In case you missed it, October 14, 2023, was National Chess Day. The board game was once considered the realm of the so-called "intelligent" or "nerdy" community. However, over the past few years, chess has become a "cool" sport that can be played by people of all ages and skill levels.
The rising popularity of the 1,500-year-old game is being attributed to several factors.
The COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill in 2020. With lockdowns in place, people began to look for new hobbies. Gaming, both offline and online, experienced the biggest surge.
While chess was among the popular ones, the Netflix miniseries The Queen's Gambit really spiked interest in the game. CNN estimates that following its October 2020 release, the sales of chess sets went up by 87 percent, while those of chess books rose a staggering 603 percent. The show also drove millions to online chess sites. From October 2020 to April 2022, Chess.com saw its monthly active users double from roughly 8 million to nearly 17 million.
Erik Allebest, CEO of Chess.com, told The New York Times, "Everyone loved Beth Harmon (well, or loved Anya Taylor-Joy), and the show was a huge success. I guess having Anya visualizing chess moves on the ceiling made everyone intrigued, and people started searching for where to play chess online."
Content creators and social media
Several content creators on various online platforms took advantage of this increased interest in chess. They streamed online chess games and provided engaging commentary to complement the viewing experience.
Even two of the world's biggest soccer stars, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, got into the "game." In November 2022, the two superstars were seen pondering over a complex chess move. While the photo was for a campaign for French luxury goods maker Louis Vuitton, it caught the world's attention.
In December 2022, YouTuber Ludwig Ahgren added to the game's rising popularity by hosting a chess boxing competition. Millions of people watched the live-streamed event. True to its name, chess boxing requires participants to alternate between playing rapid chess and boxing. The game ends with either a checkmate on the board or a knockout in the boxing ring.
Post COVID-19 trends
Chess continues to be popular in the post-pandemic world. On December 31, 2022, Chess.com surpassed seven million active users online in a single day for the first time in its 18-year existence. On January 20, 2023, that number skyrocketed to 10 million active users! While the growth has slowed down since, the trends remain healthy.
Even more interesting is that kids are responsible for much of the growth. Elementary, middle, and high school students across the US have been seen playing chess on phones between classes and during lunch and recess. Many even try to sneak in a move or two during class.
If you are among the minority that has yet to explore chess, it is not too late. Grab a family member, friend, or neighbor, and get started! Or better still, start a chess club at school and get all your classmates involved!
Happy National Chess Day!
Resources: Polygon.com, NewYorktimes.com, Chess.com, CNN.com