2020 has thrown a lot of curveballs at us but probably the most pleasant though nonetheless surprising is the resurgence of one of the world’s oldest games, Chess, in the cultural mainstream. This new renaissance is attributed to many individual factors such as the illustrious chess prodigy Hikaru Nakamura taking to Twitch, the rise of Chess.com, and of course, the popular Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit reinvigorating interest in the age-old sport. Together these factors converged and coalesced into the perfect storm for the return of Chess. Today, we’re playing the role of storm chaser as we take a look at how one of the world’s oldest games is new again.
While obviously not enjoying the prevalence and popularity that it has today, the sport of Chess has always been around. It has always had its share of prestige and fame drawing loyal fans and spectators of the sport unwaveringly throughout the years. The sport has also produced its own superstars and personalities such as Magnus Carlsen and our country’s very own Wesley So but perhaps no other chess personality has been more influential to bringing chess into the modern-day than chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura.
Hikaru Nakamura is a chess prodigy in his own right, having set several “youngest-ever” records in US Chess history, being a five-time United States Chess Champion and representing the US in the Chess Olympiad bagging a team Gold medal and two team bronzes. Recently though, Nakamura made great strides for the sport by bringing it to a whole new platform by streaming on Twitch in 2018 under the handle GMHikaru. There, he would play against other fellow grandmasters as well as other streamers and subscribers. Oftentimes, Hikaru would play for the sheer entertainment factor of it utilizing several “joke openings”, playing with handicaps and even blindfolded.
With Chess moving to the digital space in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sport would flourish on Twitch. It quickly and unprecedentedly soared to the top of the twitch categories within shouting distance of widely popular multiplayer games such as Fortnite, Overwatch, and Rainbow Six Siege. At the time of this writing, Chess has a whopping over one million followers on the streaming platform who frequently watch and play the game. The groundwork for this as well as its eventual blossom is widely attributed to Hikaru.
Hikaru also mounted PogChamps, an online-only amateur chess tournament on Twitch where it briefly became the most viewed live stream that day. Hikaru has also inspired and mentored a new crop of Chess content creators such as MoistCr1tikal, GothamChess, and as well as surprisingly enough former professional Overwatch player xQc. Several traditional chess stars have also followed Nakamura’s footsteps including GMNaroditsky and the sisters Alexandra and Andrea Botez, who’ve also come to Twitch to spread their love of chess.
In August this year, Hikaru became the first chess player to be signed into a professional esports team with his joining to Team SoloMid added to his stellar list of groundbreaking achievements and breaking boundaries to lead the chess charge into the digital future.
If GMHikaru and the others are the captains of this revolutionary voyage and Twitch is the vast open sea then Chess.com is their flagship vessel. In addition to giving players the ability to connect and play with other people from all around the globe through its simple and intuitive interface, Chess.com goes above and beyond by having a wide array of cool tools and features that help you learn the game and keep track of your favorite tournaments and personalities.
Probably one of the coolest features in Chess.com is the ability to replay and analyse your matches using its sophisticated software to show blunders, mistakes, and missed wins as well as recommend what would have been the better move in each situation. The feature also shows a graph of how a match went according to advantage and shows specific key moments that turned the tide of battle. It’s a cool little learning tool that goes a long way in helping you improve your game. The functionality is only available to free account users for only one game a day but will have unlimited access to it if you upgrade to a premium account.
Chess.com also has other learning tools at its disposal such as various lessons and drills for different levels and daily puzzles challenges to sharpen your problem solving skills. The lessons are crafted and curated by the Chess.com team sometimes in cooperation with their partner grandmasters. These lessons include the fundamentals of Chess like opening principles, reading the board, and finding checkmates and they’re presented in a fun and straightforward way that makes learning the game of Chess easy and enjoyable. Both these features come at different levels so that there’s always something for different players of different skill levels. Just like the analysis feature though, these tools exist in a limited capacity for free accounts but are unlimited for premium users.
Chess.com also has a variety of interesting game modes that introduce new ways to play the game, these include chess variants and an insanely chaotic chess 4-player free-for-all.
Best of all, Chess.com packs all these fun things into its app version as well so you take it with you wherever you go–which means you can’t take it to the loo because hopefully, you don’t have to leave your house in this day and age.
The final piece of the explosive return of Chess is none other than the critically acclaimed Netflix mini-series The Queen’s Gambit. The show is an adaptation of Walter Tevis‘s 1983 novel bearing the same title, helmed by Scott Frank and Allan Scott and starring the stellar Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, a young chess prodigy in 1950s America who falls in love with the game while also struggling with substance abuse.
The miniseries was an absolute hit sitting at a 99% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer and 96% Audience score. On review aggregator site Metacritic, The Queen’s Gambit has a Metascore of 79 out of 100. The show that has attracted more than 62 million viewers has also gotten praise from the chess community with its portrayal of Chess as well as the emotions that players feel while playing.
The Queen’s Gambit captivated so many people with its story that it prompted many to learn to play the game of Chess. Since the release of the miniseries, Chess.com has stated that its new users have ballooned to at least 400%. The influx of new users has caused the site’s infrastructure to warrant fortification just because it wasn’t prepared to handle the sheer volume of Chess-hungry people. There’s also data that suggests that the sales of Chess boards have gotten significantly higher as of the series’ release as reported by NPR as well as online retailer eBay
All in all, That’s more a whole heck of a lot of new minds that have dove into the game and hopefully found a new favorite in an old game.
What’s even better to think about is that with the type of unprecedented and explosive growth Chess has gotten this year, somewhere out there, there’s bound to be the next pioneering chess streamer, the inventor of an application to surpass Chess.com, or even a visionary director ready to inspire yet another new crop of Chess lovers. Then the timer is dialed back, the board is reset and the game begins anew.
That about does it for our look back in the return of Chess! How did you discover the game? Were you and avid chess stalwart or you part of the new breed? Let us know in the comments below.
For more fun articles check out There’s a Cobrai Kai Game and I Can Not Deal and How I Became The Perfect Wrestling Fan in the WWE Thunderdome
And while you’re at it leave us a like on the GG Network Facebook Page so we can keep you entertained with more videogames and geek stuff! Take care and stay safe out there!
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