Last night, on Monday, January 6th, 2014 the online chess service The Week in Chess (TWIC) reached an amazing milestone: originator, founder, editor and publisher Mark Crowther posted the 1000th issue. “Over 1.5 million games, doubles excluded,” he told us. With a year consisting of 52 weeks, it's not difficult to realize, but easy to forget, that the man has been going on for over 19 years already!
A self-portrait by Mark Crowther on
the day of the 1000th issue of TWIC
There are not many people who have had such an impact on the professional chess scene as Mark Crowther. Almost every serious player must have used, or is still using, the weekly downloadable magazine The Week in Chess, or simply called 'TWIC'. As a source of information, and a very comfortable way of keeping your personal database up to date on a weekly basis.
From the time that I used to play tournaments regularly, I remember the frustration when, while preparing for a game, I would realize that I had forgotten to 'download the latest TWICs' so that I wouldn't be able to see the latest games of my opponent. Even at my modest 2200 level, the possibility to miss one game was a big disaster!
I also remember visiting the 1996 Donner Memorial, where alongside the grandmasters a group of chess journalists was playing. The already famous Mark Crowther was one of the participants, and as an early user of his great online service, I thought that seeing him in real life was quite special!
During my time at ChessVibes I published a weekly opening magazine called ChessVibes Openings for almost five years. The editors, IMs Merijn van Delft and Robert Ris, would go through the latest TWIC on Tuesday morning and select the most important opening novelties of that week. Later, they would also use it as a source for interesting middlegames and endgames for ChessVibes Training. I am sure TWIC is still an important source for Chess.com's new magazine The Master's Bulletin, as it is and has been for many chess book authors.
In most cases it's possible to find the games on the official website of a tournament too, but nonetheless the work Crowther is doing every week cannot be underestimated. Collecting all games (including obscure ones) and creating one nice file, correcting the different spellings of names, adding other info such as ratings and venues; providing (final) standings of events, and much more — the chess world today owes a lot to Mark Crowther.
On behalf of ChessVibes and Chess.com I say a big THANK YOU to Mark, and happily cross-post his article on reaching issue #1000, so that you can learn a bit more about him and the website:
An article on the occasion of the 1000th issue of TWIC outlining a short history, thanks to the many people who've helped and where I think the future may lay both for myself and the magazine. I really hope to be around in some form or another for a long time. I would welcome suggestions for improvements to the website and the magazine.
By Mark Crowther
You can view the first issue here I will try and put the text of all 1000 issues up over the next few weeks and will for a start make my personal ChessBase file of all the issues available for sale. People should email me personally about that.
Read TWIC 1000, PGN file for issue 1000 and ChessBase file for issue 1000.
I'm not a big person for anniversaries or blowing my own trumpet over the real stars, the players, but even I can't ignore making it to the milestone of 1000 issues of The Week in Chess completed in 1001 weeks over a period of almost 20 years since September 1994. Such milestones only arrive one issue at a time and finally getting there feels like a cricketer taking a single down to long leg for a century rather than something spectacular. That said I now find it rather amazing and something that has taken a rather large chunk of my life. Here are my thoughts on what I think I've achieved and the future.
A short history of TWIC
My early chess
I first learned to play chess in 1972 at the age of 6 and played competitively from the age of 9, I still aspire to become a better player to this day and at the moment even expect it. I grew up with the classic games collections of masters and in particular with the games and story of the extraordinary career of Bobby Fischer. Then there were the magazines, British Chess Magazine, Chess and New in Chess. The 1980s saw the rise of Garry Kasparov and his rivalry with Anatoly Karpov. I attended the final day of the USSR vs the Rest of the World in 1984 my first taste of seeing the stars. The regular World title matches between Kasparov and Karpov and the GMA series of tournaments that saw them battle it out for first too inspired my interest in competitive chess.
The early 1990s saw the emergence of a new generation of players including Ivanchuk, Shirov, Gelfand and Anand and the World Championships saw Nigel Short finally eliminate Karpov from World Title contention and qualify to play Kasparov.
I gained an appetite for more up to date chess news and especially games from Malcolm Pein's chess columns and then from foreign newspapers such as the Serbian Politika (I discovered this first during the Candidates matches of 1991 when it was desperately hard to get games) which had an awful lot of up to date chess along with German and Swiss publications 64 Magazine and Die Schachwoche. In 1992 I saw Politika reporting the return of Bobby Fischer before it was widely known and then later a friend used the internet to get the moves from his match against Boris Spassky in 1992. This was the first time I'd even heard of the internet and only had a vague understanding of what it was.
The Internet and early TWIC
The following year I started using the internet full time (March 1993 Linares), discovered the Internet Chess Server and regularly reported on chess in newsgroups from hard copy sources. I was already well enough known later in 1993 to be invited to Nigel Short's world championship match against Kasparov. In September 1994 I started TWIC to save time but quite quickly I was encouraged to cover more and more chess. I was persuaded to use PGN (the format that allows many different computer systems to access games) fairly early on but the early issues of TWIC showed I didn't really understand it properly as I combined text and games in one file. Anjo Anjewierden persuaded me to use his program cutour to process the games in order to normalise the names and add ratings. This was always extremely tricky and time consuming to use to mass process games but it added some needed professionality. The names were in short form to cope with limitations of the ChessBase database format of the time. Anjo supported cutour for many years but the increased number of rating lists and the fact I was the sole user meant he had to end support but only after many, many years. I later wrote my own tools to replace it and whilst I not yet made the jump to full names (backward compatibility) it's certainly possible now. When you're around a long time decisions for very good reasons do come back to haunt you.
