No, I don’t have sources telling me that world chess champion Magnus Carlsen is seething with jealousy of his rival Hikaru Nakamura, who topped 1 million stream followers yesterday. But Carlsen ought to be impressed and, if he’s human, a bit jealous. Nakamura has a growing fandom for a reason: The five-time US champion is adventurously risk-taking, blazingly fast, and creatively resourceful, and whoever produces his video thumbnails is twitchingly funny and deserves awards.
Congratulations on 1 million followers. He’s also a generous steward of charitable giving, having used his platform and power to drive donations to good causes. Also on the rise to chess stardom are the Botez sisters, Alexandra and Andrea, standout players with a growing audience. Each is a sharply instructive commentator who, as the game’s popularity surges, offers some of the best video creation and narration. They get supportive boosts from US Chess Women’s program director and two-time champion Jennifer Shahade.
Today is also the birthday of the first women’s world chess champion, Vera Menchik, born 115 years ago. She defeated the sharpest players of her era, from Samuel Reshevsky to Max Euwe. And yesterday marked a defining political anniversary: Garry Kasparov’s open rebellion against the Soviet chess authorities. The game’s governing body arbitrarily and corruptly terminated his championship match—he was winning—against Soviet-friendly Anatoly Karpov, in 1985. The termination set off “widespread speculation that the unprecedented action was designed to save defending champion Anatoly Karpov from defeat,” the Washington Post reported that year.
A salute to Kasparov, then and now. What’s all the popularity about? In addition to The Queen’s Gambit, a revealing article about the game’s pandemic appeal is headlined “Pawn Addiction Helps Me Beat the Lockdown Blues.” And yes, there are more possible chess games than the number of atoms in the known universe: 10^120 possible games, and 10^81 atoms in the universe (plus or minus). No word yet on whether Barack Obama will accept Nakamura’s chess challenge for charity.