Although the intellectual game of chess has been thought of as a ‘classic” for over 1500 years, it is rarely ever played outside of high stakes chess tournaments or recreational chess clubs. Over the course of 2020 however, the game became a daily practice for many individuals as the Covid-19 pandemic introduced more free time into many people’s lives and a new TV series provided inspiration.
The hit Netflix show “The Queen’s Gambit,” helped bring the game of chess into the public eye, sparking an interest in the game’s risky tactics and friendly competition. The limited series came out in late Oct. 2020, and quickly rose to fame as Netflix’s No. 1 show, staying in Netflix’s “top ten streaming titles” for 22 straight days. The show’s intriguing storyline drew in a total of 62 million household viewers.
The series tells the story of Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, an orphan and child chess prodigy who climbs the ranks in hopes of becoming an international champion. The show displays the intense thought that goes into each breakthrough move and dangerous checkmate, encouraging its viewers of all ages to grab a chess set, learn the moves, and give it a try.
Since the show’s release, chess-related sales have skyrocketed, showing the immense influence that a TV show can have on a population. According to The NPD Group, an American market research organization, unit sales of chess sets increased by 87% in the US, and chess book sales rose an astonishing 603% in the three weeks following the show’s debut. During the 13 weeks leading up to “The Queen’s Gambit” premiere, U.S. chess set sales had been relatively flat but increased immensely after Netflix released the limited series, says NPD.
In addition to chess sets, chess websites have seen a huge increase in popularity as well. Chess.com, an extremely well-known chess site that teaches the basics of the game and organizes friendly online matches, has seen a huge spark in participation since Harmon took to the screen. Before the show’s debut, the website’s highest new registration count occurred in mid-March 2020 with 378,000 new participants added within a week, equating to approximately 54,000 new registrants daily. Throughout the month of November, Chess.com was constantly setting all-time records for the most members registered in a single day. According to Business Insider, Nick Barton, the director of Chess.com, says the site’s November new participation statistics eventually averaged out to about 100,000 new registrants daily with a total of 3.2 million players joining Chess.com since “The Queen’s Gambit” was released.
Many viewers have also signed up for online chess courses to learn the game from experts in the field. Premier Chess, a popular organization that offers lessons to players of all levels, has seen a 50% increase in participation in their fall virtual classes; many of these new students are women inspired by Harmon’s success in what many consider “a man’s game,” according to the founder of Premier Chess Evan Rabin.
Similarly, private lessons through the Chess Max Academy in Manhattan have doubled and there has been a large increase in female participation, founder of the company and chess grandmaster Maxim Dlugy told the New York Times.
This successful series has become a checkmate for Netflix as well as for the future of chess. The large rise in popularity of chess-focused commodities and organizations is sure to help the game of chess live on for generations more. Under “The Queen’s Gambit’s” influence, numerous viewers have discovered a new hobby to enjoy and many of the young chess prodigies, much like Harmon, feel even more inspired to find their talent and passion in the game.