Note: These views are not expressive of Chess^Summit’s opinions of the World Chess Championship, only the author’s
When I first heard the rumors that the World Chess Championship would feature Carlsen and Karjakin playing on some busy avenue in Manhattan, with glass windows so that average people could see them battling it out over the board, I was excited. I wanted people to see how amazing chess could be, how thrilling it was to watch one of the biggest chess events of the year. I should have realized that this idea AGON was considering was too good to be true.
The actual venue, the Fulton Market Building, came as an extremely huge surprise for me. I have been going to South Street Seaport my whole life and visited in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It was restored beautifully, but I felt that it was not busy enough to hold an event that chess fans desperately hoped would encourage more popularity for the game. I even visited the area a week or so before the match was scheduled to be played.
I did not see anywhere that the match could be held as there was a lot of construction going on around the Fulton Market Building, but I found out where the entrance was when I arrived on November 10th.
My first thoughts upon entering the building were that it was small but sleek and modern looking. The windows displayed the Brooklyn Bridge in all its glory, contrasting against the bright sky and the river.
November 10th was the press day, and it was quite fun being one of the first people allowed into the venue.
Of course, it was quite obvious from the beginning that the spectators’ area was goin
g to be a huge problem. I imagined that ticketholders would be able to sit in a theater and watch the players behind glass, like I had seen in Pawn Sacrifice. At the very least, I expected chairs and a large room where spectators could go in and out freely. What we got was chess fans crowding around a glass wall, no seats nor order to who could be in the front, who could see. Eventually, each person was assigned a fifteen minute time slot of when they were allowed to into the viewing room, which was absolutely ridiculous. Fans paid expecting to actually have the privilege of seeing Carlsen and Karjakin play, not for fifteen minutes but for a full four hours, five hours. It seemed that chess fans paid $75 each game to sit outside of the glass wall room and watch the game on screens, which they could have done in the comfort of their own homes.
Other complaints included an insufficient amount of chairs and tables in the playing area next to the chess café were raised by every chess fan I was able to talk to. It was often hard to snag a seat and get a good game going. I saw kids with their own sets playing on the floors surrounding the area and realized that overall, there was enough room to include more tables and chairs that chess players desperately needed.
The biggest problems in the venue were most prominent on the second day of the match when hundreds of fans showed up. The line to enter the venue ran around the corner of the building across the street. I was excited to see this at first. So many people showed up simply for chess! Inside, I instantly recognized that the venue was simply too small to fit everyone. The line to enter the viewing room was too long and the atmosphere not only included excitement, but also annoyance. This should not happen at a World Chess Championship match.
Despite all these issues, it is probable that AGON had some serious issues securing a building to host the event. There have always been hardships getting sponsors and venues even for the most prestigious events. It was certainly better than some choices. For example, The Trump Tower, which had been under consideration as a possible venue, wouldn’t have worked, as the presidential election finished just around the time the match started. Protests raging around it would have most likely prevented the event in some way. I commend its efforts to popularize chess by choosing the historic spot, but I am unsure it was the best it could do.
On the value of seeing the match live, for the high price, I would not have been able to attend the match every day. Some loyal fans traveled all the way from Norway to cheer on their hero and there was no shortage of fans from various states such as Ohio, New Jersey, and Virginia. However, many were left in the dark, unable to afford the steep VIP tickets that went for hundreds of dollars or just the general admission tickets. No matter what, though, many rounds were sold out. I caved in—the first World Chess Championship on American soil since I was born was an experience I could not miss. In the end, chess fans generally agreed and the match attracted over 10,000 fans who decided it was worth it to see the match live.