Chess Surges in Popularity Post-Pandemic


JaeHa (Justin) Kim and Davin Shin

Two opponents of intellect, seated across from each other, engaged in an intense battle of strategy and deceit. Their eyes fixed on the famed, checkered board, as they ponder each move with foresights and tactics. One wrong move. Checkmate. This is the intellectual world of chess, a game that has intrigued and challenged players for centuries. But now, it seems that the appeal of the game has unexpectedly attracted the attention of Gen Z.

As written by House of Staunton, chess, a classic game which has been around for some 1,400 years, initially arose in India during the sixth century CE, and the pieces originally represented military units which were commonly used at the time: calvary, infantry, elephants, chariots, generals, and a king. As chess spread through the Islamic World and into Europe, board pieces were modified, as well as the rules. Competitive playing styles rose during the second half of the 19th century, largely throughout Europe in the event of chess championships amongst “antique grandmasters.” Over the years, chess pieces have evolved to become known as the knight, bishop, rook, pawn, queen, and king, and competitive chess has soared since the introduction of online chess. 

In particular, the game has seen a rapid and ceaseless resurgence in popularity around the world ever since the COVID-19 pandemic. As many were stuck in their homes by themselves, they became lured into the world of chess. Many have also associated its rapid increase to the popularity of Netflix’s mini-series “The Queen’s Gambit”, with over 62 million households watching the series within the first month after it was released. Recently, the upward trend of chess has continued, where it now stands to become more popular than it ever has been. Chess games have rapidly surged among players in the real world, but more particularly on the website 

Since January of 2020, more than 102 million users have reportedly signed up with new accounts through the website, which is a drastic 238% increase (via WUFT News). In January of 2023, recorded its highest number of active users since its creation in 2005, with over ten million active users in a single day. Due to the sudden surge of players,’s servers have often crashed for many users and players have experienced many errors while playing online matches or solving Chess puzzles. As stated by ESPORTSgg, the roaring favor of has, in some ways, become overwhelming for users and creators to handle, occasionally preventing players from being able to play freely. 

The start of Carlsen vs Nakamura. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

In the current chess boom, chess content creators have been getting an immense amount of attention and views. Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen, for example, are well-known chess Grandmasters or International Masters, official titles that require a certain rating in chess to obtain. They livestream on platforms such as Twitch and post videos on YouTube. As of April 26, 2023, the 2023 World Chess Championship is ongoing, featuring Ding Liren of China and Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia. Levy Rozman, also known as GothamChess, is a chess content creator who is posting YouTube videos analyzing the World Chess Championship games. These videos have each received over one million views in under a day, often reaching top 20 videos in the Trending Gaming Videos list on YouTube.

Many people view chess as a hobby, while only a select few play chess professionally. The beauty of chess lies within its never-changing rules, as new and brilliant sequences of moves are found every day. Maybe the beauty of chess also comes from the challenge it provides. The game of chess is so hard to master, Albert Einstein once said that, “Chess holds its master in its own bonds, shaking the mind and brain so that the inner freedom of the very strongest must suffer.” Not only that, but chess is a game with many takeaways that are applicable to reality.

“Chess teaches valuable lessons,” according to Michael Gutnick, a journalist at PBS in Arizona. “The game suits all ages and all parties. Everyone has an equal opportunity to learn something new and hold onto it through their individual walks of life.”