Queen’s Gambit Makes Chess Common – The Cowl
Beth Harmon’s poignant story inspires resurgence
by Dave Argento ’21 Staff A&E
Since the start of the pandemic, people trapped at home have sought new outlets for entertainment to replace some of the many activities rendered obsolete by COVID-19. As a result, the 1,500-year-old chess game has sparked increased consumer interest as an engaging and safe source of enjoyment. While the steady increase in player base and viewership the board game saw during the pandemic helped the chess world, above all it provided the perfect foundation for the unprecedented boom that would follow the release of one of the best shows on Netflix: The Queen’s Gambit.
The Queen’s Gambit, starring Anya Taylor-Joy, tells the story of an orphan girl named Beth Harmon who brings her keen interest in chess to eventual mastery of the game and chess fame. The gripping tale inspires many with its powerful message of an underprivileged girl battling addiction and defying the odds of reaching the top of the male-dominated arena as a young woman. Unlike many depictions of competitive chess in previous films and series, director Scott Frank put extra effort and attention to detail in order to incorporate into the show a more accurate representation of the world of competitive chess than the media. mainstream had never seen before.
Harm’s success in beating World Champion Vasily Borgov parallels the massive success of the series. Audience data shows 62 million households watched The Queen’s Gambit in the first 28 days after its release, more than any other scripted limited series by Netflix.
With this record breaking performance, the entire chess world enjoyed a rising intrigue in the classic board game. The clearest proof of this increase in interest is the boom in sales of chess sets. Marie Fazio of the New York Times writes: “At Goliath Games, a toy company that sells several varieties of chess games, game sales have increased by over 1000% compared to the same period last year.” The chess market grew by over 125% in the first few weeks after the series premiere.
Although chess has seen tremendous growth in sales of physical boards, the meteoric success of its online platforms also proves how well the age-old game has adapted to the contemporary world. Chess.com, one of the top chess websites, reports that it has seen millions of new fans flock to the site for games, lessons and puzzles, giving the site its strongest annual growth since its inception. launched in 2007. Since March, it has added 12.2 million new members, including 3.2 million who joined after The Queen’s Gambit debuted in late October. Popular chess streaming channels, such as Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura and the Botez sisters, have seen massive increases in viewership on platforms like Twitch.tv and Youtube.com.
As with any major trend, questions arise as to the extent to which this explosive growth will sustain itself after the current boom. Two-time United States champion Jennifer Shahade said: “Such growth should not keep pace as interest in the Netflix show wanes.” She says she thinks the interest can translate into a “generational effect”. most comparable period of mainstream media attention in the history of chess will probably be the historic 1972 World Chess Championship won by the American Bobby Fisher against the Soviet Boris Spassky. Even if we don’t see chess tournaments on cable news, the future of chess is likely to be brighter thanks to the inspiration ignited by Beth Harmon.