Updated: Mar 28
Chess has been played since the 6th century. It consists of 64 squares and 32 pieces, and near infinite possibilities.
Chess has been studied for hundreds of years by players from all over the world. With a game this old, why is it that now, in 2023, chess popularity is at an all-time high?
Chess popularity spiked during the COVID pandemic. People were stuck in their houses with nothing to do, and many people decided to dust off the old chess board and play.
Chess.com, the world's largest chess website, had an increase from 30 million users to 75 million users from March 2020 to March 2021.
Another reason for the increase in chess popularity was the release of the Netflix miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit.”
The Queen’s Gambit is a fictional story about a female chess player, Beth Harmon, who learned chess and beat the Russians during the height of the cold war.
This series was based on a book by the late Walter Tevis, who was an Ohio University English professor.
In an interview with Julia McGory, daughter of Tevis, she explains the transition from the book to the miniseries.
“My father sold the rights for the novel in 1984. I don’t know who he sold them to, but they were eventually sold to multiple people over the last 40 years. Eventually Allen Scott started producing the movie. He worked with the director Scott Frank and [I believe] together they persuaded Netflix to make a series. We were surprised like many as to how good and how popular the series was.”
McGory thinks the miniseries had a big influence on chess's new-found popularity.
“I think it had a huge effect on chess. Chess is now mentioned in many TV programs and movies, chess sets sold out during the series, and you can see chess sets in malls now.”
Chess set sales more than doubled after the release of the series, and online chess skyrocketed.
The pandemic was a perfect storm for chess. People were stuck in their houses with nothing to do. Chess provided a hobby where people could play at home with their friends and family or online.
Over 62 million households watched The Queen’s Gambit. It is nearly certain that millions of people, after watching the show, were inspired by how competitive and complicated the game of chess really is, and decided that they wanted to begin a chess journey of their own.