Queen's Gambit pays off as Netflix show sparks global interest in chess
US miniseries The Queen's Gambit has proven to be the king of TV shows with its immense popularity.
Attracting a record-setting viewership of 62 million households since it premiered on Oct 23, it was recently the top-ranked programme on Netflix in Singapore and globally, and the most-watched limited scripted series ever on the streaming service.
Following the turbulent career of fictional female child prodigy Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) in the 1950s and 1960s, it has also led to a surge of interest in chess.
Gaming site Chess.com reported that new daily registrations have gone up 400 per cent, with roughly 2.5 million new members. Searches for chess sets on eBay are up 250 per cent, while Goliath Games said its chess sales have increased more than 170 per cent.
Local national chess champions are hailing The Queen's Gambit a checkmate win for the strategy board game.
Chess coach Gong Qianyun, 35, who was awarded the Woman Grandmaster title in 2018 by the World Chess Federation and is a SEA Games gold medallist, told The New Paper: "The show has helped portray chess as a game for common folk like you and me, who have flaws and our own everyday struggles, instead of a game reserved only for the brightest and most intelligent."
SEA Games bronze medallist Hazel Liu, 30, said: "The Queen's Gambit makes chess look sexy and cool, and this is great as I feel chess has a lot of life skills to offer, such as the ability to focus and bounce back from setbacks."
Ms Liu said many friends and colleagues who do not play chess have spoken to her about the show and were interested to know if she had similar experiences as Beth.
That also happened to Grandmaster Kevin Goh, 37, whose friends have also asked him where they could sign their children up for beginner classes.
He said: "The #ChessAgainstCovid team, a charity movement that was founded in April to help those afflicted by the pandemic, will soon be collaborating with Yuhua Community Club to raise awareness of the game and its virtues at the grassroots level."
But while The Queen’s Gambit is making all the right moves around the world, Mr John Wong, general secretary of the Singapore Chess Federation, feels the increased interest is “more global rather than local” and more down to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “This year, online chess has boomed due to Covid-19 and interest in chess was already heightened with massive live-streaming of chess content worldwide, prior to the screening of the series.”
Mr Wong only recalls one woman who was influenced by the show and registered for the federation’s beginner course as she had never played chess before.
He added: “I think the (main appeal) is how it overcomes the stereotype that chess is predominantly a male sport, as the current top players are male and the best female player is ranked 94th in the world. So as a federation, we do hope this series will encourage more girls and ladies to take to the game.”
Mr Philip Chan, general manager of Chess Academy (Singapore), said there has been a 20 to 25 per cent increase in sales of chess sets here mostly among the expatriate crowd, and several customers have shared that The Queen’s Gambit piqued their interest again.
But although registration for his courses has doubled, it is not due to the show as they are in the children’s category from ages four to 12.
Mr Chan said: “Due to Covid-19 again, Singaporeans are no longer able to travel and therefore need to find another avenue to keep their children occupied.”