How is chess thriving in the era of videogames?

Chess is among the oldest games in the world. It is believed that it originated in its earliest form in India as early as the 6th century and from there on evolved until it reached its modern form around 1475. In the period that it took for chess to evolve more and more kingdoms discovered the game, through travel and commerce and, gradually, more people started playing it. By the time it reached its current form chess players were found in several Asian and European kingdoms. Today everyone knows chess, it is played in every continent of the world, and it is by most considered the most played game in the world both in the past and in the present.

But how?

How it did not only survive the digital era but on the contrary, is thriving in it? Some would think that such an old game has nothing to offer to younger generations but, on the contrary, children pick up chess at a higher rate than adults, they are young and eager to learn new things while adults may think it is too late to learn and never give it a proper try. Grandmaster (GM), a title given by the ‘Fédération Internationale des Échecs’ (FIDE) to the best players worldwide are the youngest ever. According to the same federation, the average age for GMs for people born after 1980 was 21 years old while for people born after 1990, the average age is 18 years old. The FIDE has also published a survey in 2016 that indicated that more than 600 million players play chess worldwide. Some other sources even state that the number exceeds 1 billion players.

But again, how?

Chess basic rules, the ones we need to play an elementary game of chess are straightforward and easy to learn and remember; remember how pieces move and learn when you can and when you cannot move them. This simpleness makes people want to give it a try and can hook them at the beginning, furthermore, winning a match against a tough player is very rewarding. The basics of the game are very simple, but the learning curve becomes exponentially steeper the more we learn, much steeper than most learning curves. The level of play of Super GMs -a virtual title given to the best Grandmasters that would deserve a higher title- is almost inhumane. The matches between Super GMs are incredible to watch, they can calculate what would happen in 20 or 30 moves if they move that rook there instead of there and they almost never make mistakes a ‘good’ move instead of a ‘perfect’ move is sometimes enough to lose a game when it comes to two Super GMs. The digital era as if anything helped chess grow. There are multiple chess websites and mobile apps that offer online player vs player (PvP) for free, and this can give access to the game to anyone that has a smartphone or a computer and internet connection. This, with the advent of ultra-cheap smartphones and free wi-fi, is a lot more common than not. To continue on the importance of technology for chess, I must expand on what I said above. Not only is chess more accessible thanks to computer and smartphones. Thanks to the simplicity of the game, virtually any existent computer and smartphone can run it; you do not require a 300$ console or a 1500$ PC or a 600$ smartphone to be able to play.

Moreover, I think there is a reason why chess is still played after a thousand years; it is an engaging, complex and fascinating game. It is the ultimate 100 IQ game, the one in which it is easier to appreciate brilliant moves and the one that rewards them the most. It is ultimately a game between two minds rather than two people.

Sources

Hooper, D., & Whyld, K. (1996). The Oxford companion to chess. Oxford University Press, USA.

Murray, H. J. R. (1913). A history of chess. Clarendon Press.

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1 Comment

  • ninabeik
    Posted October 7, 2020 at 3:13 pm 0Likes

    Very interesting topic, thanks for writing about it!
    I wanted to add, maybe another reason chess seems to be thriving is because some chess players are ‘evolving.’ iwth the times. As you said there are many online resources for chess, which is great, but the players themselves have also gone digital. Recently chess has become really popular on Twitch, with many chess streams reaching ten of thousands of watchers. Even huge mainstream video gaming streamers such as xQc and MoistCr1tikal were participating in tournaments online and streaming their games; leading to a new wave of interest to the game. People who otherwise wouldn’t be reached got to those amazing plays by GMs live. It was kind of a trend that did die down a little, but it is boosted interest and very much brought chess back into the mainstream!

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