Chess.com bids for Play Magnus, a move towards monopoly?
A merger between two of the largest major chess sites is imminent following the announcement that the US-backed chess.com is bidding for playmagnusgroup.com, the company named after world champion Magnus Carlsen. The offer, which values PMG at around $82m, has been accepted and will take around two months to complete.
There have been rumours for some time that PMG was struggling. Earlier this year some of its Oslo staff were laid off, while its flagship website chess24.com discontinued its French and German tournament commentaries, leaving only English and Spanish.
PMG went public on the Oslo stock exchange in October 2020 but its revenue failed to grow as hoped and its share price has more than halved from its peak. It appears that its upmarket business model of providing high-level chess24 commentaries on top tournaments failed to generate enough subscribers, while the generous prize funds for the grandmasters competing in the online Meltwater Champions Tour were arguably too high. Its learning courses are its most profitable area.
In contrast, Chess.com has been geared primarily to providing a competitive playing arena, while its viewing events have a successful formula of 5/1 and 3/1 blitz and 1/1 bullet. Its prize funds are lower than Chess24’s, but still enough to attract the best players, as in the current women’s speed championship which has featured a rare appearance by the semi-retired all-time No2 Hou Yifan.
Chess.com also provides a platform for the hugely popular chess streamers, of which the most famous is Hikaru Nakamura with well over a million followers. Women are generally underrepresented in chess, but not in streaming where about 25 per cent are female.
Whether the merger will work in the longer term remains an open question. Optimists paint a golden future where Carlsen competes regularly against his old rival Nakamura, but the pessimistic view is that the No1, who has already announced his retirement from the world title, is taking a step towards further reducing his commitments.
Much may depend on whether Carlsen’s currently stalled aim of reaching a record 2900 rating can be revived by a strong performance in the elite Sinquefield Cup, which is under way in St Louis this week. So far this year the Norwegian, 31, has been unable to reproduce his pre-pandemic performance levels of 2019.
The future may be doubtful for chess24, but there will not be a monopoly in major online sites in the near future. lichess.org remains as a non-profit rival to a potentially more powerful chess.com, and is the site of choice for many due to its easy and fast access to a willing opponent. A handful of clicks, and you are in action at your preferred time limit. Its rating system is easy to understand, though like most online assessments, it flatters by several hundred points compared with over the board play.
Artur Yusupov v Adarsh Jayakumar, Arlington 2015, White to move and win. The former world semi-finalist built a classic attacking position before unleashing a tactic which every player should know.
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