What has COVID-19 done for chess?

“The beauty of chess is it can be whatever you want it to be. It transcends language, age, race, religion, politics, gender and socioeconomic background. Whatever your circumstances, anyone can enjoy a good fight to the death over the chess board”

– Simon Williams

Chess can be dated back at least 1500 years to Northern India, and it has evolved with the times; even through this pandemic. Although the exact number of chess players worldwide is unknown, we know that the number of players has grown over the last eight years. The last estimate by Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) was 600 million in 2012. This figure is expected to have increased, especially over the last year. But why has chess become so popular?

The impact of the pandemic

Chart showing the percentage of revenue that makes up the £117 million games market

2020 has been an unprecedented and disruptive year, but despite this it has been a year of extraordinary growth. One where total internet searches grew by almost 70 percent, e-commerce by almost 12 percent and online streaming services by 28 percent, the online gaming market has shown exceptional growth with experts at Newzoo estimating that the games market would generate £124 billion in revenue, a 15 percent increase compared to the previous year. This exceeded the original £117 billion estimate.

Chart showing the growth of the gaming market.

In the first and last quarter of the year, platforms like Lichess, Chess.com and Chess24 reported significant spikes in activity leading to multiple server upgrades to cope with this increased demand.

Why is watching Netflix good for chess?

Based on Google Trends search queries for the terms ‘chess’ and ‘How to play chess’ worldwide, there was an increased affinity for the game in March/April and October/November. COVID-19 has fuelled the gaming industry during this period, now that everyone has more time, causing these peaks. A study carried out by Instant Offices found the average commute in London to be 74 minutes a day and 40 minutes elsewhere in the world. This, coupled with the cancellation of numerous shows and sport encouraged extra hours on in-home entertainment.

Chart showing the popularity of Chess search terms.

The second peak in late October was due to the release of Netflix’s record-setting series The Queen’s Gambit. The show, which featured a female protagonist Anya Taylor-Joy playing Beth Harmon, ranked #1 in 63 countries. Magnus Carlsen, the world’s highest-ranked grandmaster, noted that the series “did chess better” than anything Hollywood has made previously, especially since the focus was on Harmon’s talent and not her gender.

As a result of gaming’s success, e-sports viewing has surged with an estimated revenue of £810 million, which translates to an incredible 16% increase since 2019. Analytical firms such as Social Blade found online chess viewership to have boomed on viewing platforms including Twitch and YouTube. YouTube videos have gained more than 350 million views globally since January 2020 and YouTube gaming reached 100 billion watch time hours.

Chart showing YouTube views for popular chess streamers.

Figures from Social Blade reveal how chess streamers and content creators have peaked this year for the same reasons as the peaks for the search terms’ popularity.

In August, Team SoloMid (TSM) a Los Angeles based e-sports organisation valued at £300 million signed its first professional chess player GM Hikaru Nakamura. This is a milestone for chess since the board game is being adopted by the e-sports industry.

What’s next for chess?

Although 2020 negatively impacted a lot of industries, chess has managed to flourish. In the upcoming years it will be crucial that these platforms manage to retain their new users and continue to grow in order to monetise the gaming community and develop. It will be important for these platforms and content creators to publish engaging content. Inevitably some players will be itching to go back to local clubs so that they can have their ‘battles to the death’ face to face once the world returns to some form of normality.

This blog was contributed by BSc Financial Economics student Sanjiiv Easwarathas and was originally written as an assignment for the module Quantitative Techniques for Applied Economics.

Further Information:

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What has the Covid crisis taught us about happiness?

For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we define our happiness. In this blog, David Tross, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Geography, discusses how the crisis has changed society and definitions of happiness. 

