Chess and the Internet: A match made in heaven | cricket


A galaxy of chess stars has begun to gather in Mahabalipuram for the 44th edition of the Chess Olympiad which begins on Friday. And given the deliberate effort that has been made to promote the event – Olympiad posters and billboards have been ubiquitous in Chennai and neighboring districts in recent weeks – some of the top players may be garnering more attention than they would expect.

One of them is Dutch Grandmaster (GM) Anish Giri, a world No. 10 who has not dropped his FIDE count below 2700 for almost a decade. It’s a level of consistency that all top players strive for. But until two years ago, Giri himself would probably admit that he was unknown to many outside the chess community, showing the importance of the mind game to the general public.

However, since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, chess has gained popularity, especially among younger viewers. On Twitch – an American live-streaming gaming platform – the average daily chess viewership increased gradually from around 1,000 in March 2020 to peaking at around 55,000 in February 2021. Since then, the numbers have stabilized, but are still much higher than before the pandemic.

Not only have the top players seamlessly transitioned to online chess, but they have discovered that live streaming could be a way to connect with their followers and attract new members. Giri, 28, for example, launched his YouTube channel after Covid and has since gained 174,000 subscribers.

There are more prominent examples such as Japanese-American Hikaru Nakamura, whose earnings are estimated at $50 million by Madrid newspaper El Pais. He is currently considered to be the richest chess player in the world and most of his earnings come from streaming his games on platforms like YouTube and Twitch. He has 1.32 million subscribers on YouTube and about the same on Twitch, where he had just 400,000 followers when the pandemic began.

The release in October 2020 of The Queen’s Gambit, a Netflix mini-series chronicling the life of a female chess prodigy as she navigates alcohol and drug addiction, was another turning point for chess. Within four weeks, it became the streaming platform’s most watched fictional miniseries.

“It (streaming) has helped bring chess to a younger audience, which is very important in the long run,” Giri said during a virtual interaction on Wednesday ahead of the 44th Chess Olympiad. “I used to be recognized earlier, which wasn’t often, mostly by people of (Bobby) Fischer’s generation. Now I’m mostly recognized by people my age. You know chess from streams and YouTube. It’s important to engage that audience.

“It’s going to be a slow process. It’s not like the chess landscape changed overnight, but some online platforms like chess24 and are growing and getting much stronger. They develop their own events like (Magnus) Carlsen’s Champions Chess Tour by chess24. The rise of online followers has been a great development for chess.”

According to Giri, the internet has made learning chess “more accessible” to a wider range of countries, thereby bridging the gap between the best chess-playing nations and the smaller ones.

“You used to need access to books. Most of the players were from the Soviet Union and the books would be in Russian. If you wanted to learn, you had to get these books and translate them. It was hard to learn chess quickly. The transition is thanks to the internet,” said Giri, whose Russian mother and Nepalese-Indian father settled in the Netherlands in 2008. “Players have come from places where chess didn’t exist. Like Carlsen from Norway. The Internet gave him access to databases and training material as a child. We now see top players from random countries. Chess is booming in more and more countries and is becoming more diverse. Uzbekistan and Iran, for example, have some very promising young talent.”


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