“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”, is how Charles Dickens begins his masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities. From the very first lines to the end of the novel, Dickens’ theme is contrasting the cruelty of the Reign of Terror which occurred after the onset of the French Revolution with individual acts of generosity from those who saw past their differences to show compassion toward others.
Lucky for us, there is no Reign of Terror occurring in the chess world but, to a large extent, as a chess community, we are in the midst of a revolution experiencing the best and worst of times. Over the board chess tournaments are canceled, chess clubs are permanently closing, esteemed coaches are quitting and even the park table hustlers are resigning to the force of the pandemic. Of course, it’s not all been bad news for chess as a whole. In fact, Magnus Carlsen’s online chess tour events have set ratings records, the top chess streamers have become rockstars, The Queen’s Gambit became the surprise number one hit on Netflix and chess.com has seen its user base grow at an unprecedented rate. Americans turned to chess during the era of Covid-19 much in the same way that Monopoly captured the imagination of Americans during the Great Depression.
All of the ingredients for the online chess revolution were already on the table when forced social distancing caused the great disruption of over-the-board chess. Unfortunately, many longtime chess professionals lacked the skill sets necessary to take advantage of the online chess boom. Rather than wait it out, they will need to adapt. Chess is a game full of tradition but revolutions have away of erasing traditions and I believe certain changes to how we participate in chess are here to stay.
However, some things will never change. Chess itself is timeless and I know that the chessboard will continue to bridge the gap between whatever divides us for generations to come. For this reason, I am not fighting in or complaining about this revolution even though my nonprofit academy was an early casualty. It was a fun 15 years running the Torres Chess and Music Academy and I have no regrets. By stepping away from the competitive chess business arena and instead volunteering as a chess mentor, I believe I will better maintain friendships, continue to grow the game and most importantly, be a better role model for all my students, past, present or future. My greatest hope for the future is that my students remember that during these unprecedented times, if I errored that I errored on the side of compassion and that is how we made the best of the worst of times.