The rise of chess

Chess’s popularity peaks among Creek’s students and staff

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Giovanni Machado

SKYROCKETING: Chess board sales increased over 200 percent in the month after the release of The Queen’s Gambit, and daily online chess games played soared from 11 million to over 17 million. “I really think it’s an art,” junior Aryan Roy said.

Giovanni Machado, Opinions Editor

64 squares, 32 pieces, and basically an infinite number of positions and games to be played.

Chess has peaked in popularity like never before during the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking and re-sparking interest in many people around the globe – including at Creek.

“This year, because everyone was so isolated and closed, one of the things that our friend group did was we started playing chess,” said junior Aryan Roy, co-president of the Creek chess club. “It’s a way to have fun and sort of ease up. And while we were playing that game, we were like, ‘Oh, well, maybe other people want to play too.’”

Roy, along with juniors Matthew Anderson and Shreyas Sriram, decided to create a new chess club at Creek.

“We just want to provide a club so that people that were interested in chess in the school but might not necessarily have known where to go or others to play with could all have an environment where you can just have fun and play chess,” Sriram said.

The club not only includes those who recently became fond of the game, but also those who have dedicated a great part of their lives to it.

“As long as you start earlier, you have more time to play,” freshman Neil Bhavikatti, who is rated 2118 by the U.S. chess federation, said “now, in high school, it’s a lot more work, so I have a little bit less time to do chess books and focus on chess a little bit more. So that’s why starting as early as possible is important.”

One of the greatest catalysts to chess’s ascension over the last year was the release of the TV show The Queen’s Gambit.

“I think had The Queen’s Gambit been released pre-COVID, it wouldn’t have had quite the impact,” said Jeremy Gilbert, science teacher, and sponsor of the chess club. “I think this past year was such an aberration for people being home so much with so much time, so parents were able to hang out with their kids and maybe teach them this game.”

Chess is speculated to be over 1500 years old, yet it is able to maintain its relevance and engage new players of all ages.

“It’s just 64 squares. You have everything right in front of you, but the possibilities are endless,” Sriram said. “I think that’s what really is fascinating about chess is the moves are so simple. It doesn’t take very long to understand how to move each piece and whatnot. But despite that, there are trillions of games you can play.”

Magnus Carlsen, the current chess world champion, was the most paid e-sports athlete last year, and while some argue whether or not Chess should be considered an e-sport, some believe it’s more than that.

“I really think it’s an art,” Roy said. “You have to be as creative as possible. Even though many people may disagree with me, I really think it is a sport because chess requires intense mental preparation.”

Chess is a recognized sport by the International Olympic Committee. The committee’s decision was supported by the arguments that Chess is competitive, demands skills, and is physically demanding.

“It’s really cool to sit down and play a game and destroy somebody. And so humbling that you know the next game you get destroyed,” Gilbert said. “I’m really humbled by the fact that I can play a game where I’m beating somebody that I know is better than me, but I made one move, and all of a sudden it just comes back the other way, and I’m getting beat. It’s frustrating, but it’s all about learning – that’s what I appreciate. I think it’s learning more about it, becoming better at it, making mistakes in games, and then trying to improve every time I play a new game.”

Perhaps chess won’t be able to keep itself at the same place it is in terms of popularity, yet it’s clear it isn’t going away anytime soon, and Gilbert believes that it should become more present in our everyday lives.

“I strongly believe, and I’ve said this for years, that chess should be a class in school,” Gilbert said. “It improves critical thinking skills, it improves concentration. It’s like music. There’s such a link between the musical mind and success in math and other subjects, and schools that have chess, as a curriculum, performed very well.”