Bobby Fischer claimed that chess is dying due to extensive focus on memorization and opening theories that discourage creative play. This has been solidified with the defeat of Kasparov against Deep Blue in 1996-1997 marking the rise of chess engines.
Chess although a highly recognized game that exists for a long time has lately faced some inner and external issues. So many games are being produced each year especially after the rise of the internet.
This had led some people to wonder including those that are interested in the game whether chess is actually dead. The competition after all is getting fiercer than ever. That’s what I’m going to talk about here and why you probably shouldn’t worry.
Memorization and openings did have a huge role in this worry but I don’t think is the whole story. I think there are other intrinsic characteristics that chess has which may cause it to be unpopular in the future. I will talk about it here, let’s get started.
The unpredictability of a dying game
Throughout the course of history many games have been forecasted in a downward trend considered as “dying” yet outcomes tell otherwise.
It’s very hard to identify whether the viability of an activity is falling or it is just currently experiencing some sort of seasonality.
However there are patterns that we see in chess that are pointing towards this direction and may lead to that if not changed.
Here are the reasons why chess is dying:
1.) It is boring to watch
Chess is considered from a spectator’s point of view to be a mentally exhausting game, obviously something that will not be popular with the masses.
This inherent nature of the game causes a sort of limit to how much attention that it can get.
This makes watchers unlikely to stick around in order to find the results or coming back for more.
2.) The games takes too long to end
Piggybacking from the previous point, regular over the board games last for a very long time.
So long in fact that even players themselves require some sort of conditioning to maintain focus.
And for those who did not acquire such mental persistence this makes it more daunting to follow.
3.) Most people cannot comprehend the games
Unless the observer is someone with an interest in chess themselves it is very hard to even understand what’s going on.
Most top games are positional struggles with very subtle ideas that are not visible in surface glances.
And for someone who does not know certain key concepts that surround the moves, the game seems pretty obnoxious and downright boring.
4.) Following games can feel too committing
Imagine having to go and watch a famous game between two top players that last for almost half a day.
You’re in the audience and after all that time the game ends in a draw.
You return the next day only to find more draws, and the other next day to see draws over and over again, feels too commiting right?
5.) It is impractical to be featured in medias
Popular media (like television) cater to what’s visually appealing that can keep the attention span of those watching it.
Chess is a visual yes, but not appealing enough the people would be interested in watching it at the comfort of their homes.
Radio and newspaper are out of commission too since you can’t follow games with only sound and writing.
6.) There is a level of gatekeeping
There is a term that has been coined lately in the name of chess elitism which is basically gatekeeping.
This is the act of someone in a higher position in an industry preventing the entrance of those just starting.
It absolutely exists in chess even though a lot of people deny it, this limits the game from growing with the few opportunities that it got.
7.) There isn’t that much money
Another danger that threatens its survival would be having its actual players leaving astray their chess paths.
And with the amount of monetary value a regular chess grandmaster can acquire, it seems that it is not a good profession.
This makes individuals give up on chess altogether, for more information on how much chess players earn you can read my other article about this.
8.) The cost of pursuit is too high
So the amount of money you can have is very limited, on top of that the cost of actually staying is high.
In order to do well in tournaments you will have to purchase a lot of chess books, possibly courses, and help from chess coaches.
That is on the money part but the other expense is the cost of time which this interest requires by a lot.
9.) Being too old is discouraging
Apart from the limitation of monetization that it weighs on the aspirants, the age can also be intimidating.
Most grandmasters and successful players started early in life when they have a lot of time and talent to spare.
The future looks bleak for old people wanting to get into the game further limiting its accessibility.
10.) Too many draws
This is a problem that can easily be demonstrated by literally watching any modern top game ever.
Most matches ends in a draw, in a somewhat repetitive and boring manner over and over again.
This hurts the viewership by a lot and sometimes even woo away aspirants that realize this phenomenon.
11.) Games are no longer very creative
There is an era in chess where innovation and creativity bloom with the utmost importance (romantic era).
Those days are long gone my friends, matches are usually prepared extensively to the point of memorization.
This lack of creativity does not highlight the sacrificial and entertaining qualities that chess can possibly express.
