Who reads the Chess and Music blog?

A post to celebrate views from 100 different countries

Since starting this blog in July 2017, one of my great diversions has become looking at the “Statistics” page for the blog (readers may infer from this that I lack sufficient stimulation, or indeed that I am too easily diverted). This week, on 8 October 2019, my heart leapt to see that someone had accessed the blog from Botswana. That reader, whoever she or he is, had made Botswana the 100th country to have accessed the blog.

https://Chessandmusic.wordpress.com was my first foray into the world of blogging, and from the beginning I was surprised at the number of views my posts attracted, and especially the variety of countries from which they came. So this post is not much about either chess or music, but offers instead a little bit of thought and analysis concerning my readers. Since you are one of them, I hope that you will accept the dedication of this post to you.

Whom are the posts written for?

Shortly after I began the blog, I was asked this question by the organiser of a weekend chess tournament in which I was competing. I replied that I wrote them for myself. This is the sort of reply typical of an academic, at least in Humanities research, where most projects begin from a desire to find out more about something the researcher thinks is interesting, rather than from the desire to serve the needs of others. It was remarkably like the answer I once heard a composer give to the question, “Who is your intended audience?”, which was, “I write music for myself. If anyone else likes it, that’s a bonus.”

As one of my readers, then, you are eavesdropping on things I happen to think are interesting to discuss. This conveniently lets me off most of the responsibilities an author should have towards his or her readers. However, this answer to the question I was asked is also disingenuous: I do have a fairly clear idea of the sort of person I write for. They have an interest in both chess and music (obviously), but they are not a specialist in either; I try to explain any technical musical terms I feel I need to use, I am careful to give plenty of diagrams to indicate chess moves, I don’t assume that readers can understand music notation, and I always give chess moves notated both in algebraic (1.Nf3 d5) and descriptive (1.N-KB3 P-Q4) chess notation.

Fischer Reshevsky move 10B arrow
I was  very pleased when I hit on the idea of using arrows to indicate chess moves

In today’s academic world (at least in the UK), a great deal more importance is now given to “public engagement”, activities which seek to bring the fruits of academic research to a wide popular audience.

Proms pre-concert talk 12 Aug 2016
I took part in a pre-concert panel discussion for the BBC Proms in 2016. I managed to mention the fact that Schumann taught Brahms how to play chess.

Public engagement is a much less strong tradition in the UK than in, say, France, where intellectuals such as Roland Barthes or Jean-Paul Sartre naturally wrote columns in national newspapers. It is something I welcome, and as my colleagues know well, I am very unlikely ever to refuse invitations to give pre-concert talks and the like. To a great extent, this blog is, in my mind, an extension of this public engagement activity, with the added advantage that I am not compelled to do it unless I happen to feel like it. The topics I choose are indeed driven entirely by things that happen to interest me. Some of them have come close to my professional research interests: I have always been slightly disappointed that one of the least-read of my posts is Is writing in sonata form like playing chess?, which was one of the topics I most wanted to write about when I had the idea of the blog in the first place. On the other hand, the two-part investigation of John Cage’s friendship with Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and his musical chess pieces: Part One and John Cage and his musical chess pieces: Part Two, comes quite close to counting as genuine academic research, and I am considering writing an article for publication combining and expanding the posts.

Who actually reads the blog?

When I began, I assumed that the majority of my readers would be those who knew me personally, especially fellow-players at my chess club who couldn’t escape my constant mentions of it. Indeed, several of my club-mates are fine musicians, as I think is likely to be the case in any chess club you might select in the world, so I thought they in particular might enjoy eavesdropping on my thoughts about the two realms.

The reality turned out enormously to exceed whatever expectations I had. One nice thing was that I discovered that some friends I had known for years had a previously undiscovered interest in chess. But most of my readers are, evidently, completely unknown to me. Clearly, the internet search “Chess and Music” is one that quite a lot of people perform. And while I know that many who visit the blog never return − there are many whole countries represented only be a single view – some readers obviously do come back, and each new post creates a satisfying spike in the statistics.

Unlike my posts to other social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, very few of my readers ever comment on or “like” these blog posts. Even fewer contact me via the “contact” page. So I have little to go on to work out who the majority of you are. What I have noticed is that the posts mentioning well-known names receive the most attention, and that famous composers attract more views than famous chess players. Top of the list comes Did Beethoven play chess?, somewhat sadly, since it concludes that Beethoven did not.

Some readers obviously come to the blog via very specific internet searches. One very popular item for views is the image of Bob Dylan playing chess. No matter to me, of course, where my readers come from. It is quite enough if just a few of them stick around to read some of the other stuff in the blog.

