Checkmate: Chess is back


Spencer White

Ten years ago people would be confused by this image, but now chess is hot.

Spencer White

Once a year during Thanksgiving, Grandpa Jones and Uncle Frank break out the chess board while the children watch football on TV. Now… chess is cool, and the kids are playing too. 

Three years ago, nobody talked about chess. It was a dead game, only for people who had too much free time on their hands. Now, has difficulty managing servers after a 238% user increase, a total of nearly 102 million new users. 

“Around three months ago I started to get into it after I had heard it was popular. I thought I should give it a go because, you know, why not? Maybe I could be good at it. So I just started to play a little every day to see if I could improve at all,” Jr. Reese Jungblut said.

“I’ve seen more students play chess this year than in past years,” instructor Andy Hamilton said.  “It’s great that students want to play chess, as long as it doesn’t replace school work.” As it turns out, Jungblut is not the only student at WOHS who enjoys the game of chess. Many students have all the sudden started playing chess every day. “There’s definitely something more behind this,” Hamilton said. 

As it turns out, social media played a big part in sparking his interest. “I had never really thought of playing until I was watching YouTube videos about chess games and puzzles, and different challenges people do to have fun. I know that there are things like chess boxing, where you have to fight someone in between playing a game of chess. Crazy things like that are what’s drawing people in,” Jungblut said.

Dozens of users on Reddit have commented on a thread about the recent growth in chess. Many of these Reddit users, like Jungblut, have mentioned online influencers as their source of inspiration to play, often connecting Ludwig’s chess boxing to the recent surge of chess players. 

Chess has even had some involvement in UCLA’s locker rooms during March Madness. “We like to think that we’re mature,” fifth-year senior Russell Stong said. “We like to keep our mind ready. And honestly you can apply chess to life and basketball a lot of the time. It’s really just keeping your mind sharp and thinking outside of the box. The answer is always on the board. It’s just a matter of finding that answer in the right moment.”

Even the popular show The Queen’s Gambit has been mentioned as inspiration for playing chess. According to The New York Times, “From October 2020 to April 2022, saw their number of monthly active users double from roughly 8 million to nearly 17 million.” Taking the recent COVID-19 lockdown into consideration, the widespread popularity of chess via online content makes perfect sense if people have a a lot of time to search for entertainment.

COVID-19 is certainly the catalyst for many new chess players. On top of The Queen’s Gambit releasing in 2020, mandated lockdowns were in effect that forced people to find entertainment. With nothing to do during the lockdown, many people watched The Queen’s Gambit and pulled out the dusty chess board to play a match with a relative. became a sanctuary for those who were interested in playing a game of chess, but needed an opponent.

Photo taken by Spencer White

While The Queen’s Gambit is responsible for many new chess players; online influence, mainly streamers and even some controversial figures, seem to be the biggest contributors to this change. Quite recently, many controversial figures have bought the game of chess to light along with their radical opinions. Regardless of whether these people are loved or hated, these online influencers have given chess the same amount of attention that they themselves gained. 

Even the YouTube algorithm has been mentioned as a possible cause for inspiration. For those who don’t know, YouTube executives can use an algorithm to push certain content into the main feed of people’s accounts, influencing a viewer’s decision on what to watch. Many wonder how this action could possibly benefit YouTube, as they seem to gain nothing from it. However, some people suspect that YouTube does this because of how the game of chess can cause people to want to improve their game. 

After losing a chess match, many people can become frustrated and want to improve their chess-playing strategy. This can especially be true for new players, who barely know the game of chess but still have fun winning. “I never really played that much because I didn’t have a great grasp on the concept of the game. Well, I still don’t, really. But I at least have some fun playing now. Sometimes. It can get really frustrating,” Jungblut said.

The solution to this problem: YouTube videos. That’s where people go to learn practically everything. This is the reason as to why the YouTube algorithm promotes chess content in the first place. If they can get people to start playing chess, those same people will most likely watch more chess videos in order to learn more about the game. This in turn creates a cycle where YouTube gains more views, earns more money, and creates more chess content; chess gains popularity in the process. 

The distinct complexity offered by the scenarios of chess is what many people are playing for. Videos and short clips on social media showing unique chess plays and impressive strategies inspire people to play a match. It’s quite ironic; a few years ago nobody played chess because social media offered better entertainment. Now, social media is actively publicizing chess matches, and making it popular again. 

Compared to online games and youtube videos, chess is a healthier distraction students can adhere to during class. While teachers may get frustrated with students becoming distracted during class, chess allows teachers a silver lining. So when it comes to the various types of distractions students face, checkmate: in favor of chess.