How Queen’s Gambit popularized chess

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How Queen’s Gambit popularized chess

The Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit delivered a captivating rags to riches story filled with loss, heartbreak, and romance. The show is based on the novel The Queen’s Gambit written by Walter Tevis.

The show takes place in the 1960s and follows the life of chess prodigy Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who was taught to play chess by the janitor in her orphanage. Beth’s journey to success was far from easy. After losing her mother to suicide at the age of 9, she was sent to an orphanage to grow up in a hopeless and depressing environment. She found respite by befriending an older girl Jolene, playing chess with the janitor in the basement, and by taking tranquilizers. She was finally adopted in her teen years but became an outcast at her high school. After several years of playing competitive chess, she finally made it to the Mexico City tournaments, but her adopted mother passed away during one of the tournaments in the hotel room from hepatitis. Her adopted father wanted nothing to do with her, so he sold Beth the house she was left to fend for herself. In addition to her personal and life struggles, she has two major chess competitors; Benny Watts, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Vasily Borgov, played by Marcin Dorociński.  

The Queen’s Gambit became the most-watched series on Netflix with 62 million households within the first 28 days since its release on October 23rd. The show was ranked #1 in 62 countries and in the top ten in 92 countries. 

The popularity of chess also increased since the show became popular. According to The Hill, prior to the release of the series, chess sales remained stagnant or declined, but after it rose to popularity, chess sets rose in sales by 87% and chess books rose in sales by 603%. 

Viewers aren’t the only ones influenced by the game of chess. Netflix posted an interview with Anya Taylor-Joy and renowned female chess champion Judit Polgár. In the interview, Taylor-Joy admitted that prior to playing Beth, she never played chess.

They also discussed the feeling of being a child or a woman in a man’s world. Chess is dominated by men and the series showcases a strong and independent woman defying the odds. This can serve as an inspiration to young individuals with big dreams and propel them to defy societal norms. Judit mentioned that she started playing chess from the age of five and when she won “The adults were commenting that you were lucky, you’re just a kid, I was not paying attention so it took a long time until I kind of got used to it.” She also added that she “felt that I had to prove it many more times if I would have been a boy.” Anya Taylor-Joy in turn shared her sentiment. “That feeling that Beth has when she enters the chess tournaments for the first time and she sees that this world exists and that she has a place in it, that’s exactly the same way I felt the first time I ever stepped on the set.”

Despite the show’s popularity, director and executive producer Scott Frank announced there won’t be a second season. It was set to be a limited series based on the novel, and they didn’t want to expand upon the original story. Anya Taylor-Joy mentioned that a second season isn’t necessary because they leave Beth Harmon in a good place, but she wouldn’t be opposed to participating in one.

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