Chess – the century-old game revitalized by Twitch and Netflix


Zach Kaplan, Editor-in-chief

Before the pandemic, many families had chess sets that they kept in a closet collecting dust. For as long as I can remember, I’ve also had a chess set in my closet which rarely saw the light of day. I considered it an artifact, a thing of the past, until this fall. 

Me playing chess on my family’s chess set.

When my mom recommended The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, I wasn’t too swayed. The title made me think it was some uninteresting British drama. The first episode wasn’t all too different from other dramas I’d seen in the past, showing a traumatized young girl who’d just survived a car crash that killed her mom and forced her into an orphanage called the Methuen Home. 

The part that really hooked me began when the main character, Beth Harmon, discovered the unfamiliar game of chess in the basement with Mr. Schaibel, the school’s janitor. As the series unfolded, Beth became a full-blown chess prodigy, beating people in ways that had never been done before, beating 10 opponents at once while rising the ranks of a very male-dominated 1960s chess community. 

As the situation was for so many other people, I discovered chess through The Queen’s Gambit. I was hooked. I got the chess set out of my closet and began playing my father, and at first lost often but then I slowly discovered what openings I was most comfortable with, what attacks I loved to play the most, and started winning. 

Nina Cossin, a freshman, discovered and became hooked on chess through The Queen’s Gambit as well. “I absolutely loved watching the show and the way chess is portrayed as such a thrilling, mind-blowing game completely changed the way I thought about the game,” she said. “I used to admire chess from afar because I knew it was very complex but I always thought it was boring. Now I see that it can be thrilling and very interesting once you learn about all the different strategies.” 

The Netflix limited series wasn’t the only outlet that hooked people on chess. When COVID-19 hit the world in the spring of 2020, US chess champion Hikaru Nakamura took his talent to Twitch–a live streaming service that has enabled popular streamers and ‘grandmasters’ to teach chess newbies how to play and the allure of chess that has allowed it to truly stand the test of time. 

Ben Langsam, a senior, said he played chess a little before the pandemic but the popularity of chess on Twitch did inspire him to play it more. “It’s honestly a very interesting sport and I’m glad to see more people care about it,” he said. 

Along with Hikaru, popular streamers like Felix “xQc” Lengyel and others popularized chess on Twitch in an amateur tournament known as “PogChamps” last June.

“I started playing chess around the summer of the pandemic and it was mainly because of its rise on Twitch with grandmaster Hikaru and creating the Pogchamps tournament after Hikaru gave xQc some entertaining lessons on stream,” said Lucas Sherman, a junior at the iSchool. “I’m really happy that it has continued to grow because it’s a great game that can be really fun and rewarding to learn,” he added.

Chess has taken hold in people’s pandemic lifestyle because websites such as have made the game accessible to anyone, with no prior chess experience needed to create an account and start playing, and players from all around the world have been using the website to take their chess talents, or start learning, online. 

“Chess doesn’t require internet, has relatively simple rules, and a lot of online sites to play it on,” said Kiran Aliah, a junior at the iSchool.

What’s different, though, about the popularity of chess now is that Hikaru and other streamers have made chess–once considered a game played by sophisticated elites behind closed doors, feel more like a common man’s game and something that anyone can be good at. 

Chess is also a game that reflects a lot about life. To execute a solid attack, you need to be able to predict what your opponent will do and know what you’ll do two, three moves ahead. Chess is a completely non-violent game but it can feel as though you’re executing a war on the board, especially when attacking–trying to get your opponent to quit/resign or put their king in a trap that they can’t get out of, which is the aim of the game. 

Jesse Hoffman, the president of the iSchool’s chess club, who has multiple chess tournaments, both online and in-person, weighed in on why chess is so fascinating. “There is some intimidation and excitement when playing in person on a board,” he said, adding that chess is a true game of intellect and skill. 

Oftentimes, chess takes a long time, especially on a higher level. But sometimes, games can end quickly in a couple of moves, and a widely-viewed video was a video in which MoistCr1tikal, another popular Twitch streamer, actually beat xQc in 6 moves during the PogChamps tournament, a video which gathered over nine million views, which explains just how popular chess has become. 

At the end of the day, while many hobbies have been tough to continue during the pandemic, chess is one of the few games and activities that has actually flourished during this time of isolation, mainly because of the accessibility that playing chess online brings.

I think chess being shown in popular culture is a big part of why it’s gained popularity. Since everyone is in quarantine and looking for new hobbies, isolation and boredom propelled that even more,” Cossin said.