The COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of peoples interests online, whether thats playing Dungeons & Dragons over Zoom or taking virtual workout classes. But at least one of these interests, online chess, dates back at least 1,000 years. Why is playing chess online so popular?
You love badass games. So do we. Let's play together.
Chess is a deceptively simple gameeasy to learn, but hard to master, as one adage goeswhere each player has 16 pieces. These are eight pawns, two rooks, two bishops, two knights, and a king and queen. The board has 64 squares, like a checkerboard, and is easy to refer to using a classic grid notation system used in maps and even the game Battleship: A, B, C, ... along one axis and 1, 2, 3, ... along the other.
What this all means is that in order to play a game of chess online, you can work with two players who each have a complete chess set and send moves in word form. Even for the pawns, which are identical, players say knights pawn, bishops pawn, and so forth. That means the earliest online chess players were able to do the same thing: noting moves using grid notation and relative terms for their pieces.
Many of the most masterful chess games require very few moves, compared with how amateurs tend to play. High-level chess players think many steps ahead and can often telescope what their opponents will decide to do. And since each piece has a restriction, like pawns that can only move one square unless its their first move and take other pieces only diagonally, chess is a popular subject for study by game theorists, statisticians, combinatoricians, and more.
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The mathematical nature of the moves has made chess a popular thing to program, and chess-playing artificial intelligence has advanced beyond human players in key ways. A computer first beat a human in 1996, and after a few high-profile incidents, chess tournaments are kept very secure to prevent any kind of computer-aided cheating. Chess engines can run in tandem and give insights as viewers watch major chess matches online.
For a long time, people playing chess online in predecessor systems like bulletin boards could exchange short strings of characters that indicated their moves. You can do this with just lettersK for king, Q for queen, and so forthwith N for knight, since K is already in use.
But online chess players, at least, have had another option since at least 1995, when documentation from Unicode confirms the chess pieces were part of the character set likely from the very first version of Unicode. Like card suits, logic and math notation, and certain map and public safety symbols, the people who designed computer fonts knew users were likely to need these special characters to put into newspaper chess columns, for example, or for the actual printing of maps without separate typesetting.
Today, that means almost any online chess arena can introduce full notation with all pieces represented in their real grid. That means games can be pretty low-techno one needs plug-ins or rendered artwork, and exchanging moves is only a few technical steps past sending them back and forth in emails or even the mail. And when much of online chess takes the form of speed matches played in 3 or even 1 minute (!), the less technical overhead, the better.
If you want to wade into online chess, check out Chess.com for both games and a ton of lessons and help as you get started. The Free Internet Chess Server dates back decades, with browser games and an option to download their app. And Lichess, which is "just" 10 years old, is an open-source chess platform that hosts a million games a day.
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