Full time TWIC
In 1996 I played the Donner Memorial journalists tournament and not having a laptop missed the only week since the start of the magazine until now. Late in 1996 I went professional taking an offer from Thoth Communications Corporation part of Grandmaster Technologies Incorporated to publish TWIC on their website. This didn't last a year and after looking round for a while in December 1997 the London Chess Centre through Malcolm Pein started a sponsorship that lasted until 2012. If there's a reason I've last so long then Malcolm is a big part of it and I also learned a lot from him.
TWIC continued with report of the major events and the magazine section taking care of most of the rest of the professional game for many years using the same format more or less. If TWIC is about anything it is that the professional game is a competitive sport and the tournaments, matches are worth following but any coverage really should centre on the games and that from these you can improve but also entertain yourself. Chess appreciation is really a very personal thing connected with the way we learn to understand the game itself. Even the most coached player has to get most of the way to chess understanding themselves.
Around 2007-8 it became clear to me that my approach to the TWIC website badly needed an upgrade. I qualified as an information scientist in the 1980s and I think that my rigor in naming sources and websites had served me well but the website which was all constructed by hand was a bit of disaster. I went through a process of teaching myself the latest thoughts on website markup, style-sheets, then databases through MySQL and programming in PHP. Then I had to choose a Content Management System (CMS), what I really wanted to do is integrate the chess information, links, dates etc into a CMS and eventually chose ModX and used both it's inbuilt functions and I added specially programmed modules to add the data.
After about 18 months of brutal study and work when the hours climbed until they became unsustainable at well over 100 hours a week, essentially I don't think I ever studied or worked so hard, much more than a degree really. After all this I had to produce a replacement for the cutour program that I'd used for years. In the end I brought all the extra work to an end before it killed me. I do think this process did give me a huge appreciation of the entirety of the business of data and websites and how they're connected, but also the real cost of producing a website in terms of man hours.
Around this time I introduced live games for the major events with a board and downloadable PGN which has been widely built on by others with bigger budgets than me but I'm grateful to Martin Bennedik for creating the first of such PGN readers which was ahead of its time. The TWIC website is heavily used by those wanting the games from major events in good shape straight after play finishes.
I also started writing again, somehow I'd slipped out of the habit of covering events in detail but the massive increase in live video coverage and commentary meant that writing sensibly about the game became very possible for me and far more enjoyable than the data processing that working on TWIC had become. If I were to point out my two golden chess eras during the life of TWIC it would be the mid-1990s when Kasparov battled the new generation of Anand, Shirov, Ivanchuk, Topalov and a very young Kramnik among others in events all over the world. There were just so many great tournamnets 1995-7. The second golden era for me has been the last five, we've had detailed video coverage and the rise of a new chess superstar in Magnus Carlsen. We've also finally had a return to more traditional chess values with a planned world championship cycle and in particular the new Candidates tournament. I know Fischer's title shots by heart, after the nonsense we had to put up with for many years professionals can again plan their title assaults. Chess careers can again have a narrative and all sports need this.
I've also started to use twitter, mostly as a kind of ticker for the most up to date chess news. I've enjoyed that and think it really has a place in good chess reporting.
Being a free games source of all the most important chess in the last 20 years has I hoped contributed to the development of chess throughout the world. TWIC was never conceived as a database website but the complete database is a more than respectable collection of professional chess in that era. I would say database programs have become more and more important in studying the game. The price of the hardware to run them has decreased to the point where almost everyone has them. I started TWIC on university computers and every new computer I've used has cost substantially less than the last. Progress in this area has been truly remarkable.
TWIC goes it alone
I doubt there are many who have escaped the economic downturn since 2008 and in the end my deal with the London Chess Centre and Malcolm Pein ended in 2012. Things could no longer continue on the same basis that we signed on in 1997 and I reluctantly decided that going it alone was the best option as I could look for other opportunities. It wasn't fair on Malcolm Pein and the London Chess Centre to bear all the costs of TWIC and it seemed to me that others were getting more benefit than he was and he deserves a lot of credit for this support.
One of the things I have done since TWIC that I have very much enjoyed is commentating on chess on ICC with various GM experts. Very much the highlight being the Candidates round 12 with David Smerdon which was an amazing 7 hours of history where two key games turned round in the final hour.
It is still in my mind that as one of the most long lasting workers on the internet I can offer projects inside and outside chess a huge amount of experience through the good times and the bad having done absolutely everything at one time or another and had to use my own creativity to get things done. I'm most certainly open to offers.
TWIC can continue on at reduced level or be expanded (I still have improvements that only await my implementation and the effort that involves), both are very much options. It certainly isn't going away any time soon. The last year whilst tough financially has been very rewarding professionally with so much great chess being played.
I wanted to make it to 1000 issues and probably 20 years before taking any irrevocable decisions. My impression is that the TWIC magazine and games each week is still well appreciated and used (perhaps disproportionately by professional writers and playes) and that it would be a shame to stop if 500-1000 people are prepared to support its continuation with donations that allow me to continue. In addition the main pages of TWIC with its coverage of the main events has seen very decent figures this year. In a small plea I would say now is a very good time to make donations or significant offers of sponsorship. I'm also open to suggestions for improvements to the website and publication.
I hope through TWIC mine has been an individual voice worth hearing. I believe chess is a great sport and the very latest games should at the very heart its appreciation. I also must thank the very many contributors who have sent news to me over the years or given me technical help. It has been quite a privilege to do this work.
Mark Crowther 6th Jan 2014
If you would like to support TWIC then you can do so via the PayPal button in the original article.