Going Mainstream: Chess in the News

With its innate ability to translate to a two-dimensional format, chess is a growth industry in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mainstream media is taking note, and our game has been the beneficiary of quite a bit of press coverage in the past few weeks. In early May the Wall Street Journal, noting supply chain difficulties with yeast and burgeoning interest in chess, ran an article titled “Chess is the new King of the Pandemic” and cited the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Giannis Antetokounmpolo, Saquon Barkley, and Joe Biden as fans of the game. They also noted the “overnight spike” in traffic at online chess playing sites, quoting chess.com CCO Danny Rensch in the process. The New York Times ran a story at roughly the same time focusing on the Online Nations Cup, with quotes from Fabiano Caruana and… chess.com CCO Danny Rensch! (Dude gets around!) Caruana also featured in a piece at forbes.com dated May 26th, where FIDE’s “Checkmate Coronavirus” initiative and the “Clutch Chess” tournament run by the Saint Louis Chess Club were highlighted. The Forbes piece also puts the everyday online activities of top players front and center, mentioning “Dr. Drunkenstein” (Magnus Carlsen) and the streaming activities of one Hikaru Nakamura.

Screenshot of a recent Nakamura stream

The trends are startling: we are witnessing the arrival of chess as a full-fledged e-sport. Twitch viewership of chess streams is exploding, and largely due to the efforts of 2019 U.S. Champion Hikaru Nakamura. (Check out our August issue for more on Nakamura and the world of chess streaming!) Nakamura has built a tremendous Twitch following in a very short amount of time, due in no small part to his engagement with leading Twitch streamers like BoxBox and xQc. This move has not gone unnoticed in the chess community at large, as is explored in this article at sportingnews.com. More gamer-specific websites are also picking up the story, including thegamer.com and dexerto.com.

Tanitoluwa Adewumi (courtesy of subject)

The mainstream press continues to show interest in the story of Tani Adewumi, who burst into the public consciousness after his 2019 victory at the New York State Scholastic Championship while undergoing homelessness. ESPN.com returned to Tani’s tale on May 23rd, detailing more of Tani’s life story, his drive to continue his ascent in the chess world, and the publication of his new book, My Name is Tani… and I Believe in Miracles.

Irina Krush (photo Crystal Fuller)

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began to expand across the United States, whispers were heard across chess social media that GM and seven-time US Women’s Champion Irina Krush was among those afflicted with the virus. In this story from the New York Times, Krush tells her cautionary tale. Spoiler alert: she’s doing fine after a tough struggle with the disease. And finally, in the “olden days,” CNN’s excellent profile of Magnus Carlsen would have been seen as manna from heaven for the chess community, an overdue bit of sunlight on one of the best ambassadors the chess world has ever seen. It is still a fantastic read, but that it feels normal, like something that should have happened… it’s testament to the strange times we live in that a long profile of the World Champion on one of the biggest websites in the world just feels like another day.

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