Members of the Gator Chess Club participate in a weekly blitz tournament. Once the round begins, a room of over 50 people turns completely silent as the competition ensues. (Bradley Shimel/WUFT News)

Chess grows more popular, with experiencing server issues due to high user volume


After a busy morning of classes, Ross Wolpert, a student at the University of Florida, returns to his off-campus house.

He calls up his friend, brings his chess board to his front lawn, and awaits his challenger.

“Chess has been able to keep me mentally awake,” Wolpert says. “It strengthens my mind and helps me lock in for the day.”

Chess has been around for over 1,400 years, and while Ross Wolpert is 21 years old, he began playing chess in November 2022.

“I’m a really big sports player, but I think what really stands out about chess to me is the mental aspect and looking a few moves ahead of your opponent.” Wolpert said.

Gator Chess Club President Derek Zhang presses the timer switch after completing his move during a chess match. (Bradley Shimel/WUFT News)

The game has fluctuated in popularity throughout its existence, but recently, it’s become more popular than ever.

Chess games have surged among players both in the real world and on, an online virtual platform.

Since January 2020, more than 102 million users have signed up through, a 238% increase.

On Jan. 20, recorded the highest number of active users in the site’s 18-year existence, with over 10 million active uses. has become so popular that it’s become a problem at times.

Due to the high user volume, the site’s servers have periodically become overwhelmed, occasionally preventing users from being able to play. user Jason Leeman prepares to move his queen during an online game. The site allows players to play virtually at any time or place. (Bradley Shimel/WUFT News)

Jason Leeman, a user of, considers this issue to be frustrating now, but views this as a good problem for the sport.

“It’s bad because people can’t play chess,” Leeman said. “To see it growing over the past few years is really cool.”

It isn’t just the online environment that is skyrocketing in popularity; more and more people are picking up chess as a hobby.

A game of wits and strategic planning, but the question is…why has chess become so popular recently?

The Gator Chess Club has been around since the 1980s but was inactive from 2017-2019.

After the pandemic, the club rose from the dead, and after welcoming 20 to 30 members at its weekly blitz tournaments at the start of the semester, the club now sees 50 to 60 members on average each week.

Gator Chess Club President Derek Zhang moves a piece on a chess board during a club’s weekly blitz tournament. (Bradley Shimel/WUFT News)

Club President Derek Zhang said it is serving its purpose by providing a place for people to play the rapidly growing sport.

“Chess grew a lot during COVID because people had a lot of time at home and it’s very easy to open up a game online,” Zhang said. “Then, after COVID, everyone who played online wanted a place to play in person and that’s what we’re doing here, we’re giving them that place.”

Leeman credits the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” which grew popular during the early stages of the pandemic, for the game’s success.

Other members of the chess community, such as Wolpert, believe streamers and influencers play a key role in bringing attention to the sport.

“I think in this age of social media and TikTok, people are very big on seeing things and hopping on trends,” Wolpert said. “For myself, I saw one video on it, started playing it, all my friends started playing with me and it just became a big thing.”

Regardless of where the excitement for the game is stemming from, chess shows no signs of slowing down yet both in-person and online.

About Bradley Shimel

Bradley is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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