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Chess Is All The Rage Thanks To Netflix

Image via Alex Perri on Unsplash

On October 23 Netflix released a show titled The Queen's Gambit, which tells the story of an orphan who shows a talent for chess and rises to stardom while struggling with addiction problems.

After just four weeks The Queen's Gambit became Netflix's biggest limited scripted series ever as 62 million households watched the show. The popularity of the series even caused Walter Tevis' 1983 book of the same name to land on The New York Times bestseller list.

"On Netflix, a record-setting 62 million households chose to watch The Queen’s Gambit in its first 28 days," Netflix said. "In fact, the show made the Top 10 in 92 countries and ranked No. 1 in 63 countries, including the UK, Argentina, Israel, and South Africa."

While the release of a new series on Netflix isn't particularly interesting, The Queen's Gambit has driven a notable increase in interest in chess since its release. Google searches for "chess" have more than doubled while searches for "how to play chess" are at a nine-year high.

Chess.com wrote in a blog post that chess "is currently experiencing a surge that hasn't been seen since the days of Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky in 1972." The site says it's breaking records every single day as the number of people playing in Live Chess jumped by 160% on an annual basis and by 67% in the month since The Queen's Gambit's release.

In the three weeks following The Queen's Gambit's release, sales of chess sets in the U.S. jumped by 87% while chess book sales surged by 603%, according to market research firm The NPD Group.

"The idea that a streaming television series can have an impact on product sales is not a new one, but we are finally able to view it through the data," NPD toys industry advisor Juli Lennett said. "The sales of chess books and chess sets, which had previously been flat or declining for years, turned sharply upward as the popular new series gained viewers."

Toy and game companies that sell chess sets are cashing in amid chess' newfound popularity. Goliath Games, which sells six different chess sets, including the popular Pressman model sold at Walmart, saw sales explode following The Queen's Gambit's release.

"Our October sales for chess were up 178% over the same period last year," Goliath Games director of marketing Mary Higbe said, before adding the company's chess sales ended October "up 1,048%."

Spin Master, which has a classic games division with a 70% market share in the U.S., said sales began to pick up earlier this year as a result of the coronavirus lockdowns but have spiked since the series was released.

"Ever since The Queen's Gambit launched, our chess sales have increased triple digits," Spin Master vice president of marketing Elizabeth LoVecchio said. LoVecchio said chess sales are "unprecedented" and "we anticipate our sales rising further."

With so much of our time now spent in front of screens, it's cool to see The Queen's Gambit has reinvigorated interest in chess.

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