Since 2020, chess as a game has grown enormously. As of December 2019, Chess averaged just over 1,900 viewers per month on Twitch. Fast forward to February 2021, when PogChamps 3 took place, and that number grew to 30,000.
While events like PogChamps and The Queen’s Gambit have taken the popularity of the game to new heights, that doesn’t explain why chess is like that still so successful. After all, a hype can only last so long. Millions of newer chess players still enjoy the game long after Beth Harmon made her last move against Borgov.
So why is this old board game so magnetic? What makes chess one of – if not the – best games of all time?
Here are 11 reasons:
Chess has great gameplay
Have you ever tried to eat a juicy and delicious steak using only thin plastic cutlery? If you haven’t already, let me tell you, it’s a terribly frustrating experience. You try to enjoy that fine meal, but the plastic fork breaks in your hands as your food gets colder and colder.
Playing a game with beautiful graphics and great storyline, but terrible gameplay is very similar to that experience. You sit there and try to have a good time, but you just don’t have the resources to do it. In the game world, gameplay is king.
Gameplay is, at a basic level, the way a user interacts with a game. There are quite a few technical factors that contribute to “great gameplay”, and let me tell you: chess touches them all. And it hits them hard. Good playability, just the right balance of challenge and reward, lots of tools for players to improve on… you name it!
Chess.com makes this point even more noticeable! Fair pairing is a good idea; you are not allowed to make illegal moves (even that mysterious pawn move is legal!); we take care of your clock for you; you can learn all the rules for free. What a great time to be alive!
That alone would be reason enough to make it a great game, but there’s more.
You can play chess again and again
Time for some startling numbers. Suppose two random people are playing a game of chess. After just two moves by each player, the game could have reached one of 197,281 different positions (including the Fool’s Mate). After four more moves for each side, there are 84,998,978,956 possible positions.
In the video below, Dr. James Grime of the Numberphile YouTube channel on the number of possible chess games. If you like numbers, I highly recommend watching the video. If you don’t like numbers I still think you should watch it because it will blow your mind.
According to Dr. Grime, if we consider only three sensible moves per player per turn and a game with 20 moves (20 moves for each side), you would still have 1040 different games that can arise. I know this doesn’t mean much to us, but Dr. Grime puts it into perspective: “For example, if everyone in the world were to form a couple and they [different] a game of chess every day, (…) to play all the possible games, it would still take trillions and trillions of years to play them all.”
As you can see, chess is a game full of possibilities and replayability. You will hardly ever play the same game twice unless you play for a quick draw with the Bongcloud. Still, the game is consistent enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re navigating a sea of chaos every time you start a new game. That balance is just divine!
Chess is cheap
If you do a quick search online, you can find a complete tournament chess set and board for under $20. Plus, that chess set is likely to last a lifetime – no patches or upgrades needed.
If you don’t feel like you need a tournament approved chess set, the price goes even lower. For under $15 you can find decent sets that will last forever too.
Would you rather spend $15 on a month of Netflix? That’s fine. You can play chess for free at Chess.com! And if you’re good enough, you don’t even need an internet connection to play – you can only do it with your mind! Take that, Grand Theft Auto!
You are the one who level up
You know that Dragonite you spent hours training to make him invincible? When you turn off your console (or play the next generation of Pokemon), all that work will go down the drain. What a waste.
As satisfying as it is to level up your character or the monsters you have in your pocket, there’s nothing like taking yourself to the next level. When you’re playing chess, you’re the one who gets faster, sharper and stronger. Not only that, but you can transfer the skills you learned from chess to other aspects of your life.
We also have the added benefit of people thinking chess players are geniuses. Wouldn’t you like to let them know that’s not true? I can appreciate.
Chess is visually appealing
“Attractive visuals in chess? Are you serious? Have you ever seen games like Assassins Creed or Watch Dogs? How can you even compare chess to it?” First, I don’t compare chess to those games. Chess is clearly much better (wink).
When I say ‘appealing images’ I am not talking about mind-boggling 3D effects or ultra-realistic representations of reality. But if you’ve ever taken the time to appreciate the beauty of a wooden chess set, you know what I mean. Take another eight minutes to watch the video below, and I dare you not to fall in love with the shapes and elegance of chess pieces:
Chess is timeless
Chess is one of the oldest board games in the world. The last time chess had a meaningful change in the rules was probably over 400 years ago. Compare that to the fast-paced world of online games where new versions or new game patches are released very often.
