'The Queen's Gambit' sparks fresh interest in chess


Anya Taylor-Joy plays Beth Harmon in 'The Queen's Gambit'. Photo: Handout

Anyone who thinks chess is boring clearly hasn't seen The Queen's Gambit.

This mini-series, based on the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, has proved a hit since it landed on Netflix, Oct 23. So much so that growing numbers of people are trying out the game on their cell phones, maybe in the hope of reaching the same level of expertise as the show's chess prodigy, Beth Harmon.

The Queen's Gambit follows the life of Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who is placed in a Kentucky orphanage as a child following her mother's death in a car accident. There, she discovers an unexpected talent for chess thanks to the janitor, Mr Shaibel (Bill Camp), who teaches her about the game, while also developing a tranquilizer addiction. Beth battles constantly with her addiction over the years, while trying to make her name in the ultra-competitive world of chess grandmasters.

Although entirely fictional, Beth Harmon's rise in the world of chess seems to be inciting viewers to learn about this game, which has been around for over 15 centuries. Since the show's seven episodes landed on Netflix, mobile chess games have been topping search results in various application stores. Daily downloads have also grown by 63% in the United States and 11% worldwide, according to app specialists AppAnnie. For example, the Chess app from AI Factory Limited currently stands at No.14 in the most downloaded paid-for games on Google Play in the US.

And this newfound interest in the game goes beyond mobile apps – it's also being seen in publishing. The best-seller The Queen's Gambit rose to 16th place in the most-downloaded fictional e-books in Apple's iBookstore, according to data from Pop Vortex. And that's a respectable place, considering that Walter Tevis's coming-of-age novel was first published in 1983.

In fact, chess was enjoying renewed interest even before The Queen's Gambit became one of the most-watched shows on Netflix. The noble game has become a mainstay of the streaming platform Twitch in the last six months, driven by popular streamers like Joedat "Voyboy" Esfahani and Felix "xQc" Lengyel, not to mention grandmasters like Hikaru Nakamura. Web users watched some 41.2 million hours of chess on Twitch between March and August this year, according to the SullyGnome website. That's four times more than the previous six months.

"Shoutout to the big streamers who've discovered chess. Some do it once or twice, some every single stream. Some are casual visitors to our game, some are becoming obsessed.... Chess thanks you for all the new fans," said Hikaru Nakamura, international grandmaster and Twitch streamer on Twitter. – AFP

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