Why is chess not more popular?

Online chess more popular than ever: boom on the board

Thinking exercise in Corona times: How chess players around the world are using the crisis and online offers are reporting new record numbers.

Popular at the moment: re-enacting Bobby Fischer's best games, here in 1960 Photo: imago

The competitions are on hold, there are no more training evenings - this of course also applies to the fringe sport of chess. But in contrast to the 65 other leading associations within the German Olympic Sports Confederation, the Chess Federation is coping well with the consequences of the virus-related break. The time-honored game is enjoying a golden age online. Tens of millions of games are played on the web every day. “It's unbelievable what's going on right now,” says Georgios Souleidis.

Georgios Souleidis, YouTuber and chess expert

"Unbelievable what's going on right now"

Without a pandemic, the 47-year-old would currently shed light on the duels between world champion Magnus Carlsen and others in Baden-Baden and, as the tournament's press officer, spread their comments around the world. However, after initial concerns, the Bundesliga media spokesman no longer worries that the freelance journalist lost another job. Just like the canceled World Cup candidates tournament in Russia, which he had reported on for the German Press Agency (dpa). Instead of moping up, the writer himself mutated into the star of the thinker scene. Souleidis relies on its YouTube channel and now streams a new video every day.

The number of clicks exploded within a very short time. More than 400,000 interested people had already looked at his “Golden Rules of Chess” for hobby players before Easter. Behind "The Big Greek", as the little Greek calls himself self-deprecatingly, an army of over 16,000 subscribers has now gathered. Souleidis is still amazed at the development since Corona.

Brilliant sacrificial games like the "evergreen"

"The good thing is that many are rediscovering the royal game or rediscovering it after a long break," says the man from Hamburg. That is why he gives tips to bloody beginners as well as experts. The latter, however, prefer to have the International Master - the highest title for life after that of the Grand Master - explain the intricacies of the Sicilian Defense.

Brilliant victim games such as “Die Immortliche” or “Die Immergrüne” by the first German ace Adolf Anderssen (1818–1879) or the most famous victories of US legend Bobby Fischer are also popular on the web. At the request of his fans, Souleidis also analyzes curious masterpieces. Emil Joseph Diemer, the somewhat weird “Prophet von Muggensturm”, once only moved pawns in a winning game in the first 17 moves.

The website of the German chess software giant ChessBase also landed a coup before Easter: In view of all the unusual tournaments around the globe, the Hamburg fans thrilled the fans with a "live broadcast": They just pretended that it was exactly 50 years ago Belgrade match between the USSR and the "rest of the world" is now taking place. That had charm, the 40 games in just under 20.5: 19.5 for the Soviets were performed again. Vlastimil Hort from Cologne, who represented the CSSR in the “World” team in 1970, and Lajos Portisch from Hungary provided new classifications as contemporary witnesses.

14,000 dollars in the "Banter Blitz"

But not only Souleidis and ChessBase benefit. Every committed chess club now meets virtually and invites you to training sessions or tournaments. The German Chess Federation also uses the opportunity after the German championships in Magdeburg at the beginning of May had to be canceled. “It is booming thanks to the worldwide quarantine measures. The chess websites are experiencing an unprecedented onslaught, ”says Souleidis happily. The global top dogs are bursting at the seams: The 3.67 million members of Chess.com played 5.015 million games on Easter Sunday alone. 667 international title holders cavorted with the Californians at the same time.

On Easter Saturday, around 100,000 chess players logged in brought LiChess.org to the brink of collapse. For hours the most popular free provider said in English: “We have too many inquiries. Try again later."

At Chess.com or LiChess.org, 40,000 to 90,000 guests in the virtual stadium distract themselves from the corona crisis at any time of the day or night. Blitz games with a few minutes to think about are the most popular. However, some guests also solve tactical training tasks or follow the lightning duels of the stars live.

On Wednesday at Chess24.com, the Norwegian Carlsen and his crown prince, 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who fled from Iran, played the final in the “Banter Blitz” for 14,000 dollars. These sums are beyond the reach of the average grandmaster. The professionals, who are not financially spoiled anyway, are happy when they win a few hundred on the web.