rudeness and vulgarity that would never be tolerated in face to face play. Perhaps worst of all, accusations of cheating -- sometimes justified, often not justified -- are routinely aimed at any player who succeeds in an online play event, especially lesser known players.
The construction of broadband networks, most using Cable or ADSL technology, have opened the door for other opportunities. The great success of video clips hosted on YouTube allow everyone to watch previously rare historical footage, to review modern instructional videos, and to witness post mortems conducted between the world's top players.
The next network technology to impact the world of chess is anyone's guess. One thing is for certain: chess and chess players will be among the first beneficiaries.