The World Chess Championship between Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi begins on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.
When COVID locked the world down in March 2020, few activities experienced bigger booms than chess. Most booms died down as the world opened back up, but chess has sustained its momentum by evolving in real time.
- Chess pros like five-time U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura began streaming games on Twitch in March. By June, he had 400,000 followers; now he has 1.3 million.
- Non-chess Twitch streamers also began playing, turning chess into an esport and introducing millions more to the game.
- Carlsen himself put on a virtual tournament in April 2020 that featured more exciting, rapid- or blitz-style games, garnering 2.7 million hours of viewership across two weeks.
The title match — a best-of-14 duel held at Dubai’s Expo 2020 — is shaping up to be an all-timer between the potential GOAT and an intriguing challenger. Carlsen, who plays by the book better than anyone, has held the title since 2013, when he took down then-five-time reigning champ Viswanathan Anand. Nepomniachtchi plays a lightning quick, aggressive style that could spell trouble for the champ.
“[Ian] is not afraid of Magnus,” one grandmaster told FiveThirtyEight. “I don’t think he’s afraid of anybody.”