How Netflix and lockdowns inspired a chess popularity boom

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Chess is experiencing a surge in popularity at clubs across the West Country - and Netflix and lockdowns are two of the reasons why.

Millions of people were introduced to the game during the pandemic following the release of The Queen’s Gambit, which tells the fictional story of prodigy Beth Harmon.

It was the third-most watched TV series of 2020, and inspired thousands of viewers to start playing - many of those online.

But even now lockdown restrictions have eased and people are permitted to meet up once again, it seems the enthusiasm and interest in chess is continuing - with local clubs reporting a surge in uptake.

At South Bristol Chess Club, for example, new members have been attending club nights for the past few weeks - some as young as five.

Organiser Iain Bourne said the popularity of The Queen’s Gambit may well have had something to do with it.

‘It was realistic’

“The Queen’s Gambit, unlike other films about chess, was actually quite realistic,” he told ITV News West Country.

“The chess on it was accurate. They were advised by grandmasters about how to do it and yet it was a great story at the same time.

Iain Bourne, South Bristol Chess Club

“I think it showed chess not just as something which old men do in smoky rooms falling asleep.”

Some online chess apps reported a 400% surge in downloads during the various lockdowns last year.

Mum Kathy Rogers, whose 10-year-old son Walter is a new member at South Bristol Chess Club, said lockdown gave people more time to enjoy things like board games.

“It’s one of those enduring games,” she said.

South Bristol Chess Club has welcomed a number of new members in recent weeks.

“Walt’s known how to play it for a while and I guess in lockdown he probably played a bit more just having a bit more time.

“But oh my goodness, hands down, he would absolutely beat me - it’s not my game but I’m glad to see him enjoying it.”