NEW YORK – Chess fans from far and wide flooded into the sold-out World Chess Championship match in New York City Saturday and they were surprised — and many were furious — at how little they actually saw of the two grandmasters competing for the title.
The larger-than-sold-out crowd at Saturday’s second round of the 12-game match overwhelmed the accommodations at the Fulton Market building in the South Street Seaport area of Manhattan. That led to long lines and frazzled nerves among attendees who paid $75 for a ticket.
“This is the worst-organized event I’ve been to in my life,” said Carl Fisher of Brooklyn. “It’s a terrible disgrace.”
Fisher said he had been standing in line for more than an hour to get into the one room from which fans could see defending world champion Margnus Carlsen and challenger Sergey Karjakin, who were playing inside a glass-partitioned, soundproofed room.
The viewing room for fans has room for perhaps a few dozen at a time of the hundreds of attendees. For those not in the viewing room, there were two large lounge areas with bench seating or seating at tables, some of which had chess boards and pieces. But there weren’t enough seats for everyone, and the spectators’ only view of the two players in those rooms was by watching them on TV screens.
“I paid $75; may I please have a chair?” Anatoyl Shpirt demanded in an exchange with event organizers. They directed him to rows of chairs that had been hastily added and which quickly filled up.
Shpirt, 60, is a Russian native who lives in New Jersey, and who has attended two world championship matches in Moscow, where there was theater-style seating so all ticket holders could eyeball the players on stage continuously.
“I think it’s a ripoff,” said Shpirt, whose wife was with him. “Here, it’s like being in a fish market ... Definitely professionals should organize this match, not amateurs.”
At one point early in the game, more than 130 people were standing on line, awaiting their chance to get into the viewing room, Fisher among them.
“I’m 82 years old and there’s no place to sit,” Fisher said. “I should get my money back.”
In fact, organizers did offer to refund the ticket price to anyone who didn’t want to stand on line to see the players.
Organizers limited ticket sales to about 300 to 400 for each day of the 12-game match, but about 700 people showed up Saturday. That’s because hundreds of complementary tickets were given to schools and others, which were valid for any day of the match, and it turned out that most of the complementary tickets were used Saturday, said Andrew Murray-Watson, director of communications for the organizer, World Chess.
Organizers responded to the long lines for the viewing room by allocating time slots to people to enter the room, “so everyone gets a chance to see Sergey and Magnus playing” without having to stand in line, Murray-Watson said. That dramatically shortened the line. Free souvenirs also were given to those who had to queue.
“We are confident that these issues will not be repeated for future rounds,” he said.
The first round on Friday had nowhere near the size of Saturday’s crowd, and none of the organizational problems. Most of the remaining games will be played on weekdays, when crowds are likely to be lighter.
And not all fans were as upset as Fisher and Shpirt.
“Seeing them [Carlsen and Karjakin] in person is unbelievable for me,” said 18-year-old Joseph Kempsey, of Pearl River, N.Y.
And even Shpirt seemed not to regret coming to the event.
“I love chess so much I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life, anyway,” he said, smiling.
The game itself on Saturday ended in much the same way as the first round — with a draw.
At the postgame news conference, the players were almost apologetic for the lack of a decisive result.
“I ask for understanding that this is a long match and not every game will be fireworks,” Carlsen said.
Said Karjakin: “I believe we’ll have some fun games later on.”