When Jan-Krzysztof Duda defeated World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen in the fifth round of the Altibox Norway Chess tournament on Oct. 10, it caused a sensation in the chess world. The victory ended Carlsen’s 125-game unbeaten run in classical play, the longest known streak in chess history.
The result also meant a big win for gamblers who backed Duda, a +1300 underdog at Unibet. While even talking about the odds on the game might have seemed ridiculous a few years earlier, chess betting has become a popular option at some betting sites, even if it will never rival the interest in football or soccer.
Online Tour, Candidates Tournament Attract Bettors
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down virtually all sporting events worldwide in March, chess was uniquely positioned to benefit as the game translates remarkably well to online play. While the experience isn’t exactly the same for the players themselves, online viewing has long been the ideal way for audiences to enjoy chess tournaments. When the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour brought the world’s best players together to compete in online events, fans had everything they needed to replicate the experience of watching a world-class tournament.
The lack of other sports left gamblers looking for something to bet on as well. High-level chess events, online or live, were a perfect place for interested bettors to move.
“We’ve usually seen the betting interest for chess following a two-year cycle with the [World Championship],” Martin Bekkelien of the Kindred Group – Unibet’s parent company – told OnlineGambling.com via email. “However, we are now seeing significantly more interest than in 2018, which was the last [World Championship] year.”
Bekkelien says that the Candidates Tournament – a live event, which FIDE attempted to complete in March, but had to halt halfway through – and the online Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour have been the most popular events for bettors. Carlsen signed a two-year sponsorship deal with Unibet in January, further pushing the betting site into the chess betting sphere.
Chess Betting Still Uncommon at American Sportsbooks
While American sportsbooks haven’t been able to regularly offer chess betting, William Hill in Nevada offered odds on the Candidates Tournament until the event shut down. Other oddsmakers have attempted to gain regulatory approval for chess as well, though there has been no apparent movement on those efforts.
According to Bekkelien, some bettors have made relatively big scores on Unibet’s chess markets. Not only did some gamblers back Duda against Carlsen in his infamous upset, but one user took it a step further, wagering 200 Norwegian Krone ($21.60) that both Carlsen and world No. 2 Fabiano Caruana would lose on the same day for a two-leg parlay. When Levon Aronian also won as a +900 underdog with Black against Caruana, the lucky bettor walked away with 28,000 Krone ($3,000).
That’s a relatively small amount in the world of sports betting and, with mainstream sports back in action across the globe, it’s unclear whether the increased interest in chess betting will persist long term. But, with Unibet, Bwin, and other international sportsbooks now regularly offering chess markets, and the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour returning in November, there should be a steady stream of betting opportunities for chess fans in the months and years to come.