I have emphasised before on this blog that the chess world is about more than 2800-strength professional grandmasters, and that many people, whose playing skills are much. much lower still make an enormous contribution to our game, be it as organisers, arbiters, study and problem composers, etc. Most of them work for little or no financial reward, and, indeed, even put money into the game. All too frequently, it is only when they are gone that their contributions are recognised.
For the past 14 years, ever since the early days of chess on the internet, Mark Crowther's The Week in Chess has been an indispensable part of the life of almost every serious player. Indeed, its acronym TWIC is probably second only to MCO in the list of the most well-known acronyms in the chessplayer's lexicon. Every Monday evening for the past 14 years, Mark has posted, entirely free of charge, a file containing PGN downloads of the complete games of every significant event played in the chess world that week, along with a text file of results, crosstables and other news. Virtually every serious chessplayer, from Garry Kasparov downwards, has begun his Tuesday morning by downloading the latest TWIC and updating his personal database with the latest instalment of games. In many cases, the number of games runs into the thousands. Every chess magazine editor I know of uses TWIC to compile his magazine's round-up of the main national and international results.
Behind each issue of TWIC lies many, many hours of work, collecting and preparing game files. I know from my own very limited experience that tournament organisers around the world use a bewildering variety of file formats and text formats, in presenting their results. Each week, Mark would have to collect all these, and standardise them for presentation in TWIC. Nowadays a lot can be done with macros and other IT devices, but even so, it can often take a very long time to achieve the desired result, especially when it comes to standardising the spellings of players names.
Throughout the past 14 years, TWIC has been a free service. For some years now, Mark has received sponsorship from Malcolm Pein's Chess Centre, but even so, he has earned little more than a subsistence income from TWIC. Last night, however, he announced what appears to be the end of TWIC as we know it. His sponsorship agreement with Malcolm has come to an end, and Mark himself is looking at other ways to earn a living, including potentially non-chess internet sites. He says that TWIC will continue "in some form", but it seems that the TWIC we know and love will soon be no more.
It is a sad day for chess, but also a salutary lesson. Mark's announcement contains more than a hint of bitterness, when he refers to the way commercial organisations have taken his free output and used it for their own commercial products. And therein lies the lesson. The arrogant stinginess of the internet user, who demands, as of right, that he receive everything for nothing, and who is prepared to resort to any form of copyright theft in order to do so, inevitably means that online content providers will struggle to make a living. The only websites that can make money are those which provide free content to drive up visitor numbers and then use the latter to sell advertising. Ultimately, that is probably the path down which Mark should have taken TWIC. But this is not a model with which everyone is comfortable, and those who are not seem doomed to extinction.
Not any longer being a player or a magazine editor, I will feel the loss of TWIC less than most, but I am still sad about the news. It would be nice to think that the inherently stingy chessplayers of the world will learn the lesson and adjust their behaviour accordingly, but of course, they won't. Even so, on their behalf, I thank Mark Crowther for his outstanding contribution to the chess world over the last decade and a half, and I wish him well in whatever new endeavours he undertakes.