Chess surges in popularity, within club and beyond

Migle Acas, Staff Reporter

With the rise of advanced, ubiquitous technology, the current high school generation has grown up playing video games on systems like PC, Xbox, PlayStation, etc. But why have teens at Sandburg recently replaced their video games for a game over 1400 years old? First played in 200 B.C.E, the most recent gaming obsession to hit Sandburg is chess.

According to Sandburg English teacher Mr. Kris Kwak, many students have recently been spotted playing chess. He explains that “I actually see them doing it on their Chromebooks too, because I know it’s not blocked out there. If there’s ever any downtime or something, if there’s maybe a few minutes at the end of class, I’ll see people, and sometimes they’re even playing each other in the room, which is really interesting.”

What has influenced this recent spike in chess popularity throughout Sandburg? This chess obsession has seemingly developed out of nowhere. But this abrupt chess obsession might have been influenced by a cocktail of social media trends.

When asked what he believes influenced this sudden fandom, Mr. Kwak comments, “I don’t know. It just it seems so random. I imagine that it must have been like some like internet phenomenon, maybe they saw something on TikTok, and that just spread like wildfire. And it’s interesting, because I don’t know if it’s specific to Sandburg, or if you know, everywhere is doing this, but it’s just seems so interesting that there was this huge spike.”

The popularity of chess has been growing at an accelerated pace the last few years — not just at Sandburg, but all over the nation. According to data on, the most popular digital chess gaming platform, there have been operational challenges due to the astronomical increase of players. In a January 21, 2023 Twitter post, the program reached 10 million users for the first time ever.

Chess has been booming since the Covid-19 pandemic. TV shows such as Queen’s Gambit and other internet platforms like may have expanded the game’s popularity. This phenomenon is no exception to the Sandburg community, whose students have seemingly swapped out their beloved Hay Day with a game of chess in between lessons.  

From the firsthand perspective of a student, Sandburg’s Hector Villa explains that “it was earlier this semester, one of my friends had brought a chess board into lunch. And I thought it was like, it was a little nerdy. So I was watching them play, and I found it more interesting. So then as they as they played, I tried to pick up all the pieces. So I would ask them, what does this piece do? That’s really how I got into it.” 

As a long time player of chess, Sandburg Senior and chess team member Ved Shah gives his observations on Sandburg’s interest in chess: “At first, I thought that it might be just some kind of a competition and everyone wanted to just prove themselves to others, but now I see that it’s not been that, but they actually care about chess and getting better. Everyone wants to be a good competitor, so they have started taking chess seriously and have been playing not only on spare time but also outside of it.” 

Shah also shares his thoughts on what he believes were the key aspects to this instant popularity. “I think that chess became famous this year because [of] TikTok and all the chess edits that suddenly started blowing up on the platform. Also the Twitch streamers and also Youtube streamers have promoted it for it to be respected and played more.”

Will this ancient game continue to dominate Sandburg Chromebook and iPhone screens? What will it do to the integrity of the highly respected game that it has become a part of pop culture in this way? Shah thinks the trend is a good thing for the game. “I think overall it’s been really amazing to see chess progress in such a cool way and really getting the respect and the position that the sport deserves.”