The Guardian’s take on a chess renaissance: It’s not black and white | Editorial

JThe grand, historic but sometimes ridiculed sport of chess believes its time has come, post-lockdown favored a rapid rise the number of online gamers in the world. Go to a site such as chess.com any time of the day or night and you’ll find tens of thousands of players from around the world competing in (very short) blitz games, swearing at each other via the comment box in a variety of languages.

The success of the Netflix series The Queen’s Bet was the icing on the cake. Chess has finally gotten cool. TV presenter Tilly Ramsay even starred in a dance routine based on chess in Strictly Come Dancing last week – one of the game’s few releases on UK terrestrial TV since the 1980s.

The coolness of chess is now an accepted fact among pundits, and much of the credit goes to the Norwegian world champion, Magnus Carlsen – young, presentable, confident, and not someone to be seen in a drab chess room with a plastic bag full of three-day-old ham sandwiches. “Beginning with his time as a model for G-Star Raw, he was the catalyst and driver of a most remarkable and frankly incredible transformation. [in the sport]”, said Grandmaster Jonathan Tisdall. The Simpsons even invited him to mentor Homer.

Carlsen puts his title on the line later this month in a world championship match in Dubai against Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi – title writers need not panic; everyone calls him Nepo. The match will be absorbing – Carlsen has struggled against Nepo in the past – without looking like Fischer versus Spassky or Karpov versus Korchnoi. The Soviet Union and its ability to intrigue are lacking in chess, even if no one else does.

Although the match may not dominate the news like Fischer’s win in Reykjavik in 1972, world chess, which owns the rights to online games related to the event, is consider an IPO based on the current surge of interest. In 2019, Ilya Merenzon, managing director of World Chess, floated the idea of ​​starting chess clubs in major cities that would sell cocktails and cater to “hipster” chess enthusiasts. In the UK at least, the curling-sandwiches-in-plastic-bags brigade, the game’s traditional demographic at club level, has been surprised find themselves described as hipsters.

It all sounds too good to be true, and maybe it is. The supposed coolness of chess has been a trope ever since Madonna reportedly learned the game from her then-husband Guy Ritchie 20 years ago. Madonna never seems to have quite mastered the intricacies of Modern Benoni.

It has proven very difficult for international corporations, and indeed for the world governing body, Fide, to make millions from chess, because the essence of sport is the repeated moves and attempts of chess holders. rights. movement broadcasting copyright have failed.

Chess evangelists always claim that there is 600 million active players worldwide, but the claim is not proven. This number may know the moves, maybe it even played as a child, but does it play now? The number of players registered for the tournament is a tiny fraction of this figure.

The success of The Queen’s Gambit was spectacular, but what did it portend for this wondrous, complex and endlessly (until computers figured it out) fascinating human endeavor? The game is still in the balance.

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