How many Americans play and follow chess

David MontgomerySenior data journalist
June 15, 2024, 3:08 AM GMT+0

Around one in five Americans (21%) play chess at least occasionally, half as many as the 43% of U.S. adult citizens who don't know how to play the game.

A new YouGov survey finds chess is more popular among younger adults, men, and college graduates than it is among older Americans, women, and adults without college degrees. 10% of Americans follow competitive chess at least "somewhat closely," and majorities of Americans have no opinion about seven top competitive chess players including Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, and Magnus Carlsen.

Among the findings from the survey:

A majority of Americans know how to play chess, but only 4% play chess regularly. Another 17% play the game occasionally, while 34% say they don't play but know the rules.

Among the 21% of Americans who do play chess, 73% say they're interested in the game's mental challenge, while 52% cite the competition. 41% find the social connections with other players interesting and 32% like the game's history and culture. (Respondents could select more than one option.)

Many Americans have a positive image of people who play chess. 50% of U.S. adult citizens say typical chess players are smarter than average, compared to 36% who say chess players are of average intelligence and just 2% who say chess players are less intelligent than average.

Views of the intelligence of typical chess players are similar among Americans who play chess and among those who don't.

Competitive chess doesn't have a large fandom in the U.S. Just 3% of U.S. adult citizens say they follow competitive chess "very closely," while another 6% follow it "somewhat closely." 76% of Americans don't follow competitive chess at all.

Competitive chess is somewhat more popular among adults under 45: In this group, 7% follow competitive chess very closely and 12% somewhat closely. Just 2% of Americans 45 or older follow competitive chess very or somewhat closely.

The world of competitive chess recently has been subject to accusations of cheating. Two-thirds of the 22% of Americans who follow competitive chess at least a little — very closely, somewhat closely, or not closely at all — say cheating is a small problem (33%) or a big (35%) problem. Those who follow competitive chess more closely are more likely to say it has a problem of cheating.

Many top current and former chess grandmasters are not famous among Americans. Out of seven grandmasters asked about in the YouGov survey, the best-known is Cold War champion Bobby Fischer — and only 41% of Americans have an opinion about him. The next best-known champion is Garry Kasparov, who has become a political activist opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin since retiring from chess; only 30% of Americans have an opinion about Kasparov. Only 21% of Americans have an opinion of Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian grandmaster who is the top-ranked chess player in the world.

Milan Dinic, Carl Bialik, and Taylor Orth contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: This YouGov poll was conducted online on June 12 - 14, 2024 among 1,105 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Getty

Explore more data & articles