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What you see before you is an exception. An exception, that is, to the marginalisation of chess in the British media. In Standpoint, thanks to the enthusiasm of its editor Daniel Johnson, a whole page is devoted to the world's oldest and most popular intellectual pursuit, more than in any other mainstream publication. As for television, the most influential of all media, chess might as well not exist, for all the interest shown by the networks.

This was not always so. Between 1976 and 1982 BBC2 ran a series called The Master Game, a chess tournament held especially for the viewers, with the results kept secret — rather like University Challenge. Some of the world's leading players took part, including Anatoly Karpov and other giants of the game such as Viktor Korchnoi and Bent Larsen. It was highly innovative, with the players recording their thoughts after the game, which were then broadcast as the moves were "played" on an illuminated board — in fact, old — style BBC ingenuity involving fairy lights, mirrors and puppetry techniques, since this was before the digital age.

After such trailblazing, the BBC abandoned chess, and although both it and Channel 4 ran programmes covering the 1993 London world championship match between Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short, no British broadcaster showed the slightest interest when London again hosted the world championship in 2000 — when Kasparov lost his title to Vladimir Kramnik. The fact that there was no British participant had something to do with that abject lack of commitment; but it's no wonder that Malcolm Pein, the chief executive of Chess in Schools and Communities, has spoken furiously of "the cretinous collective that comprise the BBC controllers [who] for the best part of 20 years have rejected virtually every programme proposal on a game played by millions".

That Pein was not overstating the grass roots popularity of chess has been made clear by research by YouGov. In August it published the result of a unique global survey, which showed that no fewer than 12 per cent of the adult British population currently play chess (15 per cent of men and 10 per cent of women). That equates to a potential domestic audience of 6 million — not taking children into account — who understand and enjoy the game, even before the effort is made to attract those who do not play regularly but could be enthused if someone came up with the kind of innovative presentation that the BBC managed a generation ago.

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