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Tyler Cowen

Chess Is an Esport Now. Get Used to It.

A world championship match starts Friday for a game that’s been transformed by technology and popular culture and will now change even faster.

In the shadow of The Queen’s Gambit

In the shadow of The Queen’s Gambit

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The hit Netflix show “The Queen’s Gambit,” combined with pandemic lockdowns and online play, has brought chess to new popularity. That’s put a twist on a world chess championship match that starts Friday, pitting incumbent Magnus Carlsen against a Russian challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi (Nepo, for short). The future of chess may be at stake.

Chess championship matches have often represented clashes of styles and cultures. Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky in 1972 was the brash, arrogant solo American beating back the Soviet chess empire and heralding Cold War victory. The Garry Kasparov vs. Anatoly Karpov matches of the 1980s and 1990 showed a heady young dissident overthrowing a loyal communist. More recently, the contests have been less political. In 2013, Carlsen beat Viswanathan Anand to capture the title when he was just 22 years old, a triumph of youth over experience.