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On Chess: Behind the scenes - and cameras - of the Grand Chess Tour 2017

Lennart Ootes | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis
TV people are usually not also chess people.

“This game will be over in two moves.”

“…and how long will that take?”

“It could be 20 seconds. It could be two hours.”

Let’s get one thing clear – 20 seconds is a lifetime when it comes to live television. It’s the real world equivalent of deciding what to wear on a first date, or which of 50 toppings to smother on your froyo. These things take time.

[Ed. Note - I should point out that none of the technical staff, “TV People,” at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis are what you’d call “chess people.” But that doesn’t matter in the same way a chef doesn’t need to know the Sicilian open to make Hikaru Nakamura spaghetti and meatballs.]

So, how do you combine a game notorious for long, protracted mental battles with the frantic, fast-paced format of sports broadcasting?

First, you’re going to need a Yasser, a Maurice, and a Jennifer. Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley are both Grandmasters and Jennifer Shahade is a chess champion and author. This dynamic trio make up the Grand Chess Tour commentary and analysis team that you see on-air. Our analysts are the tip of the spear, the cherry on top, whatever sits aloft the things you like!

Maurice Ashley
Credit Austin Fuller | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis
Maurice Ashley provides easy-to-understand commentary.

Energetic and exciting commentary is the backbone of our show and all of our commentators produce both in enormous sums. Want proof? Even I, a “TV Person”, can understand what they’re talking about (sometimes). Besides, imagine if we instead hired Ben Stein. You’d be in cryogenic sleep halfway to Mars by now.

Second, you need an exceptionally good broadcast team. And, as you might’ve guessed, that’s not an easy thing to come up with on a whim (I’ve yet to see a billboard for “Exceptionally Good Broadcast Team” as I was cruising down I-70). We have

  • producers, who make sure everyone is doing their jobs and we’re on time;
  • directors, who call all the shots and direct the on-air talent through their ear pieces;
  • camera and sound crew who capture all the sights and sounds to bring the action alive;
  • IT, post-production, social media, and the broadcast editor who produces all the graphics shown during every show.

All come together to produce the best chess show on Earth (and probably Mars, too).

Producing the live feed from major tournaments at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis takes a large cast and crew.
Credit Provided by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis
Producing the live feed from major tournaments at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis takes a large cast and crew.

Few of us work for the same company and many are freelancers, but we’re all family, which makes each major tournament we cover feel like a homecoming. Similar to when a bunch of superheroes join together to fight a supreme evil, but with less violence, and it’s catered.

Third, and last, we need you – the fans. [What, did you think we’d forget to include you in this back-patting session?] Chess is a world sport and so we are an international production, dedicated to giving you the best coverage possible. And when I say dedicated I mean “walking into the studio at 5am. wearing yoga pants and clutching an espresso” dedicated.

If you’ve been enjoying from afar, think about making a trip here. We’d love to see you in person. In 2016, our broadcasts of the Grand Chess Tour tournaments alone garnered millions of viewers around the world. Not bad for a group of nomads coming together in St. Louis to produce one of the most unique broadcasts in all of sports.

Eric Mousel is the broadcast editor who works behind the scenes for all major Saint Louis Chess Club broadcast events. Mousel, along with a full production crew and on-air staff, make every live broadcast available to a world-wide audience.