Russia’s war in Ukraine is causing ripples in the world of online chess

A government ban has made it harder for Russian players to play on

There’s a digital duopoly you’re likely unaware of unless you know how to elicit a checkmate. and are the 2 most popular online chess platforms in the world, hosting 10m+ and 5m+ daily games, respectively.

Besides game volume, the platforms have another big difference. is a 200-person private company, while is an open-sourced server run by volunteers and donations (a la Wikipedia).

Per Rest of World, this dynamic, and the platforms’ respective responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has rattled the online chess landscape in Russia, where the game is a national pastime.

In February…

… issued a statement condemning Russia’s invasion. Besides voicing support for Ukraine, the company has:

  • Banned accounts from Russian players under international sanctions, including multiple Russian oligarchs
  • Removed the Russian flag from players’ icons
  • Excluded Russian teams from playing in some tournaments

In response, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media supervision agency, blocked, prohibiting Russian players from using the site.

Russian players…

… only make up ~4% of’s user base. However, the country has long been home to more grandmasters (the highest title a chess player can achieve) than any other nation.

In 2021, ~14% of global grandmasters came from Russia (the US was 2nd with 5.5%).

Some players have moved over to, which has faced pressure to make its own statement on the conflict, but hasn’t — likely due to the platform’s open nature.

Despite the tension…

… says it hasn’t seen a meaningful decline in Russian users, with many circumventing the government ban by using VPNs.

Further, in April, 44 of Russia’s top players signed an open letter to Putin to stop the war.

Perhaps he should listen — chess is a game of strategy after all.

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