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On Chess: More People At Home Leads To Unexpected Boost In Online Chess

A recent Ladies Class with Thalia Cervantes on Twitch.Tv.
St. Louis Chess Club

With more people than ever stuck at home these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people have become highly dependent on the internet for work and school. The internet has also become the heart of entertainment and gaming.

One unexpected positive result of the recent social isolation requirements is a sudden boom in interest in the game of chess, which is now being played and livestreamed online in record numbers.

This unexpected and welcome influx of individuals playing chess on the internet has caused the three most popular online clubs — Lichess, Chess.com and Chess24 — to all have struggles with the increased demand on their servers.

Lichess, for example, tweeted on March 13 that it had reached over 50,000 players on the site at one time, an achievement that now seems trivial with 90,000-plus players daily during peak hours only a month later.

What does this mean for serious chess players who are used to attending their local chess club to improve their game? Like other clubs around the world, the St. Louis Chess Club is addressing these questions and learning to adapt to life on the internet.

The doors to the club may be shut, but chess students from around the world can still enjoy the 24 free weekly classes available on Twitch and YouTube. In addition to the classes, the STLChessClub Twitch account is streaming regular GM lessons and matches against other chess clubs, providing a number of opportunities for viewers to interact and play against top-level players on a daily basis.

Twitch is currently the world’s largest livestreaming platform, with millions of fans watching players of their favorite video games at any one time. The chess category on Twitch has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the current health crisis, jumping from about the 80th-most popular game to the 49th most popular in the past 30 days, with over 2.8 million viewer hours in that time period.

The STLChessClub Twitch channel is currently one of the largest channels on the platform, with over 13,000 followers.

On Feb. 19 of this year, the St. Louis Chess Club launched a donation initiative on Twitch with the goal of reaching $1,200 to fund chess programming at Nance Elementary, a school in the St. Louis Public School District that has been selected because of high student interest in the game.

Revenue from Twitch is almost exclusively generated on a volunteer basis through donations from viewers who enjoy the content and are able to support it financially. At the time of writing, the St. Louis Chess Club has raised over $700 toward its current goal and looks forward to being able to bring chess to more schools in the St. Louis area going forward, especially once the doors to the club reopen.

You can follow the St. Louis Chess Club on Twitch and YouTube no matter your level of chess understanding. Weekly classes and programming range from pure beginner all the way up to the professional level. Make sure to check out our streaming schedule that lists all of our online offerings for those interested until we are able to open our doors to the public again.

Jonathan Schrantz is the St. Louis Chess Club's technology manager and is in charge of the Club's Twitch and YouTube channels. The club is a partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Send comments and questions about this article to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.