Cup of coffee with smiley face

Given what we experienced in 2020 (and on into 2021), it might seem inappropriate to consider a pandemic and happiness as having much to do with one another. And in many ways, levels of happiness in the UK followed the bad news. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has been measuring the nation’s happiness for almost a decade now and it has barely shifted over that time. Austerity, Brexit turmoil —none of these made a dent, until March when the first national lockdown was announced. Then, life satisfaction and everyday mood plummeted while anxiety rocketed. But by summer, with the easing of restrictions, these happiness indicators had pretty much returned to pre-Covid levels.

This resilience may also be testament to a key phenomenon identified by happiness researchers — the extraordinary ability of people to adapt to changes in circumstances and, after the initial shock, to shift their expectations to whatever the ‘new normal’ might be. This ‘adaptation’ principle explains why chasing riches produce what economists call ‘low marginal gains’ in happiness terms: you get used to your new-found wealth quite quickly and need to keep accumulating to maintain the same level of wellbeing (yes, just like addiction). New stimuli, both positive and negative, will make quite short-term, dramatic differences to wellbeing; before long, most people revert back to their normal happiness levels. So it was with lockdown. People adapted, found alternative ways to pass the time and got on with things.

But lockdown wasn’t merely tolerated. There were aspects of it people really rather liked. A clue is in the fourth indictor the ONS uses to gauge happiness, often termed the ‘eudemonic’ measure– reflecting a tradition associated with Aristotle that happiness is more than simply feeling good but is connected to the meaningful pursuits and good relationships of our lives – that asks people whether they feel their life is worthwhile. Unlike levels of anxiety, mood and life satisfaction, this measure remained relatively stable throughout 2020. Sure, some of what we find worthwhile (an active social and cultural life for example), took a hit, But the enforced hiatus from normal life that we never expected to inhabit –many dreamt of escaping the rat race; few thought the race itself would stop –has, for some at least, led to realisations and re-evaluations about the way they live.

Because by June, the ONS was reporting that almost half of us had identified some positive benefits of lockdown. One was work-related: not having to commute and spend long hours in the office (one UK wellbeing at work issue is that we put in more hours than most equivalent European nations but get less done!). Other benefits were spending more time with family (particularly quality time with children), appreciating a slower pace of life and connecting with the natural environment. People cooked more and did more exercise. During a guest lecture for UCEN Manchester students, one participant provided a neat formula for staying sane during lockdown: ‘run, plant, bake. Repeat’.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Most of the activities research studies have shown to be associated with happiness –loving relationships, achieving things, the arts, nature, doing things for others – were still possible during lockdown. Volunteering is another activity associated with happiness. ‘For me’, says Karl Wilding, CEO of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), ‘Covid demonstrated that people want to be part of something bigger’. Not only did the one million plus people volunteering (only the tip of the philanthropic iceberg) constitute what the NCVO called ‘the largest peacetime mobilisation in British history’, there was a demonstrable uplift in what might be termed ‘community spirit’: more people felt that others were helping one another, they were more confident that others would help them if needed, and they were checking on neighbours far more than normal. In common adversity, solidarity. Maybe Nietzsche was right when he suggested that human societies ‘build their cities on the slopes of Vesuvius!’.

Of course, even precarious living is subject to the adaptation principle. When danger becomes the new normal, it is hard to maintain this collective spirit. In addition, social solidarity depends not just on feeling connected to a larger entity but also on the idea of shared experience across social groups. This has already faded. Recent reports from the Institute of Fiscal Studies lays out in painstaking detail the ways in which the crisis has both highlighted and deepened the profound social inequalities of UK life. Going forward, unemployment – a key predictor of unhappiness– looks set to rise steeply; a really alarming bit of data picked up from a recent ONS survey was that a third of the population, and half of all renters and parents, say they would not be able to afford an unexpected emergency payment of £850.

