International Chess Tournament in Moscow

The Great Eval Bar Debate:'s Broadcasting Style

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Should chess tournament broadcast feature an eval bar or not?

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Should chess tournament broadcast feature an eval bar or not?

This has been the big question being debated on chess Twitter since the Candidates started. I’m not sure how this debate started, but it is interesting that it did. While many things already have been said in this debate I will try to bring a fresh perspective.

One key aspect I don’t think has been mentioned is that since the merger between and Chess24, we have one big broadcast less to choose from. This also makes the presentation style chosen by even more important. In turn, this ultimately also changes how we see the eval bar.

The American Sports Announcer Style

In my opinion, the broadcast has an American sports/e-sports announcer vibe to it. The announcers try to stir up drama and excitement often based on the swings seen on the eval bar, facial expressions, stats, and predictions.

In general American sports broadcasts typically feature a lot of commercial breaks, as we see in the broadcast, and announcers have to smoothly transition in and out of these breaks. Also, there is a greater focus on stats and the personal stories and rivalries of the players.

In comparison the European tradition is more often based around a more restrained approach, focusing on delivering a factual narrative with technical insights about the game. European broadcasts also feature very few commercial interruptions, allowing for a more continuous flow of commentary. Candidates Broadcast
The Candidates broadcast

Chess24 vs. Presenting Style

The style we were used to from Chess24 before their e-Sports era was often a more laidback approach with the expert commentators going over the games in a slower tempo also reflecting the actual tempo of the classical games they were commentating on.

If you want to go on a time travel, press play and rewatch the Chess24 commentary stream from the 2018 Candidates in Berlin. Here we can follow how GM Jan Gustafsson and GM Peter Svidler analyze the games.

To me, this feels meditative and even relaxing to watch compared to the broadcast, where the fast-paced announcing does at times feel disconnected from the reality of the time control of classical chess.

To my mind, the big eval bar debate is not only about whether or not there is an eval bar on the screen but also about the way the games are presented to the viewers. The loss of Chess24 has left a vacuum hard to fill and during today’s games illustrated by the fact that the large majority watching online has tuned into the broadcast.

I understand all the arguments about reaching the masses, but it does feel like the broadcast is trying to commentate on classical chess games as if they were Title Tuesday blitz games.
That being said I like the deeper insights from especially Peter Leko and Judit Polgar during the coverage. However, I sometimes miss the space commentators had to expand their analysis given on Chess24 without having to go into ad breaks all the time.

A Symptom of Something Else

So, to sum up, I think the eval bar debate is a symptom of a longing for something else, and maybe a bit deeper. By shifting the focus from detailed analysis to a more mainstream overview of the games, we are more likely to gravitate towards the eval bar. The presence of the eval bar, then, becomes a focal point for broader discussions about how chess is being presented. That is, at least, my theory.