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Mind sports rising as popular gaming alternatives

In the past few years, the popularization of online gaming has contributed to the spread and establishment of mind sports as popular entertainment alternatives. With the COVID-19 pandemic, last year these games started to take over the online gaming world, as several online platforms and tournaments reached a new level of appreciation. Also due to this scenario, the Mind Sports Olympiad (MSO), the world’s largest and most prestigious multi-disciplined competition of mind sports and games of mental skill, was held entirely online for the first time in history.

For clarity, mind sports are games of skill in which the competition is based on intellectual abilities, as opposed to physical aptitude. The term was first used in the 1990s, when the Mind Sports Olympiad was created, and has since been used to describe several different games, including chess and checkers – or draughts – board games, and card games like poker, bridge, and blackjack, and other disciplines as well, such as speed reading and mental calculation.

Chess back in the spotlight

Unarguably one of the most popular board games and mind sports in the world, chess is experiencing a new surge in players, since the release of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, which features a young female chess player trying to reach the top of the chess world.

This millenary game, though, has always been a bastion among mind sports, as it has been present in several tournaments and competitions in the past century. However, since the minisseries was released, many online chess platforms recorded an increase in traffic and the number of players, and Twitch, the leading live streaming platform for gaming, also reported a significant growth in chess streams, with more than 75 million hours watched of chess gameplay last year.

Today, playing online chess is easier than ever, with several mobile apps, and platforms like Chess.com, the internet’s largest chess community, with more than 50 million active members. At Chess.com, players can challenge the computer, play against other members, and take lessons to improve skill as well.

Card games of skill

Card games aren’t all about luck, even though some of them rely on elements of chance as well, and games like poker, blackjack, and bridge are also considered mind sports, with poker and bridge being featured in many tournaments, including the Mind Sports Olympiad.

Although blackjack is considered a game of chance in many countries, specialists and professional players argue that it is also a game of skill, since it requires quick decision-making, math skills, and a deep understanding of its strategies. 

Blackjack is also available online and most operators offer the game and its variants in free-play modes, and real-money games with different betting limits. There’s also the possibility of playing live dealer games, which are managed and operated by professional croupiers, and broadcast via streaming, from studios and land-based casinos, providing an authentic gaming experience.

Poker has earned its space among mind sports for quite some time now, and several countries and regulating bodies recognize it as a game of skill. And today, it’s impossible to dissociate poker from its online counterpart. Online poker is one of the most popular activities in the world, and it played a big role in the poker boom in the mid-2000s, when Chris Moneymaker became the first person to win the World Series of Poker after qualifying from an online tournament. 

The selection of online poker rooms is almost endless, and playing online poker today is as easy as shopping for groceries. Canadian players can choose from several trustworthy operators that offer different variations of the game, including Texas hold ‘em and Omaha hold ‘em, the most popular variants. There are many tournaments as well, and the WSOP even holds some of its events online.

Although not as popular as poker or blackjack, bridge was one of the first games to be featured at mind sports events. Its governing body, the World Bridge Federation, is one of the founding members of the International Mind Sports Association and the Mind Sports Council. 

Despite this important role, online bridge isn’t established as poker and blackjack, and it’s not that easy to play the game online. There are some platforms for playing online bridge, but most of them are subscription services. One of the largest online bridge clubs in the world, however, Bridge Base Online offers free-to-play regular games and even tournaments.

Christopher Stern

Christopher Stern is a Washington-based reporter. Chris spent many years covering tech policy as a business reporter for renowned publications. He has extensive experience covering Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commissions. He is a graduate of Middlebury College. Email:[email protected]

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