PogChamps 3

xQc+loses+to+MoistCr1TiKaL+in+six+moves+by+an+opening+checkmate+trap+similar+to+the+Scholar%27s+Mate.

Credit: chess.com

xQc loses to MoistCr1TiKaL in six moves by an opening checkmate trap similar to the Scholar’s Mate.

Helena Zhou and Ryan Wu

The story of chess’s popularity surge over the past year is also the story of PogChamps, a series of online chess tournaments for Internet personalities hosted by Chess.com. Along with the Netflix show “The Queen’s Gambit” and emerging chess influencers including Hikaru Nakamura and the Botez sisters, PogChamps has been central to bringing chess mainstream—even going so far as to categorize the thousand-year-old game as an esport. 

The third PogChamps tournament held on Feb. 28 was comprised of two weeks of astounding outplays, frustrating blunders and French Youtuber Sardoche rising to victory in the tiebreaker of the championship final against actor Rainn Wilson—iconic for his role as Dwight Schrute in “The Office.” Meanwhile, Twitch streamer Neeko overtook Youtuber Michelle Khare in the consolation final, and Chess.com raised over $150,000 for the participants’ chosen charities.

Featuring rapper Logic and Internet sensations MrBeast, xQc, Pokimane and Ludwig, PogChamps 3 was broadcasted live on Twitch and Youtube, amassing over 375,000 concurrent viewers at its peak while incorporating live commentary by chess celebrities Nakamura, WFM Alexandra Botez, IM Levy Rozman and IM Anna Rudolf.

Looking back, PogChamps has been critical within chess’s historical narrative. Its origins stem from xQc playing chess on his streams last March, setting off the chess renaissance on Twitch and inspiring PogChamps 1 two months later. Last August, PogChamps 2 spawned the godly clip of Twitch streamer Charles Big Moist “Chess Jesus” Cr1TiKaL checkmating xQc in six moves, which garnered nearly 10 million views and was awarded Clip of the Year by Chess.com.

Despite his devastating defeat, xQc—acclaimed for his unparalleled ability to strategize winning positions into stalemates and coining moves like the “wooden shield,” “lobster pincer” and “grandmaster world-class intergalactical juicer move”—returned to the chess stage in PogChamps 3, and in an unexpected turn of events, went from losing a round in six moves to winning his first six matches undefeated. 

Although we did not see the highly-anticipated rematch between xQc and Cr1TiKaL, PogChamps 3 still produced remarkable highlights: the end of PogChamps in Rainn Wilson’s heartbreaking blunder, a riveting Armageddon tiebreaker between Ludwig and Logic with a missed mate-in-two, Twitch streamer Tubbo’s unfortunate stalemate against Logic, World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen’s endorsement of Ludwig, a thrilling showdown between Cr1TiKaL and Ludwig and Cr1TiKaL premoving his entire opening against MrBeast.

Yet surprisingly, PogChamps did have its share of controversy. GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, who is currently the fourth highest ranked in classical chess, criticized the event for being “popcorn stuff… replacing and displacing any real chess content,” to which most people disagreed (including Carlsen), as PogChamps has been monumental in increasing chess viewership and accessibility. PogChamps may not represent the pinnacle of chess prowess, but it doesn’t detract from the game’s reputation to be high-level nor the appeal of elite chess; more importantly, it combats chess’s damaging cultural gatekeeping from beginners.