June 21, 2011 0:24

BBC's The Master Game on YouTube

The Master GameSeveral chess fans have pointed out to us that many episodes of the old BBC series The Master Game have been posted on YouTube. The series aired back in the 1970's/early 1980's and according to one fan, it's "probably the best chess show ever broadcast on terrestrial television". Now you can watch them (again).

The Master Game was a BBC production of televised chess tournaments that ran for seven series on BBC2 from 1976 to 1982. Presented by Jeremy James with expert analysis from Leonard Barden and, later, Bill Hartston, the show was highly regarded for its innovative style, in which a display board with animated figurines and move notation, shown centre-left of screen, was accompanied by footage of the players cogitating, their thoughts during the game heard in voice-over.

The Disco 78 version of Ennio Morricone's Come Maddalena was memorably used as the show's theme tune.

The Master Game's producer, Robert Toner, recalled previous work for the coverage of the Fischer-Spassky 1972 World Championship match:

“Marsland Gander, then TV critic of the Daily Telegraph, wrote, 'The manner in which the games are presented, with experts standing in front of magnetic boards, moving pieces by hand, shows that television has made no technical progress with chess for the past twenty years'. He was right – from that time I began to wrestle with the problem.”

The result was the creation of a special invitational knock-out tournament. The games were played away from the television studio, the audio recordings of the players' thoughts being made immediately afterwards. The players would later be filmed in a studio reconstruction of the game, made to match the audio recordings.

Added to this intensive, unorthodox production method were the ground-breaking animated board and pieces created by designer John Bone and the technicians at BBC Bristol. This effect was achieved using a glass chess table on which the moves were made by a cloaked and gloved player. The piece symbols seen on-screen were actually on the underside of the pieces themselves, which were filmed from beneath in reflection, to correct for the left/right reversal that resulted. In addition to this, the expert commentator could use an 'electronic pointer', illuminating the squares to graphically indicate the ideas being discussed. The effect that combining all of these elements produced had never been previously achieved and is remarkably similar to a high quality, digitally produced, modern multimedia chess presentation, yet was created using only puppetry techniques, fairy lights, mirrors and much editing.

Al Hughes wrote the above text for Wikipedia, which has more details about the different episodes. Mr Hughes wrote to us:

Recently, many episodes of the show have been kindly posted to YouTube from a collection of old recordings made off-air by a splendid gentleman (to use Jon Speelman's phrase) called Robert Radford. (...) Perhaps there is something that CV could do to publicise this resource of classic old chess footage?

It's indeed a wonderful show, so... absolutely! Here are a few videos embedded:






You can find many more videos of The Master Game on Sirb0b1's channel on YouTube.

Update: We received the following request. The 1983 series was never shown in England, only on German TV. We wonder if there are any German readers out there who have taped the 1983 series when it was shown there (dubbed!) and could put some of those shows on the net as well?

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


unknown's picture

I love vintage! Thanks a lot!

mark trajan's picture

I watched this programme when I was 11-14 years old. Although I wasn't good at strategy I loved the way it was presented and the clear enthusiasm of the presenters, their expert narration and analysis. It allowed me to see the potential depth of the game.
Loved it.

Al Hughes's picture

Thanks, chaps! I hope your readers enjoy these classic battles from a bygone era.



Jan's picture

Great stuff! Byrne-Korchnoi struck me as a very nice Korchnoi-win on the black side of a Winawer. I hadn't seen this one before.

columbo's picture

awsome !

Rob's picture

The channel of Chessnoir also has great vids.

bayde's picture

Sirbob, you win at the Internet.

Now if someone could only find tapes of VPW Cable 13's "The World of Chess" I'd die happy...

Johnny's picture

A treasure for any chess fan. Chess is uniquely and exceptionally well-suited for a point=of-view presentation. One wonders why televised poker has not attempted such a format. I would LOVE to see something like this in the present day with players like Carlsen, Anand, Aronian, and, well, any outspoken GM who is fluent in English. Forgive my American bias but Nakamura comes to mind.

