Chess is exploding in popularity. Why is it so popular all of a sudden?


Sam Maney

Queen of glass chess set

Since the beginning of December, reported that traffic on their site has doubled. 14 million people play online per day and  Sentinel’s chess club has lately had many more people attending. Why the sudden popularity? 

Chess really started taking off again when Netflix released the series “Queen’s Gambit”, about an orphan chess prodigy. The show instantly gained popularity upon its release. It came out in 2020. The mainstream show about chess was most of the reason, if not all, that sales of chess sets went up by 215%. With people in lockdown during this time, there was still a desire to play chess competitively. They couldn’t really do it in person, because of all the restrictions and safety hazards, so people gravitated to online chess so they could keep playing. 

Another big factor that helped boost chess popularity was the PogChamps tournament. In this 2020 competition, streamers from all over the world participated in an online chess bracket. All of the games were live streamed on twitch, and watched by thousands of people. PogChamps 3 in 2021 had 375,000 concurrent viewers.

Online chess was publicized by the PogChamps tournaments. People watched these tournaments and found out how easy it was to play chess, now that you don’t have to find someone in person to play with. At any given time online, there’s thousands of people looking for a game. Whenever you want to play, you can. Accessibility is why chess is so popular right now. 

Another event in the chess world that received a lot of attention was the Magnus Carlsen scandal. It started in September of 2022, when Magnus was playing Hans Niemann in the Sinquefield Cup.  Magnus dropped out of the tournament promptly after losing to Niemann. Many speculated that Magnus was accusing Niemann of cheating by dropping out of the tournament. Their speculations were further proven when Carlsen resigned after one move in their next matchup in an online tournament.

Sentinel’s chess
club has lately had many
more people attending.

After the controversy, Niemann admitted to cheating in a few “random games” once when he was 12 and when he was 16. He said that he did this so he could play tougher opponents, but by saying this, he threw fuel onto the fire of the controversy with Magnus. The games that Niemann admitted to cheating in were online games, so this may explain why Magnus didn’t want to play him. 

Online accessibility doesn’t mean that in-person chess is irrelevant now. All of the masters tournaments are all in person. There may be a shift toward online chess master tournaments in the future though, but there will always be concerns about cheating if they do. 

What about at Sentinel High School? Sentinel has a chess club, hosted in room 209 on Tuesdays and Thursdays at lunch. According to a member of the chess club, the average attendance has been swelling as of late. Even Sentinel is feeling the effects of the popularity spike caused by Queen’s Gambit, PogChamps, and the Carlsen scandal.