The UK government’s proposed £1 million investment in chess is coming at the right time according to a YouGov poll, conducted in association with World Chess and Domains, which shows an extensive decline in chess club memberships. Only 6% of those who continue to play either regularly or within the past 12 months have a chess club member in the UK, whilst 41.2% have historically been a chess club member, but have left over time. 

UK player numbers static

The decline in membership of the traditional chess club correlates to the ascension of online chess platforms, with the overall percentage of the UK population who play chess on a regular basis or within the last 12 months remaining flat at 13% over the past 10 years. The percentage proportion of male to female players has also remained consistent at 69% and 31% respectively.

London & South East is the UK’s chess hot spot

London and the South East of England was the only region where the survey found a meaningful number of players who are currently members of a chess club, at 5.6% but still recorded a 43% reduction in terms of players rescinding their chess club memberships over time. The same region also recorded the highest proportion of players, with 17.3% of the survey group playing either regularly or within the past year. This climbed to 21% when counting London alone.

The second most populous UK chess region was Northern Ireland, with 11.5%, closely followed by Scotland with 11% and the North of England with 10.5% The Midlands had the lowest proportion of players at 6% followed by Wales with 7.7%.

Commenting on the survey, Ilya Merenzon, CEO of World Chess, said“Whilst online chess platforms deliver the game on-demand, it has always been a sociable pastime. Chess player numbers have remained consistent over the past 10 years, but we expect that Covid has also impacted chess club membership, as it has with other leisure pursuits. The UK government’s recently announced plans to invest in chess initiatives, which we are hopeful will help generate new clubs and foster a new generation of players.

“As an international chess organisation, we do see a trend in the de-virtualization of chess, and people’s interest in not playing alone. We recently opened World Chess Club Berlin, Germany, where we are focused on redefining the traditional chess club culture by creating a dedicated hub for playing, socialising and hosting tournaments, and where membership is not required. Building on the early success of this model and the interest we have seen from people wanting to play chess in an entertaining environment, we are looking to open new sites in other major city locations.”