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Nova Scotia chess clubs say Netflix series ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ increasing interest in the game

A chess board. Matt King/Getty Images

The Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit has inspired many around the world, and locally as well, to buy a chess board or dust off the one they already have in the basement to play with a family member or friend.

The president of Chess Nova Scotia, Ken Cashin, said the show is increasing interest in chess, and he’s seeing the show’s impact on his friends and acquaintances who are not regular chess players reaching out to him.

“(Some are) saying that they’ve recently bought a chess board, or joined Chess.com and played their first game online,” said Cashin in an e-mail.

READ MORE: Chess popularity boosted by Netflix series ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

He said the show is definitely pushing chess into the mainstream, and he hopes the trend continues.

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“I think even a passing interest in the royal game can be beneficial to people young and old. Among many other benefits, chess is a great way to improve your concentration, patience, memory, and creativity,” Cashin said.

“And the best thing of all is that it’s tremendous fun!”

Given that chess is a mind sport, Cashin said the problem with previous representations of chess in the movies and on television is that they’ve always had a hard time finding a way to depict what’s going on during the game.

“By showing how the lead character Beth Harmon visualizes the board positions on the ceiling, the Queen’s Gambit was able give viewers an idea of the tremendous depth, complexity, and beauty of the game,” he explained.

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“Those scenes were very powerful, a stroke of genius. They showed just how much is actually going on inside a chess player’s mind, how well they can use their imagination.”

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Neil MacDonald, Dalhousie Chess Club co-president, said he hasn’t seen the series yet, but has been getting more messages from students and people from the Halifax area expressing interest in chess due to the show’s popularity. 

But the club hasn’t been very active of late, said MacDonald, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the academic commitment of the club’s senior members.

“While timing has not been great for us, it goes without saying that we have all been delighted by the show’s success,” said MacDonald. 

He said that there’s a lot of potential for chess to grow in Nova Scotia and around the world by ensuring that the game is inviting and inclusive of all people.

Cashin said that when the association’s local chess tournaments start back up in Nova Scotia, they’ll be able to see an uptick of interest and turn out. But right now due to COVID-19, everything has transitioned to online.

“I know that Chess.com is seeing a huge upswing globally, so the trend seems be there at least for online chess. Let’s hope it continues for over the board chess.”

Read more: Canadian Chess Challenge teaches kids lessons that can be applied beyond the board

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In the meantime, Cashin said the show can be a great escape for people during the pandemic.

“It’s also great for viewers to see a woman succeeding in a brain game. The show tells a story that people want to hear right now, a narrative, a possibility that people are ready to see come to life.”