Chess Explodes in Popularity

As I walk into my Lancer Time, I already know what to expect. Sitting in the back row are six kids, all playing Chess, their screens lit up brighter than their faces when they finally reach checkmate. Chess is experiencing a boom in the classrooms of Longfellow, and how it became so popular so quickly isn’t a mystery.

“I find it almost as some sort of competition with my friends,” said Tristan R., an avid Chess player. “We’re all trying to see who can outsmart each other, who can play the better moves consistently, and so trying to improve constantly, driving me to keep playing.”

The seeds that grew this second wave of Chess players were planted in 2020 and 2021. Back then, several factors, including the lockdown and The Queen’s Gambit appearing on Netflix, caused a short Chess explosion that fizzled out as the pandemic neared its end. But Chess didn’t simply sit quietly. Celebrities like Luka Dončić and companies like began to advertise Chess more and more. 

Then, in late 2022, the second wave happened. Viral social media posts continued to drive popularity. One post depicted Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi playing Chess.  Others featured a series of popular bots.  One bot, Mittens,  was a particular favorite. Mittens is a supposedly low-rated bot that destroys everyone it plays.

Chess traffic online has grown massively. At times, exceeds 10 million people online at once, according to their site, causing servers to slow down and even crash.

“I think the tactical aspect of it makes you try to gather insight into the game and try to look ahead and plan three, four, five steps ahead, even,” Tristan said. “That makes it really challenging for the brain, and that makes it interesting for me.”

The brain is a muscle; like all other muscles, it grows stronger and wards off injury by being used consistently. Several studies have shown that playing chess can be very beneficial. A study by the American Chess Federation showed that playing Chess can improve IQ and memory. A study by the New England Journal of Medicine showcased that it lowers the chances of Alzhiemers. Another study by the Croatian Chess Federation displayed it can also improve concentration.

The phenomenon of Chess is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. The ease of access and challenging nature make it a perfect tool to improve your brain and distract yourself when you have some free time, along with being a fun way to compete with friends. Overall, it appears Chess isn’t going anywhere in the halls of Longfellow, and I, for one, hope it doesn’t.