In an age of fancy technological gadgets, hyper-realistic gaming in high definition and fast-paced living, you'd be forgiven for believing a strategic
In an age of fancy technological gadgets, hyper-realistic gaming in high definition and fast-paced living, you’d be forgiven for believing a strategical ancient game which requires thinking time would be dead and buried.
However, you’d be wrong. The past few weeks have marked a huge uptick in people playing chess and buying sets. Yes, chess.
The reason? The latest Netflix smash television series The Queen’s Gambit, based on a fictional 1983 novel of the same name.
It appears that Britons – and the world for that matter – have gone bonkers for pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, queens and kings and a thrilling battle of brains over 64 little squares.
Checkmate: Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit has won over a new legion of chess fans
Not only has this glamorously shot TV show been a record breaker for the streaming service, attracting 62million global viewers inside 28 days, it has seen all sorts of plaudits thrown at it.
At the time of writing, it has a 100 per cent score on review website Rotten Tomatoes, and 8.7 out of 10 on the IMDB website – to put that in context, it’s an incredible figure given that only 12 films in existence rate higher than that.
Even chess world champion Magnus Carlsen has waded in. The Norwegian labelled it ‘extremely enjoyable’ and awarded it five stars out of six, according to website Chess24.
It has also attracted a whole new wave of chess player.
This type of small screen to real-life phenomenon was documented by Consumer Trends earlier in the year.
When The Last Dance aired on Netflix, a documentary about Michael Jordan, sales of basketball balls, hoops and other paraphernalia soared.
This time around, it seems that novice chess players are getting involved inspired by TV viewing habits.
And it appears spending far more time at home has potentially resulted in the chance to learn how to play – or crack those knuckles to play for the first time in an eternity.
We take a look at the surprise boom in chess playing and whether retailers are geared up for this unexpected trend.
Boom: This chart from Google Trends shows how searches for chess worldwide have rocketed in the aftermath of The Queen’s Gambit
The online boom in chess players
Chess is already a globally popular game. Estimates suggest more than half a billion people play the game at least once a year, with India and Russia leading the way with the numbers who play it.
Personally speaking, I played chess a fair bit as a child, although I cannot remember how or who taught me, but I remember having a set and sometimes playing it on an Atari console against the computer.
Like riding a bike, even though it has been probably at least two decades or more since playing, I can remember the basics – how to set up a board, what moves can be made and the aim of the game.
The title of the show, from the book of the same name, references an opening move that can be made.
In the show, all of the games of chess that were played are said to be real but actress Anya Taylor-Joy says she didn’t know how to play – and was taught all the moves just before filming each scene.
My winning skills, however, I would admit are rusty to say the least.
Maybe I need to get myself online before sitting down to a head-to-head over the board.
Online chess playing websites say they have seen a solid boom, including Chess24, Chess.com, weChess and Lichess.org, as people look to see if they have an untapped talent to potentially become a grandmaster.
And yet again, it seems there’s some direct viewing to acting links.
According to the latter on Twitter earlier in November, it saw its daily peak of players grow by a third in the days after the Queen’s Gambit aired, from around 80,000 to 105,000.
Not to be outdone, Chess.com has even created a Beth Harmon (the main character from the show) bot which is predicted to have played against more than 100,000 US players in recent weeks.
Google Trends has also shown the huge spike in UK interest, with searches for ‘chess’ more than doubling in popularity in the aftermath of the show.
And the novel by Walter Tevis that inspired it all? On Amazon, as a Kindle edition at the time of writing, it is in the top 100 and as a paperback the top 500.
It appears viewers of the show want even more of a fix.
Gripping: The Queen’s Gambit is about fictional character Beth Harmon, played by actress Anya Taylor-Joy pictured, who becomes a chess champion while also battling addictions
What about chess set sales?
While playing online opens up the possibility of challenging people from around the world, including India, Russia and the US, many may have romantic notions of having a set to play chess on in front of a roaring fire this Christmas.
The pandemic has theoretically shot down the chance to regularly play against friends or family that people don’t live with, but it hasn’t deterred some from snapping up a set. Maybe to get geared up for those five days over the festive period families and friends can meet up.
Online marketplace eBay told This is Money that just 10 days after the Queen’s Gambit first aired, there was a 273 per cent surge in searches for chess sets.
It means one search has been made every six seconds for ‘chess’ on eBay UK since the show aired as the nation looks to adopt the classic game, with roots heading back 1,500 years.
Nouman Qureshi, toys category manager at eBay UK, said: ‘Inspired by recent TV hit, The Queen’s Gambit, we have witnessed an explosion in the nation’s interest in chess.
‘We have definitely noticed a surge in customers filling their baskets with chess sets along with other classic games ahead of Christmas.’
The site has also seen a surge in accessories, such as chess clocks and timers, and score pads.
What does it take to become a grandmaster?
If your new found hobby has got you wondering whether you can reach the upper echelons of the chess world and become a grandmaster, it’s worth pointing out how exclusive that club is.
Beyond becoming a world champion like Mr Carlsen mentioned above, becoming a grandmaster is the best achievement available.
Around 1,500 current chess players have reached the summit and have become a grandmaster, out of the millions that play it.
These titles are dished out by the Fédération Internationale des Écheсs or FIDE. The next best ratings are international master, FIDE master and candidate master.
According to the latest FIDE rankings, there are five players who were born post-2000 in the top 100 list, the youngest being born in 2003.
Those who reach grandmaster status often make an income playing tournaments, but also coaching the next generation of potential chess champions.