12.) The theories are getting out of hand
I’ve watched a game earlier (I forgot the date) when the announcer said that one of the players diverge from theory on move 40!
I repeat one of the players they diverge only at 40, an insane theoretical number.
Most beginner games don’t even last 20 and you see these games where people memorize all the way to 40, making chess again, less creative.
13.) It is becoming a memorization game
Chess is more interesting from the onlooker and players’ point of view if things come up with the element of surprise where there is a little suspense.
Memorization absolutely kills any interest that can be gained from the terror making it duller than it actually is.
This is also why most games end in a draw since the preparation is so extensive that no player has made a mistake.
14.) Chess engines are crushing everyone
Ever since Kasparov’s defeat from deep Blue, chess engines have experienced tremendous growth throughout the years.
No individual human can even have a chance to graze one of the top-performing chess computers, which makes you ask the point of watching human chess.
Now the official tournament for chess computers has not overtaken human chess at the moment but is just a stigma that’s lurking in the shadows.
15.) Engines made options narrower
Have you watched an elite tournament lately? What have you noticed in the openings in particular? Don’t it look too repetitive?
We are seeing Ruy Lopez and Queen’s gambit declined over and over again like a broken film on repeat.
The blame can be on the engines since they’ve debunked a lot of our own theoretical chess making matches even less diverse than it originally is.
16.) Chess feels like a solved game
This is another impression that has been going around for the decades now which is the perception of the game as “solved”.
When we see highly efficient chess computers perform perfectly from both sides (which usually ends in a draw) we can’t help to think this way.
The idea of powerlessness; what’s the point of further playing if it will end in a draw anyway if no side has made a mistake?
17.) It is very exhausting
Another issue that can repel people from further pursuit of this activity which is its tiring nature to even just participate.
I’m talking about chess tournaments in particular, which has even caused deaths and severe physical conditions on some occasions.
Not to mention the mental pressure from stress and everything, it can be a wearing experience to have.
18.) It is very stressful (in general)
Imagine having a long journey of studying one thing every single day all for one purpose of winning from a competition.
You do everything, overcome the fatigue, time restraints, broke your limitations, make way to earn money to afford the trips.
And after all of that you’re in the tournament where you get absolutely destroyed, a traumatic idea right? these kinds of stressful experiences happen constantly which can make people quit.
19.) It has a bad reputation
Picture a chess player, do you see a cool popular person that has a high social standing respected by everybody?
No, instead what you get is the nerdy socially awkward individual that probably doesn’t have much going in life.
This is a horrible stereotype but really represents the bad reputation among the masses.
20.) We are too used to instant gratification
This effect resonates more with those who are starting to pick up interest in this game that may lead them away from it.
Specifically I am referring to the amount of time a regular chess game is commonly played (it is long).
This kind of perception is dangerous in an era where our brains are too fried to wait for things that takes a long time to end.
21.) It does not cater to our attention span
Most people nowadays are engaged in the enclosure of their phones and social media.
These platforms shorten our attention span where we want to see the outcomes of things as fast as possible.
This conditioning is dangerous for a game played in a time-extensive setting like chess since people don’t usually lasts that long (physically and mentally wise).
22.) There are no dramas
Dramas, although can be an annoying part of any community can spark feelings of rage and frustration.
You might think this is a bad thing but is actually not since such meme battles make people care for the thing enough for it to stay relevant.
Chess games are played in a more transactional and peaceful manner where there is little opportunity for these scenarios to occur (although this is good in a way but also bad).
23.) There are more entertaining alternatives
The question to behold among other things is why focus on chess specifically?
There are numerous star-studded industries that have risen lately like the likes of esports which definitely appeal to the masses.
Communities like these may attract more people away from the classical older board games that have been played since monarchies.
Along with other more senior games belonging to the other records, chess is definitely displaying signs of death.
However there is a sign of hope that is open in this new digital era of connectivity namely twitch and youtube.
Chess grandmaster streamers are bringing more traction to the game more than ever which also supports them in a way (financially).
Chess is experiencing a boom lately which I hope will continue to transpire. Sleep well and play chess.