Happiness is inseparable from its social context. Every year the UN commissions a ‘World Happiness Report’ and one theme is persistent: the happiest countries spend a higher percentage of GDP on social support systems. Therefore, during the first lockdown, the policy environment became more happiness-friendly. Witness not just furlough but also getting ‘everyone in’ off the streets, suspending housing evictions and benefit sanctions. One Department for Work and Pensions worker told me that advisors ‘no longer felt like cops’ and could offer a more efficient service when clients felt they could speak openly about their problems without a punitive threat. Pre-Covid, a softening of social attitudes towards welfare recipients were being observed in reports like the British Social Attitudes Survey, and it is hard to imagine this reversing any time soon.

In 2020 the state was back, and it felt friendlier. But will this turn out to be just a glimpse of something more hopeful and not a decisive shift? This year has given some actual substance to some of the vague nostrums rolled out by politicians: the big society, the good society, all sectors working together towards a common goal. As vaccines are rolled out, we may not be living on the slopes of Vesuvius for much longer, but we should be mindful of what Covid has taught us about happiness, on a macro level about a more generous politics and on a personal level that the mantra of happiness- Carpe Diem! has two meanings. One, invoked by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and by T-shirts, mugs and online dating profiles, refers to the hot pursuit of happiness. But the aphorism has been re-purposed for our frenetic age. its original meaning pays tribute to the moderate happiness philosophy of Epicurus whose idea of seizing the day was not grabbing it by the scruff of its neck. Rather, cultivate simple joys and appreciate what we have instead of always seeking more. For, he wrote, ‘nothing is sufficient for he who finds sufficiency too little’.

Other ancient philosophies had good lockdowns. The Stoic creed of equanimity seems a bit dreary when there’s fun to be had. But in times of adversity, to face one’s fears, accept what we can’t control and still retain a sense of dignity never seemed so apposite. In a timely piece, writer Brigid Delaney recalled the Roman Philosopher Seneca, who, exiled by the state, cut off from his friends, wealth and influence, began to reconcile himself with the enforced simplicity and seclusion of his reduced circumstances, noting that ‘until we have begun to go without them, we fail to recognise how unnecessary things are’. Or, as one UCEN Manchester student put it: ‘the things we thought mattered, didn’t matter’.

 

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Lockdown loneliness

In this blog, Rob Martin a Learning Development Tutor at Birkbeck shares four ways to help manage loneliness during lockdown, and some resources available to Birkbeck students. 

A woman looking at her phone to depict loneliness

Some of us during lockdown are experiencing difficulties with loneliness. Many people are relying on the internet for all of their social and relational needs. This may not be the case for all students, and we will be covering other lockdown issues in further posts. Below are our top four top tips for managing your loneliness during lockdown.

1.    Quality connections, not quantity

Academic research into online communication suggests that its added distance and anonymity can provide more immediate rewards than face-to-face (FTF) communication. This might encourage us to text or chat with a greater number of people. But sometimes this can lead to frustrations, because, over thousands of years, we have evolved to relate to others through FTF communication.

In FTF we communicate through a variety of ‘channels’ – through the words we use, through the tone, pace, and volume of the speaker, body language and facial expressions, but also through silences. Silences are natural to us in FTF and allow for a moment to process what’s happening, but most online meetings contain few natural silences. Communicating through a more limited number of channels, with fewer opportunities to pause for thought, could explain why many of us feel more exhausted and could be less satisfied.

If you are noticing a sense of dissatisfaction in your relationships during lockdown, try to acknowledge that things are not quite as you would like them to be at the moment. Ask yourself “how can I take responsibility for better meeting my need for connection/company/entertainment?” Might it be better to distance yourself from certain relationships? During lockdown, it might feel tempting to try to meet our needs for connection through channels that do not serve us in the long run. Try to focus on developing higher quality connections with a smaller number of people. You can make a start on this by switching notifications off on your mobile device, even if just for 20 minutes.

2.    Give yourself permission to feel the way you feel

Give yourself permission to feel dissatisfied, if that is what you feel. Do you feel something else? That’s fine too. Some schools of thought believe that suffering comes from the sense of conflict we experience when we try to fight unpleasant emotions, rather than to understand it or simply be with it. It probably doesn’t feel good, but denying it or resisting it will likely feel worse. There are, of course, certain situations or relationships where an exit strategy is necessary, and this should not be overlooked.

