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A revival of chess via The Queen’s Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit, a Netflix original series, has achieved phenomenal viewing figures since its release—62 million in the first month alone.

Diane Hall


A still from the Netflix special the Queens Gambit

There’s a tipping point when popular culture begins to move under its own steam. Though marketing, advertising and promotion fuels the success of a film, programme, book, computer game or other such entertainment product during its early days, once it a certain level of notoriety is reached, FOMO takes over (that’s Fear Of Missing Out, don’t you know). Everyone who hasn’t digested the content in question wants to find out why everyone else is talking about it (well, there has to be some reason to account for the global success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’).

When you discover that the focus of The Queen’s Gambit is chess—a game traditionally enjoyed by ‘geeks’ and intellectuals—you could be put off. But not so those who have enjoyed the series regardless, which has received buckets of praise from the general public and critics alike. 

black and white knight chess pieces

black and white knight chess pieces

Chess has suddenly become sexy—something that TQG’s dazzling cinematography and lavish outfits no doubt helped to portray.

Those who were committed fans of chess before TQG was even filmed are also fans of the series. Many have lauded its accuracy (which is due to chess Grand Master Garry Kasparov’s influence during production); they appreciate that the series has not only made the game look cool, but that it has also shown its complexity and how it offers a real challenge.

As a result of TQG’s success, the game has seen a revival. Chess clubs across the world have attracted new players in their droves, and eBay reported a 273% increase in the number of searches for chess sets in the first ten days of the series’ release.

Chess is one of few pastimes that can be enjoyed during a national lockdown, a factor that may have also contributed to its sudden popularity. The seriousness surrounding competitive chess and the level of skill involved, portrayed well in TQG, may have helped to dispel some of the negative assumptions that traditionally surround the game… that it’s boring, it’s a game only for boys, or something to be played by people with no social lives.

The latter is definitely not true—chess has helped people socialise during the pandemic. Families and friends have taken to playing each other online, using FaceTime to see each other’s moves and involving two boards, like the way the game ‘Battleship’ is played.

Few television programmes have such an impact on the hobbies and passions of viewers away from the screen. It helps that the ‘language’ of chess is understood worldwide. Some countries place as much pride in their national chess team as they do other sports—particularly Russia and Eastern European provinces, an element that again is covered in TQG. Many schools already have their own chess club, though experts believe the number of these will increase once extra-curricular activities are once again allowed to take place. 

There are many reasons why The Queen’s Gambit has proved such a success. The marketing of the series and how the story has been visually presented are undoubtedly major factors, but these things are made much easier when you have some cracking content to begin with. And whilst chess may not sound like the most fascinating subject to cover, the court of public opinion, for one reason or another, has deemed it so. 

And why not? Maybe we’re just sick of alien invasions, zombie apocalypses, westerns and romcoms. A change is as good as a rest, as they say.

#thequeensgambit #netflix 

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