One of the few readers whose identity I do know, however, is called Miguel Angel San Jose, and is the reader who has led to the most surprising development yet, from my point of view, in the (short) history of the blog. He contacted me the day after I had noticed a sudden flurry of views of posts from Spain, to introduce himself as the editor of a Madrid-based cultural journal called El Rapto de Europa (The Abduction of Europa). 

El rapto de Europa

To my absolute astonishment, he asked if he could translate my post Schoenberg’s Coalition Chess and publish it in the next issue of the journal. 

Rembrandt Abduction of Europa (Wikimedia commons)
El rapto de Europa (Rembrandt). Image: Wikimedia commons

In a state of some shock, I of course readily agreed. I will duly give details of the publication when it appears (which I understand to be quite soon). The whole issue is dedicated to chess as a cultural activity, so there are bound to be many articles in it to appeal to readers of this blog, as long as they can read Spanish.

Are those views really from 100 different countries?

I base my count of different countries to have viewed the blog on the WordPress statistics, which clearly label them as “countries”. My teenage son has been immensely helpful in curbing my triumphalism over each new country to join my “Statistics” list by pointing out that not all of these places really count as countries. Indeed, he cautions me to be duly sceptical about what constitutes a country at all – this is a tricky question, for which his (and my) authority is the inimitable C. G. P. Grey:

Urging a careful approach to sensitive geo-political questions is of course no more than filial duty as far as my teenager is concerned, and I am indeed grateful to him. These disputes began after a view of the blog from Puerto Rico, which he insisted does not count as a country, any more than American Samoa, both of them unincorporated territories of the United States. Then there are areas regarded as independent countries by some but not all – the Palestinian Territories; Taiwan; Hong Kong SAR China; none of them has a seat at the United Nations, but all have a demonstrable interest in chess and music.

This leads me to the views which WordPress insists come from “The European Union”, about which I decided to add a footnote to the home page of the blog. Far be it from me to deny that the EU exists, but it really is not a “country”, whatever the aspirations of EU federalists or the scaremongering of their opponents. Views from individual member states all get listed separately, and I am proud to say that my blog has been viewed from 27 of the 28 member states of the EU (at the time of writing, there are still 28). The only exception is the smallest EU state, Malta. For a while I hoped that these “European Union” views perhaps came from Vatican City – there were persistent rumours that Pope John Paul II participated in online chess games, although this has been widely doubted; I have no knowledge of whether either of the two living Holy Fathers enjoy the game. However, I suspect the truth is more prosaic, and that these views “from the EU” come from computers using the “.eu” country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD), which is an exception to most internet country codes, like so many things associated with the EU.

So, if I reluctantly exclude all those disputable countries, I am left with only 94 of the 193 members of the United Nations – less than half the total. Nevertheless, I take genuine pride in some of the places I have reached: tiny Palau; the Bahamas, within a month of the devastation caused by hurricane Dorian; places with very few English-speaking inhabitants such as Albania, Belarus and Kazakhstan. They are very welcome, one and all.

Can I really have a free pen?

Chess and Music Blog pen

I am rather fascinated by the world of personalised merchandise, as those who have competed alongside or against me know. I discovered, in time for the beginning of my second chess season for my current club, that it is actually relatively inexpensive to have your own t-shirt or polo shirt printed.


Lasker Keep Calm polo back
My rather unoriginal first personalised polo shirt (Lasker’s dictum, “Without error there can be no brilliancy” appears on the front)

Following on from this, a fellow club member asked me to design a team shirt for the annual Oxfordshire League knockout competition, with the following result:

Cowley Cutlers (red) front
The shirt of the Cowley Cutlers (purveyors of pins, forks and skewers)

Some of my readers already have one of the blog-themed pens I designed in an idle moment of self-promotion, complete with a typo only pointed out to me this week. Having had to buy quite a few in order to make their item price reasonable, I am perfectly happy to give them to anyone who shows the slightest interest in this blog, with the proviso that I will only do this in person – so don’t write and ask, unless you are offering a substantial sum for my trouble.

However, if you do run into me in RL, I am more than happy to hand them out. One of my fellow Cowley Cutler team-mates assures me that his results have significantly improved since he started using the pen to record his moves during games.

One of the pens properly used

To conclude: many thanks. Whoever you are, and for whatever reason you have read this post, I am very touched to know that you have. If you want to let me know more about why you are here and what you think you get out of it, please use the contact page.

Author: Robert Samuels

I teach music for The Open University and play chess for Cowley Chess Club in the Oxfordshire Chess League.

2 thoughts on “Who reads the Chess and Music blog?”

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