Is chess popular in the USA? A hopeful trend

Chess is so popular in the USA that a lot of elite chess players represent the country in the names of Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Jeffrey Xiong, etc. A poll from YouGov suggests that 70% of adults from the US, UK, Germany, Russia, and India have played chess at some point in their life.

Chess has suffered a lot of ups and downs in terms of its popularity throughout different countries, there is a fluctuation. Fortunately the United States has been excluded from this inconsistency.

There has been an upward trend in terms of traction that chess received in the public throughout the last decade, this is good for those who love playing chess. The sign is there, it is a reflection of something great.

You might wonder if there are a lot of activities you can participate in within this country, and how exactly do the people support the game? This article will talk about it.

With all of that in mind, let’s begin.

Elite players represent the popularity of chess

If we are looking to measure the popularity of a game, not just with chess, it is important to know how many people pursue it professionally.

The number of professional players usually tells the feasibility of someone taking it seriously. If a game is not that popular, then fewer people are likely to take it seriously and there will be few professionals.

That is not the case in the United States, in fact, they are the second to third largest country to host elite players on top of the world (India and Russia competing for the title).

Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, Dominguez Perez, Hikaru Nakamura, Jeffrey Xiong, etc. are all well-known chess competitors that currently represent the United States. Some considered all of these individuals to be super grandmasters.

A super grandmaster is a level beyond the traditional grandmaster that is worthy of respect (top player in the world). It is so rare that many countries don’t even have one. 

The United States holds the monopoly of the world’s supply of super grandmasters along with Russia and India, it is clear that this is a product of competition and traction to the game.

U.S. chess players that are not born in the U.S.

Now you can argue that there are players who represent the United States without being a blood-born citizen (like Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura) but this is just a further testament to the size of the market the US has.

The reason that most of these players opt to play for the United States is because of their superb financial backing. 

Most countries do not support their professional players and actually hold them back from reaching a new level.

Wesley So is an interesting case to me since he originally played for the Philippines (my home country) and switched to the US. However I do understand his sentiments.

Third world countries just put sports related expenses to the back of their priorities, which is also quite understandable. 

But this is a reflection that chess is popular in the United States since there are a lot of financial opportunities for interested players in the first place. If it had not been popular, those opportunities wouldn’t have existed.

Bobby Fischer has been the symbol of American Chess

During the span of the cold war where Russians and Americans try to win over everything, chess has been dominated by Russia where Americans are nowhere near the world title.

This has all changed when Bobby Fischer came to the field guns blazing on a particular year, where he single handedly handled the Russians all by himself.

There were many other great american chess players at the time but nowhere came near to the impact Bobby Fischer had. Biggest of all, he became the world champion in a time where all champions were russians.

Bobby Fischer is probably the biggest catalyst to the love of Americans for chess participation, there are others such as Gata Kamsky and Nigel Short that introduced the game to the public and has sparked attention.

Bobby has also starred in a lot of shows that further establishes his achievements, a lot of people also loved his personality. 

He started sort of a butterfly effect that led to the love of the game in modern america, he definitely has a lot of unprecedented impact in the contemporary world.

Many popular chess organizations are based in the US

This is another thing that should be considered, when there are a lot of organizations mainly focused on a particular game, it is an indication of its popularity.

There are a lot of chess organizations such as the Saint Louis chess club which provides a home for chess enthusiasts, professional or not, in the United States. 

They have a full 6,000 square foot center filled with libraries, classrooms, hall, and casual playing area to meet strong chess masters even if you are just getting interested in this.

It is not only the presence of these big associations that you can see the popularity of the game in America, many small chess camps are also populated throughout the country.

One can easily find formal over-the-board groups in the United States compared to some third-world countries where you have to look in deeper for favorable organizations (not online).

This is a testament to the popularity of the game in the United States reflecting internal support. 

The combination of the biggest chess clubs and smaller ones means that the market is proliferating even when there are many other popular games on the rise.

Basketball, Soccer, Baseball, Tennis, or even online games such as the defense of the ancients 2 are becoming more popular than ever. It seems that chess is keeping up with this battle and not getting overshadowed.

Chess is popular in American public spaces

It is much easier to find a place and someone to play in a public park in America than any other place out there, some tables have imprints of chess boards within them waiting to be played.

You can easily realize this by walking down the sidewalk and going to places with a large volume of people (doesn’t have to be a park but is just the most common example).

With the legacy of some of the greatest chess players like Carlsen and Kasparov on the internet, more people are becoming interested in getting into chess (also hikaru, he is a big influence).

There are so many parks in the US where they make it easy to play chess. You can find a lot of chess hustlers in places like L.A. (MacArthur Park) and NYC (Washington Square Park) to name a few.

Many chess hustlers are out around these places though trying to swindle you out of your money so be careful, most of them are pretty strong.

Nonetheless, the fact that there are even hustlers says a lot about the popularity of the game. This means that so many people are willing to play enough, that a lot of people will be interested in hustling in the first place.

Giant chess sets populated US public parks

This is not a complete guarantee, but a lot of parks in the US host giant chess sets just to increase traction (display sets). I think this is pretty interesting since it reflects, again, popularity.

Maintaining giant chess sets is quite time-extensive and even costly due to continuous repairs from environmental conditions, it is very hard to maintain.

Owners have to continually bleed money in order to maintain these tourist attractions, so there must be an assumption that a lot of people will even use the thing by hosting it in the first place.

