The Master Game



Jeremy James


Leonard Barden (1975-78)
William Hartston (1979-82)


BBC2, 25 June 1975 to 28 April 1982 (75 episodes in 7 series; see Trivia)


Chess competition featuring many of the world's best players competing for the Wedgewood Trophy and prize money - rising from £250 to £2500 as both money and the quality of competition inflated.

To make the show, a knockout chess tournament was played, with a generous time limit of about two hours per player. The basic idea was to film good chess and show the best bits, rather than show poor chess made to fit the slot.

As soon as each game had finished, the players went to the studio, and recounted their thoughts during the game. On a later date, they sat at a special board, set up as though they were playing in the studio.

Walter Browne (top, black, or in this case red-brown) plays Lothar Schmid in the 1980 final

The Master Game is also remembered for its clear graphics. The real chess pieces had symbols stuck to their base. By a combination of mirrors and video editing, and a chessboard display that lit up squares, the player and analyst could demonstrate their thinking.

Thirty years on, the show is still fondly recalled as perhaps the most successful attempt at televising chess (as also suggested by the fact that it ran for nearly a decade - in prime time, as well), thanks especially to its innovation of having the players provide their own commentary which was recorded after the game and edited in.


1975 William Hartston
1977 William Hartston
1978 Anatoly Karpov
1979 Bent Larsen
1980 Lothar Schmid
1981 Nigel Short
1982 Eric Lobron
1983 Tony Miles


Robert Toner devised the television coverage and tournament structure. He did not invent the game of chess.

Two tie-in books were published.

The 1981 and 1982 series have been released on DVD, and a box set combines both tournaments.


A series was recorded in 1982, intended for broadcast in 1983. Industrial action at the BBC meant the show never aired in the UK. We believe this series was dubbed and later broadcast in Germany.

The moves for each show were published on Ceefax page 259, starting a chess column that continued on the teletext service until 2010.

Moves were also published in next week's edition of The Listener magazine.


Two tie-in books were published.

The 1981 and 1982 series have been released on DVD, and a box set combines both tournaments.


Jeremy James and William Hartston, with the players at the table in the background


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