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The Netflix Effect: chess rising to popularity

Since it first screened on Netflix, the miniseries The Queen’s Gambit has been a huge hit. The show is based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel, which shares the same name. An American period, coming-of-age drama directed and written by Scott Frank.

The series was released on the 23rd of October 2020. However, only just after four weeks it became Netflix’s most watched miniseries. Although, a few outlets declared the show to be an ‘unlikely success,’ only a month later in November 2020, Netflix proudly announced that 62 million households were stuck to their screens to watch the series, which made it ‘Netflix’s biggest scripted limited series to date.’ The director Scott Frank then stated that, “delighted and dazed by the response.”

In the series we follow the character Elizabeth Harmon – played by Anya Taylor-Joy – a young orphan genius who waltz her way into a world dominated by men and rises up the ranks by defeating her opposite sex with her brilliant chess playing skills, genius mind and competitive personality.

Elizabeth, who goes by the name Beth, ends up in an orphanage at the age of eight, Beth finds two ways to escape her reality; first chess which is taught to her by a creepy janitor in a dark basement, and second, taking the little green pills given to her and also the other orphans, which helps keep the children tranquillised. It doesn’t take long before her genius mind is discovered while playing a game of chess. She wins her way up the rankings, earning money, beating grandmasters. Her fashion sense is to die for and her big brown eyes captivate the hearts of millions across the globe.

However, there is one more thing that has grown in popularity – some may even argue that it has surpassed Taylor-Joy herself – it’s the board game itself. Chess.

As well as Taylor-Joy’s phenomenal performance and Netflix’s depiction of the competitive game, chess is once again popular. It’s trendy and it’s the perfect way to show your braininess to your friends.

During the same week The Queen’s Gambit was released on Netflix, there was a significant rise in chess on the worldwide search engine in the United Kingdom as well as many other countries.

Google Tends clearly reveals the rise in popularity right after Netflix shows release date 23rd October 2020.

It’s an important time for chess. This unexpected and instant rise in popularity tracks back to Netflix’s successful series. The UK Metro Newspaper reported that the search for chess sets have increased by 273 percent on eBay only after ten days the show was launched. Chess.com the most popular chess website and app with over 50 million members has had several million new members join since the release of the show, and the downloads of the app on the iPhone has leaped to number three in the United States and number two in the United Kingdom. Covid-19 also has a role in this rise in popularity, having more free time and boredom, it is the perfect time to give your attention to a new sport.

“Since the release of The Queen’s Gambit we have seen roughly 2.5 million new members join,” the director of business development of chess.com, Nick Barton told AFP.

Netflix does not rely on advertisement – according to them nor do they intent to – however, many marketing companies visualise a massive opportunity. Netflix, already loosely work with advertisers via brand partnerships. An example is the deal between Coca-Cola and the Netflix show Stranger things. Therefore, the question rises to minds: Could Netflix become a potential advertising powerhouse?

There is no doubt about the fact that Netflix is officially a definitive modern media company, almost a symbol for the 21st century technologies. It has changed the way we consume films and television shows in society, and it is now one of the most crucial providers of digitally delivered media content. The number of subscribers on Netflix is growing each year by ten percent. There are 12.4 million subscribers in the United Kingdom according to the latest figures and 59 million in the United States. It is safe to say that Netflix is the new media and its influence is undoubtedly recognisable in a variety of industries.

Experts call it the Netflix Effect. According to Forbes, this phrase is referred to ‘when a new series catapults and unknown actor to fame – overnight – as a result of millions of people binge watching a show.’ However, the term has grown to refer to a number of factors: the curation of the content, the content itself and its social and economic influence, and different representation. Due to lockdown and everyone being stuck indoors, the Netflix Effect has reached a new high.

An important theme the series tackles is sexism, and with a female protagonist it challenges the rarity of female players in the competitive world of chess. International Chess Federation’s (FIDE) chief marketing officer, David Llada, reveals that only 16 percent of the country’s licensed players are in fact female in the United Kingdom. The effect of The Queen’s Gambit has created a shift for women in chess.

Chess is a cool game, now thanks to the Netflix Effect, more and more people are coming to realise that and have decided to be a part of the chess community.  Nona Gaprindashvili, a Georgian grandmaster said regarding the Netflix series that, “You have to be psychologically and physically strong, and have a drive for excellence.”

Book review: The queen’s gambit by Walter Tevis

Book: The Queen's Gambit
Author: Walter Tevis
Genre: Fiction, psychological thriller
Rating: 5/5 
Published: 1983

From the moment I picked up Walter Tevis’ amazing novel The Queen’s Gambit, I struggled to put it back down, and ended up finishing the book in just two days, 243 pages of it. The Queen’s Gambit is a novel first published in 1983 following the life of a chess prodigy. As boring as that may sound, the words that tell the story between the front and back cover begs to differ. The novel takes place in 1950 where women are still considered to be intellectually inferior to men. Elizabeth Harmon, is both young and also female, challenging the traditional norms of society. We are first introduced to Beth at the age of eight as an orphan with the first sentence, “Beth learned of her mother’s death from a woman with a clipboard.”

But for a moment, let’s put chess aside, and look at the story through Beth’s eyes, an eight-year-old orphan girl from Kentucky. The chaotic battlefield here, in this story is her mind. Ending up in an orphanage at the age of eight, Beth finds two ways to escape her reality; first chess which is taught to her by a creepy janitor in a dark basement, and second, taking the little green pills given to her and also the other orphans, which helps keep the children tranquilized. It doesn’t take long before her genius mind is discovered while playing a game of chess. She wins her way up the rankings, earning money, beating grandmasters. Beth is smart, maybe even too smart for her own good. In a society where women are considered inferior, she doesn’t see gender, and is often frustrated about articles written about her, focusing more on her being a young woman rather than her successful chess wins. But all that aside something is missing in her life, which leaves her mind in a state of loneliness. Leading her to swallow more green pills and drink more alcohol.

There are many quotes in this book I enjoyed and choosing a favourite is difficult, however, if I was forced to choose it would be the quote where Beth said, “It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it; I can dominate it. And it’s predictable. So, if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.”

To those who are thinking, “do I need to be a chess fan to read this book?” The answer is no. Although, the plot takes place with a girl rising up the ranks playing chess, it is also much more than that. It is also about loss, death, rejection, addiction, and even sexism. Ergo, if you believe you can relate to even one of those emotions listed, this book is for you. That’s not to say that chess is boring. It may be for some, however Tevis brings out the excitement and dramatics of chess into this book.

The book is engaging and easy to follow with the author’s straight to the point writing, “it was six days until Thursday.” It’s a book I read once and will happily go back and read again. I enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit to the point where I turned a blind eye to Beth’s gloomy future at the end of the novel. The little orphan grew up to outgrow the one thing that made her name. We may not be a prodigy but we can still understand and relate to Beth Harmon in more ways than one, which is the core of what makes this book engaging. 

You can buy your own copy on Amazon.