The Shatranj Vogue

KEVAL DHOLAKIA

This ongoing pandemic has led to some really unexpected and unusual trends. All the sports had to have a long break in the initial months of the lockdown until everyone got used to the new normal. But there was this one sport whose stocks were skyrocketing during the lockdown and its reach had increased vastly due to several unpleasant reasons. The indoor game of chess has turned into the fastest growing games of 2020. Although the game is not played in its original form, but online. There are various software and applications that allow players to play with international players having similar competency (or rating as they term it officially). The online form of chess has made chess accessible for free, anywhere, anytime with whomever one wishes to play with. The concept of E-Chess has made live streaming possible and several professional streamers have come-up. They have been practicing, discussing and following chess as a part of content creation and surprisingly they have gained a huge supporter base in the form of consistent viewers.

 

Global Influence through Streaming

The online form of Chess is not a newly developed concept, it’s being practiced since long, but the popularity it has gained in recent times is immense. In order to sell a game, the developers offer the game to the streamers first so that people watch the game and then buy it. It’s the easiest way to multiply reach. In the case of Chess, nobody offered anything to anyone. The game enthusiasts, professionals and analysts became well-known streamers, viewers increased and the game turned out to be the bestseller. Online platforms such as Twitch and YouTube allows steamers and content creators to make and present one of the least played board game into one of the most interesting, entertaining and hence most watched game.


There are various channels that produced a lot of chess- related content since a long time but didn’t get views before this lockdown. Those same channels are now getting lots of support and love from their massive audience. Few of the underrated channels such as ‘Agadmator’ and ‘ChessBase India’ are now discovered by the viewers that demanded quality content for Chess. Not just them, professionals like GM (Grand Master) Hikaru Nakamura, GM Anish Giri, GM Teimour Radjabov and GM Vidit Gujarathi have also started steaming Chess and making Chess related videos which have unsurprisingly received a well response.


In India, a significant contribution to bring chess into mainstream is done by IM (International Master) Sagar Shah who operates the ChessBase India’s YouTube channel and has created a huge fan base by teaching different concepts of the game.

 

Samay Raina and his love for the game

The co-winner of comicstaan 2, stand-up comedian by profession Samay Raina started streaming out of boredom in the starting days of this lockdown period.  He soon started streaming his favorite game, that is, Chess. He didn‘t expect or witness large number of viewers in the beginning due to the stereotypes set regarding the game as boring but still he continued to play because he loved to. Slowly and gradually, he improved; at streaming not at chess and the viewership increased. He started a trend of making chess interesting by trying various variants, positions, puzzles, mixtures and means of chess. He has managed to attract NRIs towards Chess. Samay Raina has organized various leagues and tournaments that are for a social cause ‘Chess for Charity’ which promotes chess. As a comedian, he called up his colleagues and different public figures to play and promote chess which lead to a start of a hot series of tournament called ‘Comedians on Board’. The next tournament is expected around the middle of November 2020 in the name of ‘COB 3’.


Ultimately, streamers such as IM Sagar Shah and GM Vidit Gujarathi became good friends of Samay and he genuinely showed interest in helping chess grow as a sport. He is a big reason why GM Anish Giri, GM Teimour Radjabov, GM Adhiban Baskaran have become such good at creating chess related content. He also started learning Chess from IM Sagar Shah in the form of proper classes and was joined by four of the leading comedians of India. Samay Raina can now be considered as a wholesome part of the Indian Chess community. He also introduced this series where he would go on a video chatting website to play chess with random people online so as to increase the game’s reach. He has never failed to grab an opportunity to collaboration with huge public figures so that their part of audience can be attracted towards Chess. From Bhuvan Bam to Jaby Koay, from Judit Polgar to Magnus Carlsen, Samay has called upon a huge range of personalities on his streams. His growth on his YouTube channel is shockingly rapid and currently has over 485-thousand subscribers and so has become as one of the major pioneers of India’s YouTube scene during this lockdown.

 

FIDE Tournament

The 43rd Chess Olympiad had to be conducted online due to the whole social distancing regulations. It happened through Chess.com, one of the biggest Chess software of the world. Team India, one of the strongest of all, was led by GM Vidit Gujarathi this year. The whole event was live telecasted by the brilliant Samay Raina through YouTube and IM Sagar Shah was there to commentate on the games as a professional analyst. For the game of Chess, when watching of 1,000 people was considered as an achievement before lockdown, the watching for the Semi-finals reached till 67,000 at a point and it was simply a miracle on how the interest of the people had shifted towards this board game. It was an achievement on its own. Due to this spectacular support, team India managed to bring home a joint Gold medal with Russia which they did for the first time in the history of Chess Olympiads. Before this win, bronze was the highest till India reached in the Olympiad. The chess community was on the top of the world that day. A master player GM Nihal Sarin was trending on twitter that day. In those days, players even tried to spread awareness that there is no Arjuna Award given to Chess players so that encouragement led to trending of #arjunaforchess on twitter which a huge deal for the underrated Indian Chess community.

 

Supporters and Sponsors

The numbers make it very evident that the online way of playing Chess is liked by the viewers. The idea of donating money to the Chess streamers or content creators has always been a way to motivate the public figure. There are few of the regular supporters that always help the personality by providing financial support and the major indicator of a growing market is brands. The way the brands have stepped into the Indian market gives a hint of how hit is the formula of content creation. The Black Lotus application has tied up with the Indian captain GM Vidit Gujarathi for promotion and it is the first time when some brand has made a Chess player as its ambassador. Samay Raina, a different kind of chess streamer has got several Brand placements on his hands and he seems to play the game of chess much better while making his deals. This financial help allows these streamers to keep doing what they do and enables them to provide entertainment at the similar pace.

 

Due to this pandemic, a very few industries have been benefitted and one of them is the growing E-Chess community. The people who are following either GM Vidit or Samay are majorly of a younger age. The growing interest of the youth of the country in learning of Chess is truly a good sign for the game. The applications such as ‘Chess.com’ and ‘lichess’ will be the most benefitted due to this sudden drastic increase in popularity of this board game. In the last six months, the astonishing pace of growth of Chess has left all the online gamers, streamers and public figures astound. At present, the game is still expected to grow more in future and break several more records.


Sources:-
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAov2BBv1ZJav0c_yHEciAw
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIsEhwBMPkRHsEgqYAPQHsA
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpjTx5WsF4yqyvGIYY8nuVg
https://www.youtube.com/user/AGADMATOR
https://www.dnaindia.com/sports/report-indian-chess-team-celebrates-its-olympiad-win-with-a-unique-twitter-chat-2843239
https://scroll.in/topic/44490/chess