2021 wasn’t a great year for otb chess. While most official competitions on the national, continental and global level could be realized, a lot of regional events and open tournaments were cancelled. Overall, 1,242,553 games were rated by FIDE. This is a bit more than in 2020, but still 53% less than in 2019, the last year before the pandemic. While in some countries there are hardly any competions, in Poland chess life is nearly as active as before Covid-19 struck and self-isolated Australia even saw more chess than two years ago.
Number of FIDE rated games 2021 compared to 2019 (2019: 100%)
Source: FIDE ratings office Elista
FIDE kept organising events even when the fourth wave struck. The health risks for vaccinated participants were justifiable when weighed against the general welfare of the players. Never before has FIDE distributed as much prize money as in 2021. With the World Cup, the Grand Chess Tour, the Grand Swiss, the top leagues and the Champions Chess Tour online top professionals earned well in spite of the pandemic. Lower rated professionals whose income depends more on open tournaments did much worse.
Never before has FIDE distributed as much prize money as in 2021.
Several young players put their mark in 2021. First of all, 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja who was 16th on the September world ranking had climbed to the 2nd spot at record speed by November. Jan-Krzysztof Duda, 23, won the World Cup and became Poland’s first world championship candidate in a century. Vincent Keymer, was runner-up at the European Championship and became the youngest-ever German number one both before this 17th birthday. Nordirbek Abdusattorov became the World Rapid Champion at 17.
Jorden van Foreest clinched first place at Tata Steel Chess at 21. Before winning the tie-break against Anish Giri the Dutchman had won on the same day one of the best games of the year against Grandelius. Other outstanding games of 2021 include Carlsen – Fedoseev (World Cup Sochi), Firouzja – Rapport (Stavanger), Navara – Fedoseev (European Club Cup Struga) and Gelfand – Movsesian (Grand Swiss Riga).
Unsurprisingly the world championship match in Dubai attracted the biggest attention even though it became a one-sided affair after challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi collapsed midway. The Meltwater Champions Chess Tour by the Play Magnus Group did very well, and so did the Pogchamps 3 series in which Chess.com featured celebrity streamers. But the most watched online games were played by Irene Sukandar exposing a cheater who had made headlines in Indonesia. Fortunately online cheating didn’t create as many headlines and headaches as it had in 2020.
Chess.com may be the biggest winner of the year, opening the 75millionth account in November, counting 4,6 billion games and driving the chess growth on Twitch.
Generally, online chess has kept growing. Chess.com, possibly the biggest winner of the year, opened its 75millionth account in November, has counted 4,6 billion games played over the year and is the driving force for chess nearly doubling its viewership on Twitch in 2021, which is considerably more than the 30% growth across the streaming channel.
Chess variants didn’t really benefit from the growth. And hybrid chess hasn’t been picked up nearly as much as would have made sense to enable play while keeping a distance and to decrease the CO2 impact of international competition. Don’t be deceived by the slow start of the year. The chess calendar of 2022 is full including a Candidates Tournament, Chess Olympiad, the third Champions Chess Tour online and another Grand Chess Tour. The first highlight begins Saturday in Wijk aan Zee.