Here, we are talking about particular emotions we might feel when alone – sadness, frustration, loneliness, anger. Acknowledging where we are now puts us in a better position to manage our responses and find more helpful ways of getting our needs met. If you want to learn more about managing difficult feelings, take a look at the range of free mental wellbeing apps via the NHS or contact Birkbeck’s Wellbeing Services.

3.    Use this time to develop a more compassionate relationship with yourself

The pace of life in 2020 has changed for most of us. Forgive yourself for feeling less than thrilled about it. Can you use this time to reflect on what it is that you want, or do not want, to invest your time in? Mindfulness meditation can be a good way of developing self-awareness and cultivating a sense of compassion for yourself and others. Try this list of mindfulness meditation apps to get started.

4.    Use this time to develop your personal interests

Is there something you have always wanted to read about, but haven’t? Are there hobbies you have been interested in, but never found the time or space to pursue? For example:

The Students’ Union still have active clubs and societies – perhaps there is one that matches your interests? Hopefully, you will gain a sense of satisfaction from taking up a new interest or two. It will also give you something different to talk about on Zoom.

We hope that loneliness is not affecting you adversely, but if you are finding things too much, contact Wellbeing Services to ask about counselling or contact the Samaritans. You may wish to consult your GP if you require help, or in an emergency, contact Emergency Services on 999 or visit A&E.

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Keeping busy in Tier 2: Tiptop icing recipe

Birkbeck student Pav returns with more lockdown baking recipes to get the tastebuds tingling.

Picture of Pav

 

Hello guys, it’s me, your Pav. I hope that you are all well and keeping warm and safe. As Londoners look for ways to keep busy during the Tier 2 lockdown, please see a new addition to your baking adventures.

This time, I’m sharing my tiptop icing recipe, which you can pair with the perfect muffin recipe I promised in my last blog.

What you need:

  • 225g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 450 grams (1pound) icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons double cream or semi-skimmed milk
  • Pinch of salt

How to do it:

1. Mix the butter for 10-15 minutes. Don’t worry about overdoing it – the more you mix it, the better it gets.

2. Add sifted 225 grams of icing sugar (cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel to prevent icing going everywhere) – mix for approximately 5 minutes. The key is to ensure that you sift the icing sugar before mixing it to avoid big lumps of sugar and to make sure that all the icing sugar incorporates nicely with the butter.

3. Include 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and mix for another minute. During mixing, add one tablespoon at a time of double cream or milk up to 2 tablespoons. Don’t forget to leave the last tablespoon for the second part of the icing.

Top tip – the higher quality of vanilla extract you use, the better the icing will taste.

4. Once the icing is coming nicely together, add the second half of sifted icing sugar and a pinch of salt and mix for 2-3 minutes. After 3 minutes, add the last tablespoon of milk and mix for another 5 -6 minutes.

Should I use milk or double cream for the icing?

The difference is in consistency – double cream is creamier, where milk is better for basic icing on fairy cupcakes. However, it does depend on preference and season. I tend to use double cream in winter and milk in summer.

How do I know when the icing is ready?

Try it and if you feel sugar bits, continue mixing. If the icing is too watery, add a bit of sifted icing sugar at a time to change the consistency. If your frosting is too dry, add a tablespoon of milk. The key is in proportion and mixing it all well together.

How to decorate with your icing

Before decorating, be mindful of the current season – in summer ingredients get wet very quickly. That is why in summer, I tend to put the icing in the fridge for 10 minutes to reach a thick consistency for the best decoration. However, not too thick – the best icing is the one which creates strong shapes once squeezed through the icing bag.

