More players are being drawn to the game of chess.
Experts and chess champions are noticing increased interest in the hobby amid the pandemic, with some even claiming that a new Netflix series could be partially responsible for more people taking to the board.
“I’m getting so many inquiries from adult women, teens, parents of teenagers, and that’s so awesome because that’s where we usually have drop-off. I’m seeing an outpouring of people who are interested,” Jennifer Shahade, a two-time U.S. women’s chess champion and the women’s program director of the U.S. Chess Federation, tells Fox News.
Shahade also directly attributes the recent uptick in interest to "The Queen's Gambit," a new Netflix drama that stars 24-year-old Anya Taylor-Joy as an orphaned chess prodigy who becomes obsessed with the game while battling addiction. Females, especially, are becoming attracted to chess via the show, she says.
According to Shadade, the Chess Federation’s girls club classes have seen more than 100 people enrolled in virtual lessons since the pandemic has made it harder for matches to be held in person.
And with people spending more time indoors, players are continuing to make moves online. A whopping 480,000 new members signed up to play on Chess.com last week, or roughly 100,000 more members than the website’s previous record high of 378,000, who signed up in a single week in mid-March when sports league cancellations started to hit.
Since March, the website has onboarded roughly 11.1 million new members, an increase of 6.54 million year-over-year.
“We're currently on pace to onboard over 1.5 million members this month, an increase of at least 200% year-over-year,” Nick Barton, director of business development at Chess.com, said in an email.
Offline, people are buying chess sets to play at home. Q Boutique, the gift shop at the World Chess Hall of Fame in Saint Louis, Mo., reports a 76% increase in online chess set orders compared to the same time frame in 2019. And there's been a 200% increase in online chess set orders since the week of Oct. 23, which also happens to be the date that Netflix released "The Queens Gambit."
Barton also attributes the renewed interest in the centuries-old game to people looking to stay engaged in mentally stimulating activities, from learning to bake to piecing together puzzles.
"The substantial increase in new chess players during the pandemic comes in part from a worldwide culture shift we've seen in which self-improvement and new skill acquisition is more highly valued than ever before," Barton said. "The opportunity for individuals to transfer skills like decision making, time management, pattern recognition, and creativity from the digital chessboard to everyday life is one that we've been bullish on since before the pandemic and we're seeing the effects of that now."
Indeed, the game also has a myriad of mental health benefits like enhancing memory, focus and awareness. And during a time of uncertainty, like the pandemic, a match could help alleviate anxiety, Shahade says.
“Chess, in some ways, is like meditation. You’re thinking about one thing so hard that everything else is shut out. It’s the exact level of difficulty where you feel it’s something you can grasp, but it’s not easy,” Shahade explains.
A 2017 case study reported that people who experienced panic attacks found a sense of calm from playing a chess app on their phones.
"Especially now with coronavirus cases rising, having a potential for this new passion to get you through the winter is really a solace for people,” Shahade says.