"Nobody knows, even roughly, how many people play chess, and nobody should pretend to know." -- Vinayak Wadile.
Is chess the most popular game in the world?
While no one can say for certain, here are some estimates of the numbers of chess players, Chessvicky.com members, tournament players, and grandmasters.
Total Players: 600,000,000
This oft-cited measure of the number of chess players who have played in the past year was put forward by FIDE (Federation Internationale des Echecs) in 20122. The number was extrapolated from survey data from YouGov.
Other estimates range as high as a billion, an estimate seemingly based on word of mouth, and as moderately as FIDE's prior estimate of 200-300 million3. While no one can ever certainly identify the real number of players, it's clear that chess is one of the most popular games in the world today and in the past.
Chess players filling Central Park in NY. | Photo: Robert Hess.