Al Hughes's picture

Very good point about applying the technique to poker. This was done to an extent in book form with Gus Hansen's 'Every hand revealed' (which inspired a few modest contributions of my own on YouTube) but doing it with live footage and the thoughts of ALL the participants would be much better. One great difference, of course, between poker and chess is that nobody makes the WCC final without being an elite player, whereas, in poker, a good dose of short-term luck combined with a loose-aggressive style can see even an otherwise poor player to the WSOP final table. A lot of poker players who go into a long 'think' are just waiting for the right whim to happen along, rather than working through any Harrington-style structured hand analysis! (I've been a poker player and dealer for a decade, now, *sigh*) Hearing the thoughts of Phil Ivey set alongside those of 'Joe Blow from Idaho' as they play a pot together would be fascinating and likely hilarious.

I would love to see The Master Game return with Carlsen, Nakamura et al. participating but perhaps today's online chess coverage is just too good! The post-match analysis of the current King's tournament and the London Chess Classic, for example, just isn't that far off the mark, and the internet is tailor-made for this sort of thing ('niche' interests). I'm slightly sad about that. Hmmm.

Thanks again to RR for sharing his wonderful collection with us. I've wanted to see The Master Game again for many years and his generosity has given us all the opportunity. nh, wp!

noyb's picture
dmcw's picture

I very much enjoyed Dr John Nunn's hair in video 1!

The Master Game on the BBC was one of the things I remember that made me feel enthusiastic about chess when I was a child. Very nice to see these videos available.

Nasenkorrektur Dortmund's picture

I think this is among the most vital info for
me. And i am glad reading your article. But want to remark on few
general things, The web site style is great, the articles is
really nice : D. Good job, cheers

Peter Doggers's picture

We received the following request. The 1983 series was never shown in England, only on German TV. We wonder if there are any German readers out there who have taped the 1983 series when it was shown there (dubbed!) and could put some of those shows on the net as well?

Somrowsky's picture

isn't it fantastic? thx for re-discovering this!!

Erik Fokke's picture

Indeed, great stuff. Hope you get more of these intersting games woth players thoughts to us.

Erik Fokke's picture

Indeed, great stuff. Hope you get more of these interesting games to us with the players own thinking.

Erik Fokke's picture

Indeed, great stuff. Hope you get more of these interesting games to us with the players own thinking.
Is it possible to pool all of them together behind a button?

Robert Radford's picture

I am extremely pleased to have brought the 'Master Game Channel' to the world chess community, for the purpose of promoting chess, to those younger people who may wish to take up the game, and those who remember it, its also a trip down memory lane. I am grateful to the source who let me have the discs, and when they arrived and I watched them again, I just knew I could not keep them to myself like some collector of fine art. No, these rare gems were to be shared in the 'museum of chess' that is youtube. If I its possible to aquire any more material to add to the channel, I promise you I will.

Jonathan Berger's picture

Sadly, these episodes were removed from YouTube due to notice of copyright infringement in mid-December 2012.

I'm working to start an effort to make these old episodes available again more permanently. If you'd like to help, please get in touch. I'm maintaining a page about the effort on my personal site at baligu.com/the-master-game.html

ChessVibes, thanks for bringing light to this great historical treasure and hopefully we can preserve it for the future and for others to enjoy.

Michael Grayer's picture

Very sad to see that the BBC have arbitrarily decided to exercise their legal muscle on these episodes. It seems cynical to me that they should realise their popularity, largely through the archiving work of a fan, and then seek to cash in on that popularity 30 years after they were first broadcast, without having done anything with them in the mean time.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Master Game on youtube while the episodes were still available: they were entertaining and engrossing even to someone (like myself) who is pretty awful at chess.

I too hope that this unique example of sports broadcasting can be preserved. I would also be interested in seeing some of the BBCs similar "players give their thoughts as the game unfolds" coverage of Bridge that I remember being broadcast around that time.

Alexandre Freitas's picture

The videos were unfortunately removed from youtube. I can't understand who would claim the rights of a a show that has more than 30 years of being released. I loved those videos, if someone find it somewhere else please post the links. Thanks!

Zach's picture

Good news everyone! It looks like the BBC's had good reason for getting the videos taken down when they did. The Master Game is coming to DVD!



Don't know of any plans to release the other series. But this is a good start.

Igor's picture

I paid for this programs with my taxes then and I'm not going to pay again. 50£!
Something so valuable for the society through youtube transformed in a business for a small group.
So dissapointed with the BBC.

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