By Max Davis-Housefield,
Senior Derek Wu moves a white pawn from e2 to e4, his favorite opening move. He shifts his mouse pointer away from the pawn and waits for the other player. President of the Davis High Chess Club, Wu is one of thousands playing virtual games of chess on chess.com.
During the pandemic, chess has managed to reach a wider audience. People can use online chess sites to improve their skills with players around the world.
Chess has also become a streaming phenomenon on sites like Twitch. As streaming allows more people to discover chess, the sport has thrived amid pandemic restrictions.
“Chess has a […] bright future,” said Sam Copeland, chess.com’s director of content.
Chess.com has seen more than 50,000 players signing up since the pandemic began. On their busiest days, they sometimes have more than two million players online.
“Chess has been growing exponentially,” Wu said. His online chess game is already halfway over, but it’s hard to tell who’s winning.
According to Wu, running the DHS chess club has been more challenging this year because “everything is harder to manage online.”
He is “very happy to see chess progress as a universal game.”
This is the first year the United Nations recognized July 20 as World Chess Day. The International Chess Federation, or FIDE, has recognized this day since 1966.
“On any given day, at any given time, you get online and there are literally tens of thousands of people with whom you can play,” said David Llada, the chief marketing and communications officer for FIDE. “On average, 16 million chess games are played online every day.”
But why has the pandemic driven many people to rediscover the game, or start playing for the first time? According to Llada, it is the game itself. “Chess poses a challenge, it allows you to compete from home and stay mentally active. It allows you to keep your instincts sharp.”
Copeland believes that chess’ online presence has also helped drive the increase in players.
“Millions of new people [are] trying, or retrying, chess as they search for online opportunities for mental stimulation, competition, and opportunities to learn.”
Copeland believes this chess boom will continue after the pandemic.
The game of chess can be especially appealing to children. “It is complex enough to develop many different skills, like calculation, decision making, creativity, memory… But at the same time, it remains simple enough to be learned and enjoyed by children of almost any age,” Llada said.
At chess.com, the most popular versions of the game are variations called Blitz and Bullet. These games are played with time limits ranging from 1 to 3 minutes per player per game. According to Llaya, these games can be “very exciting and addictive.” A normal game of chess can last up to eight hours.
Wu’s online game of chess is nearing an end. Victory is nearing as he lays the groundwork for his favorite winning maneuver, smothered mates. His opponent’s king is trapped by their own pieces at the corner of the board, and Wu is just about to take it out using his knight. Checkmate.