Chess & Pop Culture: There’s More Than Meets the Eye

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MP recently had the chance to catch up with Nadia Panteleeva, Head of Partnerships for Chess & Company, which is part of World Chess Group. We discussed the increasing popularity of chess, what role The Queen’s Gambit played in such popularity, what makes for a successful competitive chess player, and how you can improve your skills when playing at home. 

MP: Hi, Nadia. Thank you so much for joining us today.

NP: Absolutely! I’m happy to be here.

MP: What’s World Chess?

NP: World Chess is a media and gaming company that develops chess. It’s an official broadcaster and commercial partner of the International Chess Federation (FIDE). World Chess organized the FIDE Championship Matches in Russia, the USA, and the UK. World Chess develops Armageddon, a chess TV show, and organizes the Grand Prix Series. In 2020, the company introduced the FIDE Online Arena, an exclusive official online gaming platform.

MP: How has World Chess been responsible for the game-changing rise in the popularity of chess?

NP: The first thing the World Chess team did when it came to chess was commissioning a study from YouGov to calculate the real audience of chess, understand where this audience is based, and what their interests are. This study is now used by everyone in chess.

World Chess launched an intensive rebranding campaign, accompanied by the British studio Pentagram, and produced chess sets that are now an essential part of the chess championship cycle of events.

Then, the company successfully organized the championship matches in 2016 and 2018 in the world’s media hubs, London and New York. The goal was to turn chess into an edgy, modern, and boundary-pushing sport with a strong social and humanistic angle. At that time, World Chess signed the largest media contract in the history of chess and attracted a few major commercial sponsors.

In 2020, the company launched the online chess gaming FIDE Online Arena, where users can play for the official online ratings. Now, World Chess is looking for more interesting formats for staging and broadcasting chess to bring the sport’s visual and user experience up to date. Overall, World Chess has been responsible for what modern chess looks like these days.

The goal was to turn chess into an edgy, modern, and boundary-pushing sport with a strong social and humanistic angle.

Nadia Panteleeva, Head of Partnerships for Chess & Company

MP: What impact do you think The Queen’s Gambit has had on the popularity of chess?

NP: During the pandemic, chess became a very popular activity. When the series came out, it only increased interest in the game. For example, the World Chess Shop, which sells the official Chess championship cycle chess sets, saw sales increase by 400%. At the same time, the number of subscribers on the official FIDE Online Arena platform doubled every day.

Requests for educational courses in World Chess Club Moscow among women increased repeatedly – now 70% of the students are women. World Chess Club Moscow is a novel concept by World Chess to create the hippest chess club in the world. It’s a popular bar, stunning chess club, and Berlin-style coffee shop all blended into one. The club runs chess courses, and yes, 70% of the new students are women.

Streaming platforms like Twitch have also had a skyrocketing viewership of chess streams.

Since the release of The Queen’s Gambit, the brand started taking an active interest in female chess players and competitions. They also became more interested in special activities, specifically those aimed at supporting women’s communities. And finally, chess has been re-introduced into people’s lives in this very dramatic and sexy way. Something we, as chess promoters, could only hope for!

Man speaking at FIDE event
Photo courtesy of World Chess

MP: What’s Chess & Company and why was it created?

NP: World Chess is the leading company (if not the only one!) that sells chess professionally. After the release of The Queen’s Gambit, we began to receive inquiries from major international brands and small companies that were interested not only in sponsoring large-scale chess tournaments, but also in the organization of special marketing activities with players, online tournaments, and the female chess community. They wanted to add chess to their marketing mix.

Due to our experience, we were also approached by some players and chess organizers who asked to help them with sponsors.

So, the timing was perfect to set up a sister company to offer a dedicated chess sponsorship service and development that works with the wider market, not just World Chess’ events, while offering clients the most experienced team in the business.

Chess & Company can draw talent from those who made chess popular and staged phenomenal events such as the World Chess Championship matches. We have offices in London, Berlin, and Moscow, with separate PR and event departments, design teams, a strategic marketing department, and a group of analysts.

MP: Do great chess players have certain life experiences, interests, or ways of solving problems?

NP: Every grandmaster is different, of course. All the top chess players started at a very young age and have competed in hundreds of tournaments. At some point in time, most continued with a coach. If we talk about lifestyle, all grandmasters travel a lot, because tournaments are held in different places.

Many top players have similar interests: gaming and cybersports, passion for soccer (good examples here are Andrey Esipenko, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Magnus Carlsen). By the way, successful soccer and hockey players are also interested in chess: for example, Trent Alexander Arnold is not only an excellent footballer but he is also a keen chess player.

Playing chess influences strategic thinking and problem-solving. The most successful people on the planet, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, as well as the founders of Microsoft and Facebook are fond of chess for a reason.

MP: So far as chess strategy goes, what are the top three character traits successful chess players have?

NP: I should probably say persistence, determination, and strategic thinking, but I want to say, live-streaming, live-streaming, and tweeting.

World Chess Match
Photo courtesy of World Chess

MP: What does it take to be a successful competitive chess player?

NP: For one, top players must have very dedicated parents. All grandmasters start playing at an early age, they train for several hours a day, five to six days a week. At a certain age, they need a coach to make a breakthrough and move on to another level. It requires a lot of resources, help from parents, and of course, sponsors. That’s why many chess players have sponsors who support them from an early stage.

Many grandmasters not only have a chess coach, but also a team to help prepare for the playing season. Their daily training programs include physical activities such as running, swimming, basketball, and other sport. We also know that chess players have special diets. In four to five months, they eliminate sugar and alcohol and switch to a healthier diet.

MP: How does an aspiring chess player improve their skills enough to compete successfully?

NP: As I said before, many chess players have a special system of training, which includes sports, chess, and proper nourishment. Of course, healthy, good-quality sleep is also included. Like everywhere else, there are also trends in chess, such as openings. Chess players must also be aware of all the trends.

Before big tournaments, chess players watch the games of their opponents and work out a strategy. Just like in any other sport.

Playing chess influences strategic thinking and problem solving. The most successful people on the planet, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, as well as the founders of Microsoft and Facebook are fond of chess for a reason.

Nadia Panteleeva, Head of Partnerships for Chess & Company

MP: When thinking about life balance, what’s most important for competitive chess players to consider?

NP: It all depends on the individual chess player. Some prefer a few hours of rest before a game, while others train to the last minute. But the most important thing is to maintain the basic principles of health: good sleep, healthy food, varying activity, not overloading, and taking care of yourself.

MP: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

NP: We notice how many people and brands are ready to do different products and projects related to chess. But there are so many nuances in chess, starting with the position on the board and ending with how the player moves the pieces. We are open and happy to help such companies and brands with consulting.

Cover photo courtesy of World Chess.

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