Chess is cool now?

OPHS’ infatuation with a 1,400 year-old game

Over the course of quarantine and our slow return to normal, many games have seen sharp rises and falls in popularity. Chess has been no exception. Now on an upward trend, the multicolored checkerboard on can be found circulating through every social media platform, chromebooks and phone screens. 

Most of chess’ recent surge in activity can be attributed to shows like Netflix’s limited drama series “The Queen’s Gambit,” which follows the orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon as she strives to become the greatest chess player in the world. The show has been one of the most popular to stream on the platform with over 62 million viewers within a month of its debut. 

From October 2020 to April 2022, saw more than a 100% increase in users jumping from eight million to 17 million. Now in February 2023, has over 110 million members with more than 350,000 joining daily and just under 400,000 actively playing during popular times.

Many students at Oak Park High School have also hopped on the chess train, playing during their breaks and free time. 

Senior Conrad Weese has been playing chess since his father taught him at four years old. According to Weese, chess has been a consistent part of his life from a very young age and he is excited to see its recent spike in popularity. 

“This chess spike has been nice,” said Weese. “I now have more people to play with than ever. From what I know some streamers started playing chess online and everybody else followed suit. It’s really great to have some new people to play with and to see innovations still emerging in a game that’s so old.”

Sophomore Joy Chu, has been playing chess at a competitive level since the age of five. She had gone to competitions consistently until the pandemic and was prompted to start playing again after seeing her classmates enjoy the game.

“Everyone is starting to get back into chess and so my interest has been rekindled,” said Chu. “I think chess is a very beneficial game and helps with thinking, analysis and problem solving, even if it’s just recreational and not competitive. I’ve seen a lot of new players being genuinely interested in the game and I think they will probably continue to pursue it recreationally.”

Along with Chu and Weese, sophomore Mark Hodges also began playing chess at a young age but it was not a consistent part of his life until recently.

“I’ve just recently started playing again because all of my friends started playing. So I got myself back up to speed so I could compete against them,” said Hodges. “I mean chess is fun to play and it’s fun to watch youtubers or grandmasters play and find these crazy moves and strategies you would never see, but I probably won’t be playing chess in the long run.”

Just like Hodges, junior Jackson Hill talked about the spike that motivated him to start playing chess again as well.

“I learned to play chess when I was eight but haven’t really played it until recently. I picked it up again because it’s a fad,” said Hill. “Sometimes during flextime kids will take out these huge chess sets and just start playing. I do enjoy playing chess and it’s now more accessible than ever for people to play. There are like 30,000 apps just to play chess.”

Whether the players are new, old or returning, it seems that much of the school and much of the world have sparked an interest, and found joy in the 8 x 8 grid.