While some might say it’s boring, I’d suggest it’s great. Try watching a replay of Counter-Strike 1.6 or play the first few versions of FIFA. You will cry, and not positively. Nostalgia aside, there’s little value in doing that.
Now I invite you to take a look at this game played in 1851 and aptly called the Immortal Game. If this game doesn’t give you the chills, I don’t know what will.
Chess brings us all together
If you like classic, near-perfect intellectual battles, chess is the game for you. If you like fast paced games fueled by nonsense then chess is the game for you too. Chess has something for everyone.
From the stylish World Chess Championship to the meme-esque PogChamps, chess appeals to all audiences and brings us all together. It’s hard to see a game that can bring men in suits, women in dresses, and streamers with whimsical shirts together. Still, chess can somehow get it done.
Chess is based on skills
If you like gambling, this is probably not a good thing about chess. But if you like to play games where the outcome depends (almost) purely on your skills, then chess is perfect for you!
While games of chance can be fun, they can also be daunting. There is a scene on the hit show “The Office” that illustrates this point. Kevin, the firm’s accountant and experienced poker player, sits at a poker table that also houses Phillys, a saleswoman with no poker experience. Kevin moves all in with three queens, but loses after Phillys accidentally finds out she had “all clubs” (a flush).
While experienced poker players tend to win more in the long run, this kind of bad luck can sometimes happen. And let’s be honest: once is more than enough. So, aside from the sporadic mouse slip, the future of your chess games depends exclusively on you.
Chess is an action packed game
“Now you’re just pushing things.” I know, this seems a little too much. I don’t blame you if you call me in the comments. However, let me explain.
While two people staring at a plate for hours on end may not seem like much, in reality it is. With every passing second during a game of chess, both players are intensely calculating the infinite possibilities that lie ahead. Although the board remains unchanged for several minutes, the players and spectators are constantly moving pieces in their heads. In IM Levy Rozman’s video, you can look behind the curtain to appreciate all the action that goes on inside GM Garry Kasparov’s head as you play against GM Anatoly Karpov:
I don’t know many games where both players are always playing. Even people watching the game think of multiple variations and try to think of the next move. Now that’s what I call action!
However, I understand if you’re not happy with my logic. You prefer ‘real’ action – intense battles with things flying across the screen where every millisecond counts. Well, I leave you with this short clip:
Chess was the first game played online
When it comes to online gaming, chess is the OG. Chess was one of the first apps on a computer and the first game ever played online. If that’s not cool enough for you, I’ll give you another one: Chess was probably one of the first games played between Earth and space. It happened in 1970, when two Russian cosmonauts played against ground control. They even had a special gravity chess board with them to make this possible.
Does Valorant have special gravity gear for their players? I do not think so.
Chess is a mix of science, art and fun
There is only one thing that art, science, and having fun together – and no, I’m not talking about papier-mâché volcanoes.
Chess competitions have been around for several hundred years. As with any other competitive game or sport, serious players who have devoted their lives to chess have developed countless techniques to improve and get ahead of the pack. In particular, GM Mikhail Botvinnik (who, by the way, even looks like a scientist) gets credit for giving a systematic training approach to chess for professional players. Improving chess became a science.
Nevertheless, chess leaves room for improvisation and creativity. Take the time to review some of GM Mikhail Tal’s best games and I dare you not to be impressed. Like Salvador Dali’s paintings, Tal’s breathtaking sacrifices can transport you into a surreal world that will leave you breathless.
Tal’s games are just a small part of the truly amazing games played throughout history. Check out this masterpiece created in 1912. Legend has it that this game was so beautiful that spectators started tossing gold coins across the board after the game was over. Simply exquisite!
Now, best of all. Not everyone is as smart as a scientist or inspiring as an artist. Yet we all can Lots of fun!, Have fun with chess. Sure, my games lack precision and if I move my queen within range of the enemy pawn, you can bet good money that it’s a blunder. I still have a lot (maybe even .) too many) fun playing chess.
And my guess is that if you play chess (or if you start playing), you will too.
What are your favorite things about chess? Let us know in the comments below!