Coronavirus vs. Chess
Coronavirus is changing many things. How do you think it is changing chess?

Coronavirus vs. Chess

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The novel coronavirus has paralyzed the world, and unfortunately, there is no clear sign of it slowing down. It will take years if not decades to learn the final toll it took on humankind. Needless to say, chess was severely impacted, just like everything else. Let's take a look at how COVID-19 affected three broad groups of chess players.

Chess Professionals

Naturally, this group of players suffered the most. No, I am not talking about the chess elite, since I really doubt that Magnus Carlsen or anyone else from the world's top 10 is living paycheck to paycheck. Probably the biggest shock for the elite players was the weird tale of the Candidates Tournament postponement.

Personally, I feel very sorry for one of my favorite players, GM Ding Liren. I am absolutely sure that had the tournament been postponed, his result would have been completely different. And don't get me started on the topic of injustice towards GM Teimour Radjabov. I have no idea how to fix this total mess since any solution will make many people unhappy. The only positive side of the whole story is that GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finally got his chance to fight for the world title. The last game that he played in Yekaterinburg was a real masterpiece:

Yet, somehow it is difficult for me to really enjoy this game knowing the situation in which it was played. This is how I see it:

Did you enjoy the beautiful music?

As I already mentioned, it is not the chess professional elite who will experience the major impact of COVID-19. There are many professional chess players who are a couple of steps below the elite and their livelihood directly depends on the money they earn playing chess tournaments. Since all chess events (including simuls and lectures) are effectively canceled, many chess masters and grandmasters are going to suffer financially. 

I was not surprised to see a strong GM, who has probably won more open tournaments than anyone else, call the COVID-19 pandemic a conspiracy. Every day he uses his Facebook page to compare coronavirus to the common flu with the same conclusion that the common flu kills more people. I live in Seattle which was the first coronavirus epicenter in the US. Believe me, it is not the flu! If you don't trust me, read seven-time US champion Irina Krush's posts on Facebook. Yet, I absolutely understand the frustration of the above-mentioned grandmaster who lost the lion's share of his income. 

By the way, it is not only titled players who have lost income due to coronavirus. The New York Post reports that street hustlers suffer too as their business is down 90-95%.

Club Players

While this group of chess players doesn't depend on chess earnings, they still suffer because their favorite hobby is in danger. Tournaments and club meetings moved online, and it is not exactly the same as traditional face-to-face encounters. I have many young students who admit that they cannot concentrate when they play online tournaments the same way as they do when they play traditional over-the-board tournaments.

Besides, many worry about playing games like this:

It is not even the strength of the moves that surprised me: a USCF 1600+ player should be able to find them. It is the very fast play and even time distribution that made me wonder what was going on. For example, it took Black just 9.5 seconds to play a very strong move 15...b5! Of course, it is possible that Black calculated this move when he was thinking on his previous moves. Absolutely true, except here is how much time Black spent on his moves 10,11,12,13 and 14: 5.4 seconds, 20 seconds, 28.1 seconds, 11.7 seconds and 14.3 seconds, respectively. It is not just me who was impressed by the game.'s analysis thinks that Black's accuracy was 99.5%. I asked my student if his opponent won all the games in their tournament, and the answer was quite obvious. In my opinion, moving over-the-board tournaments online is going to be extremely challenging.

Editor's note: In editing this piece, we followed up with GM Serper and asked for a username to investigate this case. We were happy to hear that our fair-play team had already identified this violation: "It looks like's anti-cheating algorithm is very efficient, so the cheater was already banned this morning."

Casual Chess Players

As strange as it might sound, I think this group of players might benefit from the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of people all around the world are stuck in their homes due to the quarantine. Many of them will turn to chess out of boredom. And you know how it goes: a neat chess puzzle in a Sunday newspaper can become the start of a new passion. 

Here is one of the unexpected new chess aficionados:

I cannot say it better than the Terminator: Learn chess with your whole family! The following puzzle is not very difficult, but it is a cute puzzle by my good friend GM Vladimir Akopian. Show it to your relatives, and who knows, maybe solving this puzzle will make them interested in chess!

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