MU Chess Team and MU Chess Club members discuss the future of chess and ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Members of MU Chess Club and MU Chess Team discuss the show’s impact on chess culture and how it has reignited an international interest in the sport.

The semi-fictional Netflix miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit” has wowed critics and general audiences since its release in October. Rotten Tomatoes ranks the miniseries with a high critic score of 95%, with the average score reaching 97% from general audiences.

The success of the show is drawing in members of MU’s Chess Team and Club. “The Queen’s Gambit” has caught the attention of MU’s chess players and Netflix viewers due to its empowering representation of women, accuracy to the game and the sudden rise of global interest in chess itself.

Drew Shattuck, MU sophomore and member of the MU Varsity Chess Team, has watched “The Queen’s Gambit” two times all the way through. He recites the general plot of the show without hesitation.

“‘The Queen’s Gambit’ follows a character named Beth Harmon, who is loosely based on the real-life United States world champion, Bobby Fischer,” Shattuck said.

Harmon starts her journey at a foster home for girls where her interest in the game of chess sparks for the first time. Using this spark, Harmon climbs up the ranks within the professional chess world, while also dealing with other life struggles.

Shattuck also discusses the show’s themes on sex, drug addiction and coming of age. This element of the show provides more to viewers than just chess content. Shattuck talks about the realism of the show’s chess aspects and praises its dedication to accuracy through a variety of methods.

“From my own experience in chess tournaments, the body language, the expressions, the way that the pieces were being moved, [and] the way that chess is talked about in the show is incredibly accurate,” Shattuck said.

The show also has received praise from critics and audiences alike surrounding its representation of women in chess in the past. Zaid Khashram, MU alumni and former MU Chess Club member talks about the stigma surrounding women in chess.

“Back in the day when chess was up and coming, there was a big stigma revolving [around] women in chess,” Khashram said. “There is still a stigma today that chess is mostly a male-dominated sport and there’s not too many women involved, so I think it did showcase [representation] really well.”

During the 1960s, it was rare for women to have a career outside of the home. With “The Queen’s Gambit” taking place during this time period, female chess players now look at Beth Harmon as a new symbol of normalization and empowerment.

Although this show lives and breathes the game of chess, Shattuck said it has a little something for all viewers and is an inspirational story.

“There is a really cool hero story that a lot of people will feel very inspired to at the very least get into chess at an amateur level,” Shattuck said. “Even if it wasn’t about chess, I would love to watch it.”

With “The Queen’s Gambit” bringing chess to the mainstream, both Shattuck and Khashram believe that this will, and already has led to, a rise in global interest in not only the game of chess itself but also women in chess. According to research firm NPD Group, unit sales of chess sets increased by 87% in the U.S. and chess book sales rose by 603% three weeks after the show’s premiere.

“Chess sales have increased and the popularity of chess in Google searches has increased,” Khashram said. “Having the protagonist be a woman in the show and having it seen that a woman can beat men in chess and be the best at chess … probably helps women if they want to get into [chess].”

With a rise in chess popularity and strong female representation under its belt, “The Queen’s Gambit” is already spreading its influence only months after its release. The miniseries is currently available on Netflix for subscribers.

Edited by Angelina Edwards | aedwards@themaneater.com

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