Chess is the new king of sports amid the Covid-19 pandemic

Chess is the new king of sports amid the Covid-19 pandemic

By Tracy Cabrera

Nearly all of GM Hikaru Nakamura’s 528,000 followers on Twitch have come aboard online since the pandemic began early this year.

In cities around the world, people are developing creative ways to connect with others to cope with coronavirus quarantines, and among activities getting headway are balcony singing, workouts, and other improvised events that at times fill the silence of empty streets.

And with professional sports no closer to returning fulltime, athletes are into virtual training to keep in shape while others join in online tournaments to enhance their skills. So do grandmasters and wood pushers alike who are now filling the time with one of the world’s oldest games.

On a recent afternoon, thousands of noncombatants watched from the sidelines as their general ordered his troops across the battlefield and became locked in a fierce duel with the enemy.

At one point, Japan’s grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura berated himself for a tactical misstep that could have cost his side the high-stakes conflict. Then he smiled and began outmaneuvering his foe.

“I can’t lose,” Nakamura, 32, said to the exultant onlookers. Victory seemed close as members of the opposing army were vanquished one by one.

“I win again — there you go, guys. Wow.”

Nakamura gave himself just a moment’s respite, then plunged into another fray. Pawns, knights, bishops and even kings fell before him as the chess grandmaster demolished a slate of online challengers, all while narrating the tide of the battle to tens of thousands of fans watching him stream live on Twitch, the Amazon-owned site where people usually broadcast themselves playing video games like Fortnite and Call of Duty.

The coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders have crowned a host of unlikely winners catering to bored audiences. But watching livestreams of chess games? Could one of the world’s oldest and most cerebral games really rebrand itself as a lively enough pastime to capture the interest of the masses on Twitch?

Turns out, it already has.

In a bid to promote chess as the pandemic’s new king, Asia’s first Grandmaster Eugene Torre and national women’s team coach GM Jayson Gonzales lead Far Eastern University’s free online chess lessons beginning October 24.

The lessons, which will have morning and afternoon sessions conducted via Zoom, are open for boys and girls aged 11-17. The endeavor was spearheaded by FEU chairman Aurelio Montinola III and athletics director Mark Molina.

Torre and Gonzales, who is also the coach of the FEU chess team, will be one among the many top chess players who will train and help participants improve their game.

“Helping the development of chess among young people especially the low income or less fortunate families is the main objective and mission of the program,” Gonzales enthused in an interview.

Janelle Mae Frayna, an FEU alumna and the country’s first and only Woman GM, is also among the trainers along with International Masters Paulo Bersamina and Jerad Docena and Woman FIDE Master Michelle Yaon.

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