Updated: Apr 15
TheCovid-19 pandemic has without a doubt given Chess a surge in popularity like it has never seen before. With the global population looking for ways to keep their minds sharp and stimulated, a huge contingent of people turned their attention to Chess (once they had finished their PE with Joe Wicks). With this, the already well established team at chess.com started rubbing their hands in glee at what was likely to be an inevitable and imminent Scrooge Mcduck money pool moment.
To add to the already heavy resurgence of the game, binge watchable The Queens Gambit on Netflix attracted an additional and alternative wave of players, predominantly novices looking to try their hand at being Beth Harmon. This enabled chess.com to reach a milestone that the creators never thought they’d see when splashing out on the obvious domain, surpassing 1,000,000 new members in a single week! A truly epic feat that may or may not have been achieved without Beth and COVID.
The increase in popularity chess has seen has also had a huge and positive impact for some of the games stars. Outside of GM Magnus Carlsen (current world number 1), the likes of GM Hikaru Nakumara and IM Anna Rudolf have taken the proverbial bull by the horns and ridden the new wave to become pin ups of the Chess community. Both have seen a significant increase in their social followings. Hikaru has got the twitch audiences hooked on the game, recently surpassing 1,000,000 on the streaming platform.
That's right, 1,000,000 people want to watch other people play chess, on a daily basis!
Speaking of milestones, and going back to GM Magnus Carlsen for just a second, being world number one wasnt enough for the Norwegian. In December 2019, whilst taking a break from world chess domination, Carlsen topped the rankings elsewhere. English footballs official Fantasy Premier League (FPL). Courtesy of 2 goals from his selected Captain that week, Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, Carlsen took the top spot for the whole competition coming into the new year. Something he has achieved number of times since.
Links between football and chess strategy have been well documented, however, could they really be this closely linked? When asked to comment on his success playing fantasy football, Carlsen put this partly down to studying Opta data (used by many Fantasy League Players to track footballing form) and luck. “In fantasy football I’m both an optimist and an Optamist,” he told the Guardian. “In chess, you know when you’ve done well and when you’ve done poorly, but it’s hard for me to take praise for fantasy league, when I’ve just been lucky.”
Interesting analogy. Part study, part luck. Not a phrase that would usually or ever be used by elite chess players, however you can see where positioning of both chess pieces and football players, in areas where they can be most effective is key to success in each game.
Move forward to January 2021, I am riding the new wave of chess interest, playing what feels like my 10,000th game since March 2020. Approaching a feeble 900+ daily rating on chess.com, with Gillette Soccer Saturday on in the background, Magnus Carlsen's feat in the FPL is fresh in my mind. Can both these games work on a level playing field? The short answer, yes they absolutely can. Upon doing some initial research, you can easily find attempts to do this via chessvariant.com, and it also looks as though a 1951 version of the variant was played and documented at a London Chess Conference . Whilst the variants are interesting, it appears this has been done more from the mind of a chess fan, than that of a football fan. Not enough elements of the game of football are in place to really represent the strategies the likes of Wenger and Guardiola have used over the years.
Fast forward to the current day, and as a result of collaboration between a new wave chess playing football fan (me) and a game developing freelancer, Chess Eleven was created!
Taking a standard chess board, its pieces, their manoeuvres and the games rules, we amalgamated these elements with some of the core principles of football (11 a side game, starting formation, substitutions, attack, defend, GOAL!). The result really opens up the possible outcomes in comparison to a traditional game of chess. Having introduced the starting formation element to the game, the book of openings seems infinite, along with the ability to cheat with engines almost eradicated (for now).
The game is at a prototype stage, which will be playable online by the 29th March. If you would like access to the local playable version to test with friends, drop a request to email@example.com.
There is a vision for the game to have all of the elements you would expect from a chess/football variant (league, tournament, ratings). You can keep up to date with progress by subscribing to our mailing list and also be a part of the evolution by making a donation. All funds raised will be invested into developments of the game so that one day we can look back on the prototype and see how far the game as come. Long story short, yes, this is just another chess variant, but one we hope that will bring chess and football fans onto a level playing field to see which strategy will prevail.