By the fact that there many exist of this (again, not a guarantee within your place) means that it is popular enough to warrant the maintenance that comes along with having it.

The USCF is almost as authoritative as Fide itself

Chess is so popular in the United States in fact that a whole different federation has almost as big a reputation as the international organization fide itself, namely the uscf (United States Chess Federation).

Among all the famous chess federations out there, the United States chess federation might be the most organized and independent to the national governing body, fide amongst others.

They have their own rating system different from international fide elo, their own set of rules, on qualification for arbiters, and pretty much a completely different field from fide.

They even have their own titles namely class A, class B, class C, etc. that are completely unique to their own federation! Fide does not have the same title system and USCF has complete autonomy to their players.

Not even Russia in India has the same federation influence as with the United States chess federation. 

This autonomy can only come if there are many participants who are willing to support the game in the country.

Many don’t have the same authoritativeness as the USCF and left to see their native players participating in the Fide field. The existence of this large federation will ensure the reputation of shows in america for years to come

Americans can afford paying for chess

Now let’s talk about why the reputation of chess seemed so visible in the United States among other places, because this is a huge factor. I think it primarily revolves around monetary power.

People from other countries who may have the passion and talent will find it difficult to participate in tournaments that require fees but they can’t afford. These people are much more likely to be led away from the game.

This may not seem much if you are registered in USCF but for individuals who live in third world countries, that money could have been spent on more essential things in life.

Not to mention the learning materials, learning chess on a professional level can be expensive when you start hiring coaches and investing on information products.

Courses, ebooks, chess books or courses cost significant money if brought together. Americans are much more likely to stay in the game since they can afford the cost of doing so, which some countries cannot.

There might be a lot of monetary opportunities for being a chess player, but the road to get there is discouraging.

Now you may argue that there are a lot of resources for free online, but is it really free for people who really want it?

Related: 30 actionable steps to effectively teach chess to kids

There is no free learning materials in chess

We have to consider the cost of the internet, viewing learning materials online is not exactly free since you have to pay for the internet that would access the materials.

People from the US have so much access to resources that they are likely to pursue it professionally, expressing their passion into fruition.

There is not a lot of money in chess, a lot of people can afford to pursue the game in the United States primarily because there is much more income potential that would support the love for the game.

Study from YouGov suggests that chess is popular in the U.S.

There was a huge study in an authoritative polling organization Yougov (link), stating that 70% of the adult population has played chess at some point during their lives in a mixed population (US, UK, Germany, Russia, and India).

Now this doesn’t mean that the adults participating in the study have continued playing the game at the current point of their life, just that they have played it at some point.

I think if anyone who will read this growing from the US can agree with this data, a lot of people have tried playing the game especially at a young age when there is little to no responsibility yet.

Part of the reason is the existence of schools, academic institutions that really incentivize extracurricular activities revolving around all kinds of sports.

Now it is an argument if chess is a sport, but we can all agree that it is an extracurricular activity that can be an indicator of bonus points for the students, especially in the US.

This early introduction to the game might have paved the way for bigger participation even away from schools, igniting the interest of young kids.

This system might have been the reason why chess has become so popular, adding to the reasons stated above, schools played a role in introducing chess to students.

Chess has been used to talk about deeper U.S. subjects

Chess has been such a popular game that the media and a couple of intellectuals have brought up some questionable things about the activity that can be related to American issues.

It has led to deeper discussions of topics that Americans take seriously, racism (making white move first) and feminism.

The other issue is of course feminism, that the gender separation in chess seems to be biased towards men and keeps the women from excelling. 

The fact that these public figures/outlets talk about chess means that it is a subject that a lot of people actually care about, otherwise, it won’t even be noticed. 

If it is a random game that wasn’t really attracting the eye of the public, it is not a good subject to be discussed since it doesn’t even have a good reputation in the first place.

It has reached these platforms since people do actually play chess a lot, and its symbolical and structural discrimination is affecting the sentiments of people that do participate in this game.

Russia, United States, and India are the big 3 of chess

The three biggest countries of chess have always been Russia, the United States, and India, both for the number of people who support the game and the number of their professional players.

Now it is a question who is number one since all three of these countries try to be over one another depending on the year, but the point is chess is very popular in these nations.

Historically a lot of elites fall into Russia because of the cold war, and Americans try to catch up in talent with a new set of generational players. 

India is the up to coming powerhouse in the game with almost similar popularity comparable to Russia and the United States at the moment. 

This competition is actually good for the future of chess since people are going to be more interested in trying to beat each other while engaging in the game as a by-product.

I do not see US chess slowing down in the foreseeable future, especially with the help of a hikaru nakamura (super grandmaster) which spearheaded the introduction of new players in the fanbase.

I can only see chess proliferating in the United States more than ever now that grandmasters are getting a lot of coverage online. People are appreciating US chess players more than ever.

Do you now know that chess is popular in the US?

There are definitely a lot of factors that make a game popular in a specific country, usually through a series of events that made it that way. This is the case with the United States.

The biggest events are probably Bobby Fischer winning the title and the desire to beat the Russians in the cold war. There are also some other conditions like monetary power.

There are so many grandmasters representing chess in the US that it is unfathomable to deny its popularity, people are clearly seeing it as a reasonable career choice. 

The future is very bright, more people are engaging the game online and the United States’ chess population are surely growing. I just hope that the trend will see fruition, sleep well and play chess.