How Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit Influenced the World of Chess

If you didn’t watch it already, it’s nearly impossible to not have encountered writings, wows and praises towards the amazing show The Queen’s Gambit. 62 million households have watched the show, compiled of eight episodes. It addresses sexism, power relations and the challenges of a young orphaned girl. Read on to understand the impact this fictional character had in the real world. Hint: Spoiler alert below.

Discover Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit

Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit starts with our star, Elizabeth Harmon – Beth – as she experiences major grief from the loss of her mother, and is put with a bunch of other girls in an orphanage.

But she doesn’t seem to be quite like the other girls, as she shows curiosity in different things, shows no fear, and shows an explicit interest in tranquillisers as drugs that help put her imagination to work.

As she skips one of her classes, she meets the janitor of the orphanage Mr Shaibel in the basement.

Walking among chess pieces
Walking among chess pieces

She finds him playing chess by himself, and becomes mesmerised with the movement, the chess set, and the figures, to the point that she starts imagining the game every night before she goes to bed, using the drugs as catalysts.

After seeing her curiosity and uncanny intelligence, Mr Shaibel starts teaching Beth the witty game of chess. Game after game, Beth astonishes the chess teacher, and her success keeps growing even when Beth gets adopted, with her adopting mother as her manager.

She beats all the boys confronting her, she conquers many chess tournaments on the local, national and international stage, managing to also beat ‘The Russian’ – the one chess player whose experience Beth fears the most.

Throughout this time, she also beats alcohol dependency, drug dependency and her furious, intense need to win. This means that she also conquers the darkest sides of her personality. Really, this show treats so many things at once, that you’re left in complete awe.

And you would think it wouldn’t have much impact in the real world of chess. You would be wrong!


The Show’s Impact on Chess

“Chessboards are flying off the (literal and virtual) shelves in the wake of the show’s hit season”- according to Anthony Barzilay Freund, editorial director and director of fine art at vintage site 1stDib in her interview for House Beautiful.

The Queen’s Gambit is driving an interest in the game of chess among new audiences and demographics. At 1stDibs, in just the month following the show’s release, we’ve seen a 100% increase in sales of chessboards, pieces, and tables as compared to this time period last year.”

House Beautiful also reports that on the show’s impact on fashion, trends and aesthetics. And it is no surprise, considering the show’s astonishing colours, the fashion sense of Beth and the melancholia it gives us on the old and vintage feeling. Valentin Goux, president of the French luxury furniture maker Rinck, reveals that he added a chess table to the brand’s 2021 line after being inspired by the show. Whereas according to Sylight’s data, white wool coats recorded a 131% increase on the platform, while interest in turtlenecks also increased by 57%. In the same vein, lavaliere knot blouses got double the number of clicks on the style platform during the past weeks.


Chess Frenzy

Timer clock for chess
Timer clock for chess

The Guardian has also reported on the Chess Prodigy, emphasising that according to what online chess playing sites, retailers and grandmasters say of the show, based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, it has sparked a huge boom in people playing the game in the US and around the world.

The Guardian adds that international grandmaster Maurice Ashley last months has been inundated with messages from people – particularly women – asking him whether he has seen it and enthusing about the game.

“The frenzy around it is crazy. All of a sudden it’s an incredible awareness and excitement around the game and a lot of the same people are now taking up chess and starting to play. So it’s really had a pretty surprising, wonderful, electrifying effect on the fan base, particularly of non-players.

“The online retailer eBay said US sales of chess sets have soared by 60% since last year as more people spend time at home. And since the release of The Queen’s Gambit, sales of chess sets and accessories shot up by nearly 215%.

“Wooden chess sets are the most popular and vintage sets are also in demand. Sales of chess clocks and timers have risen 45% since last month and score pads by 300%”. – The Guardian.


Breaking Stereotypes

And last, but not least, the New York Times wrote several times about the impact and importance that The Queen’s Gambit is having, not only in the sales aspect, but also in tackling gender stereotypes as regards the game of chess.

“Elizabeth Spiegel is an expert, a level just below master, and has taught chess for two decades at I.S. 318, a public middle school in Brooklyn that has won dozens of national championships.

“She believes that cultural stereotypes definitely affect how people learn and play chess. She noted that boys tend to be overconfident, but that is more of a strength than a flaw in chess.

“On the other hand, during class, when girls answer her questions, they often begin, “I think I am wrong, but …” – New York Times

NYT has interviewed many women grandmasters, who have watched the show and who advise young girls to keep playing chess, to break known stereotypes that claim that women are not wired to do so.

If you haven’t watched The Queen’s Gambit yet, we at Youth Time Magazine totally recommend it as a holiday binge-worthy show.

And you, have you watched Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit? If not, we are fully recommending it!

Photos: Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney

Already seen this incredible series? Why not check this out on Netflix:

A Review of Heal – An Extraordinary Netflix Documentary

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