Netflix and Chess

The release of “The Queen’s Gambit” creates new interest in chess.

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Paul Kurgan/Chronicle

Character Beth Harmon’s rise to prominence in “The Queen’s Gambit” inspired an increase in chess set and book sales in the U.S.

Paul Kurgan

Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” debut in October has since sparked a surge of interest in chess, causing an 87% increase in purchased chess sets and raising chess book sales by 603% in the US. The show was number one on Netflix for 23 days , racking up 62 million viewers in just the first month.

Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy who grew up in an orphanage learning chess from a janitor, uses her talent and passion to become the best chess player in the world. Struggling with substance abuse and dark depression, Harmon’s rocky path to success is portrayed on screen.

“The Queen’s Gambit” was based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis. Although Tevis never stated his true inspirations behind writing the book, Harmon’s experience with mental illness parallels Bobby Fischer’s struggles with paranoia and his subsequent falling out with chess. Harmon’s rise to the top of the chess world as a woman was similar to Vera Menchick’s trailblazing chess journey, becoming the first woman to win a world chess championship in 1927.

The chess matches depicted in the series were all famous real tournament games, which all had their effect on Harmon’s character development across the seven-episode mini-series.

The show saw Harmon climb the ranks of a male-dominated chess world at a young age. Her journey to success has inspired many young girls to pick up the game and idolize prominent women in chess. Top 10 player Judit Polgar for example, who beat the world champion, Gary Kasparov, in 2002.

“The Queen’s Gambit”, has motivated people to take up chess as a new hobby. In just the first week of the show’s premiere, sales of chess boards have increased by 215% on eBay, according to eBay spokeswomen Kara Gibson. In addition, Chess.com saw 100,000 new signups in just the first day of the show’s release and has had a 40% increase in memberships since then.

Chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura has racked up over 700,000 youtube subscribers and averages over 14,000 viewers a stream on his twitch channel. The show caused an unprecedented spark of interest in chess, exponentially increasing his viewership.

A coming-of-age story of a young girl who dealt with trauma, adversity, and finally success, “The Queen’s Gambit” has received glowing reviews. The meticulously crafted chess scenes throughout the episodes recaptured the beauty of the game. It portrayed chess as being more than just wooden pieces on a chessboard but rather a game that carries deeper meanings of adversity, courage, and persistence behind each move. After all, according to Harmon, “It’s an entire world of just 64 squares.”