Can Regulated Chess Betting Fuel the Game’s Popularity?

January 30, 2023
Mark Patrickson

The chess world has seen a resurgence in the last couple of years, one of the rare cases during the Covid-19 pandemic.Thanks to the popularity of Netflix's hit series "The Queen's Gambit" and the increased accessibility of online chess during 2020-22, chess is absolutely booming right now. But can greater heights be reached?

Can Chess Betting Catch on?

As a result of this surge in popularity, top players and organisers of elite tournaments are considering the possibility of regulated betting on chess in the United States as a way to continue the momentum and attract more sponsorship to the game.

However, the regulated sports betting industry in the US has yet to fully embrace chess betting. Only a handful of states have approved wagering on chess, and the debate over whether or not to introduce betting on the game is ongoing.

Prominent businessman and investor Rex Sinquefield, founder of the world-renowned St. Louis Chess Club, believes that chess betting is a good idea because it attracts people to sports. But the chess community is aware of the potential for abuse and has concerns about fairness and transparency in the betting process. Let’s face it, many sports have been tarnished in the past with match fixing scandals. Only last month, we saw 10 Chinese snooker players banned for such offences and cricket has a long history of these crimes.

Grandmaster Sam Sevian of New York warns that, compared to team sports, betting on chess is riskier because

"...people could bet on themselves or the opponent, and this isn't going to be easy to stop…if there is a way to prevent this from happening—chess betting is okay."

In short, it is incredibly difficult to prove that a top-level chess game has been fixed. There are very few people in the world even capable of understanding the details in such an encounter, let alone deep enough to spot deliberate weak play.

What Precautions Can Be Taken?

Sportsbooks can take precautions against certain players, and minors can be protected as well. Elite chess players typically don't reach their full playing strength until their 20s or 30s, so sportsbooks could pass on games if an elite grandmaster in an event is under 18. Furthermore, some states already have rules against betting on contests involving minors, even if they are world-class competitors.

While the debate over chess betting continues, it is clear that the game is currently enjoying a period of renewed popularity and the chess community is eager to find ways to continue to promote and grow the game.

Regulated betting on chess is a future possibility, but the industry will have to find a way to balance the potential benefits with the need for caution.

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