The once-popular game is suffering from boring grandmasters and controversial leadership.
Shortly after 2 p.m. on August 8, 1972, WNET/Channel 13 in the New York metropolitan area was swamped with phone calls protesting the station's programming. Irate viewers repeatedly asked the television producers to drop the coverage of the Democratic National Committee meeting in Washington so that they could resume watching the play-by play of a World Chess Championship game. In the midst of the presidential campaign that would see Nixon reelected, the American public preferred to watch the hours-long chess games between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.
For many American chess enthusiasts, Fischer's time remains unparalleled. Never before or since his meteoric rise has chess managed to attract such a large audience in the United States. The 1972 PBS broadcast of the Fischer-Spassky games is still the most popular television chess show in history. After the celebrated match, the coverage of this ancient game has slowly disappeared from the country's mainstream media. In 1972, the national edition of the New York Times, the major newspaper that most consistently deals with chess coverage, published 241 articles that dealt specifically with the game. That number decreased to 148 in 1995, the year when Garry Kasparov, arguably the best chess player in history, squared off against Viswanathan Anand, an Indian grandmaster, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. The number fell further to 28 in 2011, the year when Hikaru Nakamura, an American grandmaster who right now is the seventh best player in the world, won the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, one of Europe's most recognized events.
Today, Anand, the current world champion, plays Boris Gelfand, an Israeli grandmaster, in the first game of the World Chess Federation (commonly known as FIDE for its French acronym) championship match in Moscow. While in India Anand is a national figure and in parts of Europe both players are relatively well-recognized, in the United States they are virtually unknown outside chess clubs or circles of enthusiasts. In part because of this, no one in America seems to be paying much attention to the title that once represented one of the Cold War's many battlefields. Chess has seemingly lost its cultural significance, abdicating its once revered spot to games like poker.
MORE ON GAMES
There are a variety of reasons for America's abandonment of the higher spheres of chess, according to professional players and long-time followers of the game. The absence of interesting stories and charismatic players in the past few years, along with FIDE's political and financial problems have all played a part in what at first glance looks like chess's march to oblivion.