As the global pandemic continues to define the new normal of staying at home and working in bed with your most comfy pajamas, tens of thousands of people have been turning to online chess as their “sporting escape.” Online chess streams have been one of the most influential in terms of bringing in more people into the game. For example, U.S. Chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura has taken over the Twitch chess community, where he hosts streams that feature thrilling fast-paced chess along with his engaging commentary. Similarly, Magnus Carlsen, the current world chess champion uses Youtube to stream his games which have drawn thousands of people into watching his videos and eventually learning to play the game themselves.
Chess.com, the most-used global chess app and website for online chess, expects a 10 years worth of growth to occur in the next few months. Their traffic has increased rapidly since the start of the pandemic, reaching close to 50 million members currently and about 9 million games being played every day. Developers and other staff have had to work overtime to maintain the servers and to cope with the traffic in general.
The different and newly emerging formats of the game make it an incredibly interesting and fun hobby to adopt. For instance, there is Blitz chess, the fastest format of the game, where each player has a limited time control (three minutes, five minutes, etc.) and if either player runs out of time, they automatically lose. Or Chess960, also known as Fischer Random - invented by chess legend Bobby Fischer, where the starting position and initial setup of the chess pieces are randomized. These unique formats completely disrupt the rather contentious public opinion of chess being a “dull” or “monotonous” game.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused most of the in-person chess tournaments to cancel. However, the rise of online chess has given rise to a new form of competition between top-level players. Most of the traditional tournaments have adopted an online version in order to let players take part and compete, with everything from commentary to the games themselves and even the post-match presentation and prize distribution being streamed online. It is truly remarkable how the digital revolution has enabled thousands of people in the chess world to come together during these tough times and still continue enjoying their favorite hobby.