The future of chess

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The year is 2026, the Melbourne Chess Club annual club championships is starting in a few minutes ….

Players all over the world are settling down ready for the club championships to begin. It’s the largest entry ever; 460 players registered and paid the ₿7 entry fee. Every year a few club members leave the city, but still stay engaged with the club via their program of online events.

This year there are 3 ‘hubs’ in operation, physical locations where local players get together and socialize before and after their games. Singapore has 4 players, New York has 6 early-risers and Perth with 19 players!

The Melbourne Chess Club is at full venue capacity (Covid-19 regulations are still in force) with 160 chess boards setup and ready to go and 228 players ‘checked in’ at this venue on Tornelo.

The remainder of players are joining independently. Some of them from home with a child on their knee, some from work, some while in an Uber flight over the Pacific Ocean and even one who is believed to be on the SpaceX base on Mars (our current orbits give “only” a 4-minute lag per move; Tornelo’s lag-compensation feature provides for up to 5-minutes per move lag, the typical lag time on an suburban Melbourne NBN connection. Had orbits resulted in the longest lag, a 22-minute delay per message, it’s likely this player wouldn’t have taken part.).

As always, the first step for players was a check-in. The check-in now includes a location, so our Chief Arbiter can see how many players are present in each hub, and how many are playing from home.

Daniel Pob is running late for the club, so he’s checked-in from his phone and will start his game while in transit.

Time to do the pairings for Round 1. We’ll leave the few players who haven’t checked-in as withdrawn for now, they can inform us later if they arrive and we will manually pair them into a game.

The pairings are now Published and look something like this:

Global Table Number, Local Board Number (white), PlayerName (white), PlayerName (black), Local Board Number (black)

1.1  –  Singapore.1 – GM Shawn Zillmann (white) v. Emma Kwok (black) – Melbourne.1

1.2  –  Home – Elizabeth Warren (white) v. GM Ari Dale (black) – New York.1

1.3  –  Melbourne.2 – WGM Julia Ryjanova (white) v. Leo Pan (black) – Melbourne.2

etc

Players start finding and sitting down at their boards. The Chief Arbiter keeps an eye on the connection status of each player on the pairings view on Tornelo.

The Hub Arbiters have connected all the boards in their hub to their computer, so now click “connect e-Boards” on Tornelo and check the mapping is correct, serial-number XYZ123 is shown as board 1 etc. (this was setup earlier, so should be right still). Players don’t need to be signed in, they just need to be sitting at the right board with the right colour.

The Club has 160 e-boards, which is stretching the limit of connections per computer. To be safe they employed 2 deputy arbiters and there are 80 boards connected to each computer. Both click “connect e-Boards” and see the OK status message… the club has the e-boards out permanently, so the mapping is always correct.

As always, a couple of players try to make their first move as soon as they sit down, but the board lights up the squares to show the move isn’t being accepted yet. The same thing for those who tried to play as the wrong color. Players on a screen are unable to make a move and a message informs them that the round will start soon.

Some players have an opponent opposite them and wish each other good luck with an elbow-bump, others have offsite opponents and they check the player name and rating on the on-board display before turning to chat to the players around them.

Most players are connected, and it’s 3 minutes after the official start time, so let’s Start now! The Chief Arbiter clicks the button on Tornelo and watches the last few players connect as the games begin.

Now to deal with the trouble-makers; Daniel Dobos and Benjamin Akok are playing against each other and they both REALLY want to use an anique chessboard made out of plastic (it’s OK, they have a plastic permit). Our Arbiters here are very flexible and allow this to happen, so Daniel and Benjamin sign-in on their phones and open Tornelo’s “scoresheet mode” to record the moves of the game as they play the old-fashioned way.

After half-an-hour Daniel Pob rushes into the club….he’s already made 12 moves from his phone, but he now puts his phone away and takes his seat, continuing the game with a whispered apology to his opponent.

All the games are now going smoothly and the club Twitch streamers are broadcasting, watching the multi-game view on Tornelo to try and find an interesting game to talk about. Even the game Dobos-Akok is being broadcast, but it’s a boring French Defence so they move on in search of more excitement.

For the players with an opponent over-the-board it feels like the 90s, but without a scoresheet. They just make moves on the board, oblivious to the technology. They raise their hand and the arbiter pauses the clock and deals with the issues.

For players on an e-board with no opponent, a gentle click sound alerts them and the squares light up to indicate they need to make a move for their opponent.

For players on older e-boards without a screen, they sign-in to Tornelo from their phone and have “clock mode” to display clock times. If they need the arbiter, the “call arbiter” button is on their clock.

Some have the newest e-boards and pieces slide around automatically. Occasionally the board deploys a faint scent of gingivitis and bromhidrosis to create the most realistic experience possible.

For many, they are lying in bed, or sitting at home, making moves on a screen. Very comfortable and convenient. Arbiters support these players via text or video chat in Tornelo.

And during the whole round, the Arbiter has full control over every game thanks to Tornelo. Every player who isn’t at a hub is under supervision via video feed, but nobody cheats any more, not between friends.

After 3 hours there was only one game going, that was an hour ago and I just can’t be bothered with that one person who wants to play on forever in an opposite colour bishop endgame …. I’m tired now and need to sleep, so click the “declare draw” button and the last game is done!

We’ll do it all again in a week for Round 2.

 

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