Three points first: 1) Chess is the only sport where you have the same champions in the analogue game and in its digital version online. 2) For obvious logistical reasons, it is much easier to play chess online than face to face. 3) Our young generations, but not only they, arrange most of their social interactions and their activities through mobile devices. All this together constitutes a trend that is unstoppable. The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated it.
In chess, as in all sports recognized by the IOC, federations have a set of fundamental functions. They certify affiliated structures, such as clubs and local associations, and they must certify their membership identity. They provide training for referees and instructors, allocate titles and rankings that need constant updating, and organize championships. Close to 200 national chess federations are represented in FIDE. It holds together the chess community from the first lessons at schools all the way up to international championships through structures, rules and processes.
Like all man-made constructions, chess organizations are not immune to defects or criticism. But nobody can deny that they have represent the backbone of a movement of millions of people united by passion and interest in a fantastic sport. This pyramidal organization that evolved to manage over-the-board play needs now to face the online game and its social media dynamics. How will the federations and FIDE react? Will they be able to seize the opportunity by strengthening themselves? Or will they end up being marginalized?
Online chess platforms were born to provide fun and entertainment. Most of the time we see anonymous registrations with fancy nicknames, proprietary ranking calculation, uncertified anti-cheating systems, and minors playing without any parental control. All these factors have never been perceived as limitations, since most people thought that online chess shouldn’t be considered seriously. Until we realized that the number of games and the time spent online by players, of all levels and age, has increased massively compared to the over-the-board chess.
A player can be called on platform A Napoleon, have a Y rating and a Z title, while on platform B the same player could be called Beethoven with a different ranking and title. When federations try to organize an official online competition for many players, not only for a few selected champions, they encounter difficulties.
The solution is evident. It is crucial that the rules are always the same and that the rankings and titles are aligned. The different online platforms can host official games, events and tournaments. The players will have a single identity, while the rankings, the fairness of the matches and the titles are all managed, computed and assigned by the federations at the national level and by Fide internationally.
This requires synchronization between different groups and among technical systems. Solutions for these issues are relatively simple and easy to implement. The problem is actually more political than technical. Chess organizations must come to agreements and then to joint action. If the federations act together, online chess will make them and the chess world stronger.