Check Mates

Chess has been around for centuries, and seems like it could have become a lost art in a world of faster, flashier digital games. However, the game evolved in the digital age and has blossomed into a wildly popular pastime among Paly students.

Check+Mates

Everywhere you go at Paly— whether it’s in class, on the quad, or in the lunch line – there’s always someone playing chess. It seems like chess has spread like wildfire across the school throughout the year. It may drive teachers crazy, but students are obsessed with challenging their friends to these high-intensity matches. 

The game has been around for over 1,400 years and with recent technological advances, players and viewers are able to hop on to any streaming platform and participate in chess. Chess started to become a dying game due to the rise of video games which drew in more consumers with their exhilarating content compared to chess’ slow-paced games. However, chess has been making a digital resurgence in the past few years.

Chess has become increasingly popular on the live video streaming service, Twitch. Streamers such as Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura play the game online, while the others like the Botez sisters stream games in public parks or against chess hustlers. These clips on Twitch are then uploaded to Youtube, which reaches an even wider audience as those videos on youtube bring in millions of views. All in all, the game of chess reaches countless viewers through multiple online viewing platforms.

Chess streamers also often watch tournaments featuring fellow streamers and commentate them, not so dissimilar from announcers at a sports game. These games and tournaments were available for all viewers, so Wesley Gan (‘23) was at the forefront of the chess media explosion. 

“Over the course of the pandemic, more people started to be on their digital devices and through different social media platforms such as Youtube and Twitch,” Gan said. “Chess rose in popularity with very famous entertainers playing it daily, and I heard that Queen’s Gambit on Netflix played a big role in chess’s popularity spike.”

In late 2020, Queen’s Gambit first aired on Netflix and quickly gained popularity amongst many age groups further popularizing chess. The series follows the journey of a young woman who started from nothing as an orphan but soon rose the ranks and ultimately competed against, and in many cases dominated, the best in the world.  The show sheds light on the experiences of being a woman in a male dominated game, especially because it was set in the 1960s, and shows her struggles as she becomes a chess champion. 

The show became a huge success, bringing in 62 million viewers in the first 28 days on Netflix, becoming the all-time most watched limited TV series on Netflix. One of these faithful viewers is Jia Hiremath (‘23). Hiremath watched the show when it first came out, and as an avid chess player, she sees Queen’s Gambit as a huge contributor to the resurgence of chess.

“It definitely made chess seem a lot more interesting to people since being good at chess has a connotation of being smart,” Hiremath said. “A lot of people started wanting to learn how to play.”

Cool, calm, and collected, the chess player is a lot like your typical athlete. The game is wholly based on a player’s strategies and experience, and “chess” is often used in sports slang when a coach or team is outplaying their opponents. There are even televised chess tournaments and events, which have very similar energy and competitiveness as any other sport in the world.

Some speculate whether chess should be considered a sport or not, arguing that it is just as time consuming and training intense as sports. Others think that the idea of chess being put on the same level as a physical sport like soccer or football is ridiculous. Nevertheless, while chess and sports have many intellectual similarities, Gopala Varadarajan (‘23), an avid chess player, separates the two on a physical level. 

“Contrary to many chess players’ beliefs, I don’t think chess should be considered a sport like soccer or basketball,” Varadarajan said. “It’s a different type of strength, it’s about mental and intellectual strength.”

Many are intimidated by the game because everyone seems to be an expert in it. To many beginners, chess can be a confusing mess when testing the waters of the game as there are numerous strategies to learn. From the Queen’s Gambit opening to the King’s Pawn opening, there are so many ways to play this game, but that  can be overwhelming for many.

No matter what sex, race, language, or religion you are, chess is the same no matter what. Everyone can enjoy it.”

— Eric Gabassoff ('22)

 Despite the focus and determination that all chess masters play with, chess is a welcoming community. Chess players are friendly and eager to share the game they love, and will gladly answer any questions you have about moves and strategies. Eric Gabassoff (‘22) has been playing chess for many years and only has good things to say about the community. 

“Most chess players are inclusive and welcoming,” Gabassoff said. “They want people to play chess no matter the skill level. No matter what sex, race, language, or religion you are, chess is the same no matter what. Everyone can enjoy it.”

Whether chess is to be considered a sport or not, this game has not only given students another hobby to enjoy, but also an opportunity to challenge themselves in becoming more thoughtful thinkers. The modernization of chess has made it more accessible to players across the globe ensuring that the game will continue to be a part of our lives.