In terms of piping and decoration, the world is your oyster – so enjoy your baking and do not forget to let me see your creation on Instagram adding #lifeofpav♈️.

Your Pav.

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Easy vanilla cupcake recipe

Third year Marketing student Pav is back to help beat the lockdown blues. This time, he shares his recipe for easy vanilla cupcakes.
Pitcure of cupcakes

Hello everyone!

It’s your Pav here. I hope that you are all keeping well and staying healthy. This time I would like to share a quick recipe for 24 cupcakes.

 

What you need: 

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 or 2 x 12-hole muffin tins, lined with paper cases
  • and a bit of joy 🙂

Chef Pav!

Method for your happy baking:

1) Take the butter out of the fridge – keep it out for 30 minutes for perfect room temperature (ensure the butter is not very hard or very soft).

2) Preheat the oven to 180C, gas mark 4. If you need more information, visit the BBC Good Food website for conversion guides.

3) Using a seive for all the dry ingredients, add the butter, sugar, flour, salt, eggs and whisk until the mixture is smooth – do not under or over mix. The right amount of time is 1 minute and 30 seconds at the highest speed.

5) Add any additional colouring or flavours together with milk and vanilla extract first before mixing with the dough. Once all together, mix it for another 30 seconds.

6) Use a traditional ice-cream scoop or two tablespoons to divide the mixture between all the paper cases (if you only have one tin, just split the dough and do this step twice).

7) Place both muffin tins in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then swap over the position of the tins over and bake for a further 5 minutes. 

8) Test cupcakes with a tooth pick to see whether they are ready. The best cupcakes are golden on the top and the toothpick should come out clean.

9) Decorate with icing on top or with fresh strawberries.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and getting creative with decoration – next time I will share the best recipe for icing sugar and blueberry muffins (which you can see in the picture of me).

Until then, stay well and don’t forget to share your creation on Instagram #Lifeofpavand @birkbeckbei.

Pav 🙂

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Tackling lockdown boredom? Pavol is here to help.

BSc Marketing student Pavol spreads the joy and shares some tips for beating boredom during coronavirus lockdown.

Pavol, BSc Marketing student

Hey everyone!

My name is Pavol, but my friends call me Pav. I am currently in my fourth year at Birkbeck studying Marketing BSc. I decided that I would like to share a bit of joy, happiness and love with everyone who is currently #stayinghome and maybe create a ripple effect on sharing positive vibes.

I am currently sitting home and thinking about where to start. Well, I love baking, but I am not professional. I like exercising, but I am not full of muscles. I do like reading, but I have not read the whole library. So I hope you get what I mean when I say I am a regular guy with a tiny bit of quirkiness, fun and passion. I am 27 years young , and I would like to do something for our community of students. We are like a family, so I would like to share a bit of #LifeofPav with you all. Yes, it is my hashtag which I use on Instagram so please do get in touch and lets share our stories, pictures or drop me a message for an informal chat.

In the first chapter of this adventure, I would like to tell you about a great opportunity which I tried recently. My friend has been talking to me about this for the last six months, but you know how it is. You keep trying to do everything, and you say yes I will give it a go, but down the line, I forgot to do it. Six months ago I heard for the first time about the 16personalities.com website. Well, I finally tried it, and I am still shocked at how correct a few of the attributes are.

There are four main categories, and once you know your type, you can easily find a group on Facebook or research about famous people who are the same personality type as you. I am aware that this may not be for everyone, but maybe you would like to learn something more about yourself while we have a bit more time on our hands. The website is entirely free for the basic test, which will give you more than enough information about your personality. I find it fascinating, and I am eager to learn more about myself. Just in case you are the same and would like to share it with me or discuss your answers, I will be more than happy to do this. 

16 personalities wheel

The 16 personalities.

Until next time please all stay well, try the website, find me on Instagram as Pavol Weiss or under #LifeofPav♈ – I cannot wait to hear from you.

Your (ENFP) Pav 🙂

 

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