Every piece fell into place: Resurgence of chess fueled through online access, media, celebrities

Ron Toback-Wolf

2021 has been an unpredictable year. With the storming of the capitol, the business about the vaccine, Zack Snyder’s Justice League cut actually being good, lots of things happened that not many people expected. One surprise in particular is the popularization and resurgence of a certain game of wits.

According to the legend, the death of the youngest prince of the Gupta Empire in the 6th century caused his brother to design a game recreating the events of the battle. The game is characterized by several distinct features: it is played on an 8×8 tile board, and there are multiple types of pieces that move around the board in different ways, including the King, whose fate determines the entire game. In the Persian Empire, terms such as “Shah Mat”, meaning “the king is helpless,” arose. The game spread around the world, and more than any fallen prince could have seen coming, chess became a worldwide phenomenon.

So why is chess becoming so popular now, in 2021? Well for one, chess is not an expensive activity. With chess, participants don’t even need to invest in a board and pieces, they can use paper. Chess is not a wealthy man’s sport, like golf or tennis, it’s accessible to anyone interested in playing.

Another reason is the accessibility of Chess.com, a website that lives up to its name. The website has every resource an aspiring chess player could want. It instantly pairs players up with someone from anywhere in the world to play chess. It’s a fast, simple, and easy way to play chess with anyone. The more games players win, the higher their rating, and the better chess players they are put up against. It’s the perfect way for players to practice and improve their chess playstyle and learn openings. The site also has bots to play and practice against, though the moves they make can sometimes be strange. Not only this, but Chess.com has over 150,000 different puzzles to practice with, and lessons to help beginners improve. The amount of resources on this site and the accessibility of it blows my mind. But why did chess get so popular in the first place? There are two behemoths of media that are likely behind it.

Named after the chess opening, Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit was a show that took the world by storm. It tells the story of a young orphan named Beth Harmon who, after playing her first game of chess, went down the path of opioids and slowly matured into the greatest chess player in the world. The audience follows Harmon on her grueling journey to the top, and it shows her as a clear, strong character. The show puts a sense of emotion into chess which is probably what caused so many to start playing it after it laid dormant for so long. It’s no surprise Chess.com developed seven separate bots just for Beth Harmon, though they are no longer available.

Riding off the success of the Queen’s gambit, the annual “PogChamps” tournament was held on Chess.com and streamed live. This is the third year the tournament has happened, but this year, many more famous faces attracted people to the scene. The Office’s Rainn Wilson, YouTube legend MrBeast, and streaming stars such as Moist Cr1tikal, Ludwig, and Pokimane competed. While famous names have appeared on this tournament before, Chess’ rising popularity due to The Queen’s Gambit shone a spotlight on this year’s occurrence, gaining even more popularity for the ancient battle of brains.

If you want to learn chess for yourself, great! A Chess.com premium subscription is $8.25 a month, which gets you everything an aspiring chess player could want, including lessons, analysis, and unlimited practice. I encourage everyone to try chess at least once. If you’re going to do something so you can skip out on doing your work (trust me, I did that with this article) then chess is a good call. It’s the perfect mind exercise and it’s easy to pick up and play.

How to play Chess

1. Every piece can move a certain way. Pieces can’t jump over each other (the knight is the exception.) 

2. Both teams have the exact same pieces: (In order of individual value) Eight pawns, two knights, two bishops, two rooks, one queen, and one king.

3. The only way to take an opponent’s piece off the board is to “capture” it by moving your piece to the square it’s currently on. 

4. The white pieces always make the first move, and then the black pieces. 

5. The king cannot be captured, but if your king is under attack from another piece and you can’t do anything to protect it, that’s called a “checkmate”, and the game is over.

6. If the king is under attack but you can protect it, it’s just “check”.

7. Each rank (row) is assigned a number (1-8) and each file (column) is assigned a letter (a-h.) Each square is named after the rank and file it occupies (a1, c6, h3, etc-).

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