Work of art or outrageous design? Controversial World Championships logo leaves chess fraternity divided

It is no secret that the few times chess has received global attention from the mainstream media, it has had something to do with the eccentricity of a person connected with the game (from a former world champion to the current head of a major chess organisation) or the historical significance of an event vis-à-vis the political atmosphere of its time (such as Soviet Communism versus American capitalism/democracy). On 20th December, however, something as innocuous as a logo turned the chess world upside down and the rest of the world was quick to notice and chuckle along.

Though the visual branding for the World Championship match to be held in London in November 2018 had been unveiled earlier, the controversy surrounding the logo that looked like two chess players with their legs wrapped around each other only snowballed into a global phenom on Wednesday when publications such as The Telegraph, BBC, USA Today, Sony ESPN, Yahoo Sports and even RT ran their own versions of how the logo was deemed too sexual by the world's top players.


In a statement to unveil the new logo, the organisers wrote, “Key visual for the 2018 World Chess Championship is controversial and trendy, just like the host city.”

Not one to miss a beat, our own Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand led the amused army, tweeting a link to an ESPN piece hilariously titled 'World Championship logo puts chess in ‘odd position’’.

In the same article, he was quoted as saying, “In the end, people watch chess for the games. I’m hoping this doesn’t end up pushing us into late night TV.”

Grandmaster Susan Polgar failed to see the humorous side, bringing up the subject of whether such a logo would be appropriate for the many children following the World Chess Championship on Twitter.

Chess world’s most popular photographer, David Llada, was one of few celebs to speak out in favour of the design.

To this, three-time Kyrgyz women’s national champion Alexandra Samaganova replied, “This is not art :D”

Some of the more common observations of online commentators revolved around the pun “pawn-ography” and how much the logo looked like a position from the Kama Sutra, an ancient Indian text known for its racy depictions of sexual intercourse.

Having been a full-time graphic designer for many years before chess became my calling, I find it appalling that the organisers of the most important event of 2018 would celebrate the controversy going viral — in their own words on Facebook, “Chess has finally made it into the Cut. And Digg. And Daily Mail. And Telegraph. The Championship match in London is going to be WOW!” — instead of trying to fix the damage done to its image. I’m all for cutting-edge design, especially in the staid world of chess, but this logo isn’t edgy or sexy or bold, its plain garbage.

In design school, one of the first lessons I learnt was that good design always begins with a concept. With this logo, I fail to see any.

Also, a somewhat literal translation of two people playing chess isn’t exactly trendy, is it? Maybe the idea of a 36-squared board was supposed to make it stand out? Of all the poorly placed elements of this work of “art”, the most visually offensive has to be the patterns — stars and stripes for the male player and a checkered pattern for the female except on a very odd, sock-like area on her right foot — used to depict the players’ bodies. Even an abstract representation of chess juxtaposed against London-inspired iconography would have been more worthy of a for-sale poster than this rubbish. Quite frankly, it’s disappointing.

Paras Gudka, is a graphic designer and an author for ChessBase India

Updated Date: Dec 21, 2017 15:43 PM

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