There are many wild and wonderful facts concerning chess; there are more numbers of possible games than there are atoms in the universe for example, or the Deep Blue supercomputer that beat Gary Kasparov in 1997 could sift through 200 million options per second. The only hard fact you need to know however is that right now, across the world, a Chess Revolution is taking place.
The big crowd tournaments are gone, silenced by the global pandemic. But new battlefields have been drawn up and table-top wars are in play in millions of kitchens, bedrooms, studies and gardens, from Bolton to Beijing. Forget football, forget F1, forget golf. The big money, the world champions and the global eyeballs are all centred around online chess.
Leading the big money game market is world number one, Magnus Carlsen from Norway. Not content to wait until 2021 to defend his title, Carlsen has set up The Carlsen Series, a $1M series of online tournaments, the first of which has already been played as an invitational event that saw a fast game final between Carlsen and American, Hikaru Nakurama (the Norwegian triumphed).
Right behind Carlsen comes the $180K Online Nations Cup, involving essentially every Grandmaster except Carlsen (36 of the world’s top players including Kasparov), and the team games are happening right now, with China pulling away from Europe, USA and Russia.
But perhaps one of the more interesting side-notes to the chess explosion is the ability of the online server hosts to follow the coronavirus as it spreads around the world. In a recent New York Times article, the online chess platform chess.com is said to have experienced five years of growth in three months and their chief chess officer Daniel Rensch points out that there’s a direct correlation between platform signs-ups and city lockdowns: “It has been sad in a way, because you could see it move country by country. Italy went from 4,000 (sign-ups) per day to 10,000 and it just swept across as different countries dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Chess has always had its champions and celebrities have long done their fair share of social media chess posts to show the deeper side of their personalities. But although fans can’t get enough of the formidable Guy Ritchie playing Robert Downey Jr and Jason Statham on films sets, or Lennox Lewis insisting he’s better than Piers Morgan and Arnie playing against his donkey (ok, not so deep), it could be down to a global pandemic to catapult chess into a new era of unprecedented popularity.