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Kasparovchess 2.0

A new contender enters the premium market: A platform to train, watch and play chess is launched by the French media giant Vivendi and Garry Kasparov, reports Stefan Löffler.

Logo of kasparovchess.com in 1999–2002 on a signed poster
Logo of kasparovchess.com in 1999–2002 on a signed poster (photo: chessninja.com)

When kasparovchess.com launched on Thursday, insiders couldn’t help to notice that the domain is linked to one of the biggest bust stories of the chess business. During the dot.com boom in 1999, Garry Kasparov headlined a team that built a website in his name. The company had employees in Russia and the United States, but the oversized headquarter was in Israel, where also the main investors were.

Building a huge base of free subscribers who would be shown advertising seemed a viable business plan. By 2002 all the raised $13 million were burnt, and the company folded.

In 2000 Kasparovchess.com 1.0 ran the first world class online tournament. Building a huge base of free subscribers who would be shown advertising seemed a viable business plan. Only size and speed mattered, until the bubble burst within a year. Kasparov himself never received any payments and threw in $110,000 of his own to keep the company going. By 2002 all the raised $13 million were burnt, and the company folded. That wasn’t the end for Kasparov. On Christmas Day 2002 First International Bank of Israel filed a lawsuit in the court of Delaware. The bank tried to claim his name and picture rights to recoup a lost loan. Kasparov’s lawyer fought this off.

The first kasparovchess.com was a mix of news, playzone and lessons.
The first kasparovchess.com was a mix of news, playzone and lessons.

In the meantime, he has left competitive chess, entered Russian politics and the lecture circuit, relocated to New York City and became a Croatian citizen, but never lost his connection with chess. His new project goes back to a production of video chess lessons for Master Class. To access seven hours of Kasparov (and other celebrities on their field of expertise) you have to spend $200. Could he headline a dedicated chess site with a much more rounded offer?

When he visited the Paris event of the Grand Chess Tour, that is actually also his brainchild, he was introduced by organiser Gilles Betthaeuser to representatives of the sponsor Vivendi. The French media empire was keen on a chess project. In October 2019 Vivendi founded Keysquare and provided its subsidiary a capital of €3,5 million. Kasparovchess seems to be Keysquare’s first visible product.

During the Grand Chess Tour Kasparov was introduced by organiser Gilles Betthaeuser to representatives of the sponsor Vivendi, who were keen on a chess project.

The new Kasparovchess.com features many known players.
The new Kasparovchess.com features many known players.

The site’s simple logo shows the letter „k“ as if taken out of the Nada Fraktur font. As Kasparov told Techcrunch, the project has been in the making for years and more than 1000 videos have been captured. For the public launch at the end of April, 50,000 exercises and 700 lessons by different titled players or 400 hours of video are promised. While much is reserved for paying customers, there are also freebies like a podcast.

The first face you recognize in the trailer is not Kasparov but Vachier-Lagrave, but since the venture is French, it is not really a surprise. We can safely assume that the French number one and some compatriots will be among the contributors. Elsewhere, the Kasparovchess promotion shows chess personalities that used to be chess24 regulars. The arrival of another premium platform is good news for professionals with presentation skills. Competing platforms at least don’t get into a price war for now. Kasparovchess subscriptions will be prized at $13,99 per month or $119,99 per year, considerably higher than premium accounts on Chess.com and a tick higher than on chess24.

The promotion features faces familiar from chess24 like Sopiko Guramishvili and Jovanka Houska.
The promotion features faces familiar from chess24 like Sopiko Guramishvili and Jovanka Houska.