Chess has been experiencing a surge in popularity recently, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic which has forced people to find new hobbies and interests. But with increased interest comes new challenges, and a panel of experts gathered at the MIT Sloan School of Management’s annual Sports Analytics Conference to discuss some of the modern challenges facing the game.
The panel included top Grandmasters Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, as well as Women’s Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade. They were joined by Daryl Morey, the President of basketball operations at the Philadelphia 76ers and host IM Danny Rensch, Chief Chess Officer at Chess.com.
One of the main topics of discussion was cheating in chess. Nakamura acknowledged that the issue is not going away and needs to be taken seriously by governing bodies, but also saw the silver lining in that the awareness of the issue will ultimately make the game better. Caruana spoke about how the suspicion of cheating has been festering beneath the surface in online chess for some time, even at the highest levels, but it was largely ignored by organizers. He noted that the suspicions and paranoia can significantly impact a player’s performance, as they don’t know if they’re playing against a real opponent or someone or something that will beat them no matter what.
Morey praised the chess community for eventually getting the response to the recent Magnus against Hans cheating scandal right. He emphasized that in situations where cheating is suspected, it’s important to presume innocence until guilt is proven and let the situation play out. Eventually, cheaters are discovered, as has happened in other sports with steroid and doping scandals.
The panel also discussed the future of chess, with Shahade suggesting that the game needs to be more welcoming to beginners and more inclusive overall. She believes that chess is not just for geniuses and should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or skill level. Nakamura shared his vision of a more fast-paced, action-packed version of chess, with shorter time controls and more aggressive play. He also noted that the popularity of online chess has opened up new possibilities for different formats of the game.
Overall, the panel agreed that the game of chess should be willing to adjust and adapt to new challenges and opportunities. The increased interest in the game presents a unique chance to broaden its appeal and reach new audiences, but it will require thoughtful and innovative approaches to both the game itself and its presentation.