WATCH — Virtual chess websites overwhelmed with new players

Alexia Sabau
Story by Alexia Sabau • CBC Kids News • Published 2021-04-23 14:00

Got what it takes to be a chess master? Here are some tips from a pro


How’s this for an unexpected checkmate: While some sports are struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, chess is experiencing a serious surge in popularity. 

In the age of lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and physical distancing, the old school game has become a go-to for those looking for a fun indoor activity.

Many people are also taking advantage of the option to play chess online.

CBC Kids News contributor Alexia Sabau, top right, and chess pro Svitlana Demchenko sat down for a quick game of virtual chess on (Image credit: Kat Go/CBC)

The popular chess social network reported that roughly one million new player accounts have been added to its server every month since the pandemic began in March 2020. 

Virtual chess just hits different

One of the possible reasons virtual chess is seeing a recent uptick in popularity is that it gives people another way to spend time online with their loved ones that’s different from the usual Zoom hangout we’re all used to by now.

Even those who aren’t interested in playing themselves can get in on the virtual chess craze, with many people opting to be spectators of live-steamed chess matches on platforms like Twitch.

A quick search for ‘chess’ on Twitch will get you everything from live-streamed matches between chess pros to strategy walk-through videos. (Image credit:

More than one million users are following chess games on the popular streaming website, and many of the top players have amassed more than 100,000 followers on their individual Twitch channels.

Hikaru Nakamura, a grandmaster of chess, is the current top Twitch chess streamer, and to date has banked more than 2.5 million hours of viewership on his virtual chess matches.

The ✨main characters✨ of pandemic sports

While participants in sports like soccer or baseball have had to make changes to the way they play games in public during the pandemic, the option to go virtual has been beneficial for chess players.

“I think us chess players are really lucky to have online platforms where we can still practise and have competitions,” said Svitlana Demchenko, a 17-year-old from Ottawa who holds the title of Woman International Master of chess.

With files from the International Chess Federation. (Image credit: Kat Go/CBC)

While she said she misses playing chess in person, Svitlana has adopted virtual chess as a way to continue honing her skills and is even considering Twitch streaming herself.

“I haven’t got around to doing it … but perhaps at some point, because we’re in a second lockdown so who knows!”

Practice and perseverance

Whether you’re a chess newcomer inspired by your latest binge of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit or a seasoned player with years of experience, Svitlana shared these tips for upping your chess game:

After losing terribly in a chess tournament against her friend Zack, Alexia, left, turned to 17-year-old Woman International Master in chess Svitlana Demchenko for tips on upping her chess skills. (Image credit: Kat Go/CBC)

Check out this week’s episode of Hey Alexia, What’s Trending? to learn more about Svitlana’s journey as a chess master and to find out which chess-themed TV show or movie is her favourite.

TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Graphic design by Philip Street/CBC

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About the Contributor

Alexia Sabau
Alexia Sabau
CBC Kids News Contributor
Alexia Sabau is an inquisitive teen who has worked as a junior reporter for the Calgary International Children’s Festival and Shaw TV Calgary. The grade 10 student is a youth ambassador with a passion for community building, performing arts and science. She’s also a devoted Harry Potter fan who is excited to work her magic on CBC Kids News.

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