Checkmate | Daniel Yachi
If I were to ask you to name a famous chess player, chances are you’d say one of two things: “Beth Harmon” or “I don’t know.” I would then shake my head in disapproval because Beth Harmon isn’t a real person and “I don’t know” isn’t an answer. Beth Harmon is, of course, the fictional character from the hit TV show: The Queen’s Gambit, in which a young Beth Harmon finds a love for the male-dominated game. While having to face both her opponents in chess and sexism, she quickly becomes a genius chess player working her way to the top of the chess world. Receiving an impressive 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s no surprise that it was many people’s go to binge show in late 2020. Although I personally was more distracted watching Thomas Brodie-Sangster play the young, charismatic chess champion Benny Watts, the director, Scott Frank, somehow managed to turn the quiet, low-action game into a suspenseful and entertaining show.
Having been watched in an estimated 62 million households within its first month of being released, the show did more than increase the popularity of Netflix -the platform it streamed on-; it also increased the popularity of chess itself. Chess.com, the most popular chess platform online, reported about 4 million new members joining the platform because of the increase in viewership of The Queen’s Gambit. Chess has also found a large audience in popular video game streaming platforms like Twitch. This is mostly a result of PogChamps 3 an online chess competition between notable streaming personalities, and other celebrities like VMA award winning rapper, Logic. This, however, isn’t just a competition; it is actually a massive marketing campaign for chess.com. With the original PogChamps and PogChamps 2 running streamed matches reaching viewed counts of over 16 million, and even more for the current one, especially thanks to the new found popularity ushered in by The Queen’s Gambit, it is without a doubt that the chess community has reached an all time high.
This chess revival isn’t just a coincidence, however. COVID-19 has fostered the perfect environment for the game to flourish in. Chess being welcoming to everyone regardless of age, strength, or any other factors, it’s a perfect game to bring people together during quarantine.. Unlike most other games that are typically played in person, chess can be easily digitalized and played under the restrictions of quarantine. So, those who play sports and games that can’t be played normally are now finding a new passion in chess, and existing players are still able to play and even participate in competitions from the comfort of their homes. Although, chess has found its own troubles in the online format with some players using chess engines, which are programs that calculate the best moves to make, in order to cheat. This is the closest equivalent to hackers in video games, and understandably so, it poses a very large obstacle for chess platforms which want to ensure fair games. Even with these struggles, chess continues to grow, and it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.