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3.05. Chess in the movies

Chess in the movies 


The Miracle of the Chess Business


By dramatising the fictional fate of a young chess prodigy in conservative 1960s America, Netflix has not only smashed its audience records. “The Queen’s Game” has become the best ally of the makers of the 64-square board.

“For the past three weeks, we can talk about an explosion of orders”, says a manager of a chess shop.

The single season (seven episodes in total) has been seen by over 62 million households worldwide and is the most popular series in 63 countries.


 “It’s a good time and a great introduction to the world of chess even if the series has some inaccuracies or shortcuts inherent in fiction. In reality, the tempo is much slower, the moves do not follow each other with the same speed. Chess is the possibility to settle down, to play in a reflective way”, says the shopkeeper affiliated to a chess circle.


An advisor named Kasparov


For the sake of realism and in order not to make any mistakes that would have made the “wood pushers” jump, the production has surrounded itself with the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, from whom the main actress borrows her gestures down to the smallest detail. A professionalism that is not surprising from the big American studios, which know the entertainment business better than anyone. 


But the platform with 200 million subscribers has not only broken audience records, it has also succeeded in arousing interest in a game that is reputedly demanding and that most viewers know nothing about.

On you will find an assortment of chess sets, wooden chess game that will appeal to young and old, to enthusiasts but also to amateurs, to experts and beginners, to travellers or sedentary players 

An unexpected feat that delighted retailers. 

“I found myself out of stock very quickly after the series went online,” says the manager of a chess shop.

All generations


The rush to play checkerboard involves all generations, beginners or not. 

“There are also customers who played at one time and want to get back into the game. I see older people who want to introduce their grandchildren to the game, but also young couples, teenagers or parents who come with their young children.


People are not only interested in the object, but also in the advice and learning methods. 

“The sector has a plethora of books, from the most basic to the most learned. According to the American research firm, NPD Group, sales of chess books rose by 603% in the three weeks following the broadcast of the episodes.


On the web, the tornado hit with the same intensity., the leading online chess site with 47 million members, has registered a fivefold increase in registrations since the arrival of the providential saga. More than 100.000 new members have been joining every day since mid-November. Chess aficionados can even play against a bot of Beth Harmon, the heroine of the series.


A side effect of COVID.


However, the craze is not only due to the VOD mirage. The population, deprived of its usual leisure activities since the health crisis, has naturally turned to indoor games, which are experiencing a significant increase. Puzzle, Mikado, chess: same battle. 

For the FEFB, the French-speaking chess federation of Belgium, the benefits of this globalised craze are still difficult to measure. The clubs closed because of the spread of the Coronavirus have not yet been able to benefit from the media phenomenon. However, the association would not be opposed to a ray of sunshine that would warm up the statistics, which have been stable for years. The Belgian federation has 5,400 members for the whole country, two thirds of whom are Dutch-speaking. Flanders also has the highest number of circles, with four times as many as in Wallonia. Like the successful fiction, the place of women remains very much in the minority. Barely 4% of adult chess players are women. Is this a reflection of the prevailing sexism that discourages the most ambitious? “Female players deplore a certain machismo but in the milieu, no one will dare to speak frankly about it, confides an arbiter. For some players, being beaten by a woman is felt as a humiliation.


Belgian Grandmasters


In this universe where kings have ousted queens, Belgium is ranked 45th in the world according to the FIDE, the international chess federation. An honourable score which places us ahead of Finland but far behind Armenia which, despite its 3 million inhabitants, is a real factory of virtuosos.


“In Belgium, there are eight grandmasters,” says Christian Henrotte, the FEFB president.

Grand Master? The most prestigious of distinctions that rewards world-class competitors.


At the international level, it is the Russian federations that assert their domination. A tradition that dates back to the Cold War, as Netflix suggests? Not really. It was precisely in 1924, when the Soviet party took control of chess organisations, that the USSR transformed the game into an ideological battle. Every good communist will henceforth be a good chess player.


The great masters include: Botvinnik, Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky…


Anatoli Karpov and Garry Kasparov became the new masters of the chessboard in the mid-1980s. The enemy brothers (USA-USSR) are the first chess stars whose fame equals that of NBA basketball players. A golden age which naturally saw the prize money soar. In 1990, the 2 Ks shared a prize money of 3 million dollars during the world championship held in New York. This sum has never been reached again and is now limited to 1 million dollars.

“In Belgium, beyond the five or six players in the ranking, one cannot live from one’s passion”, regrets a chess specialist. What is missing in this discipline to seduce brands? Certainly a posture, a “cool attitude”.  The 64 squares would be reserved for an elite with an IQ well above the average.


A cliché that should be discarded like a bishop discards a pawn. “Chess is often portrayed as a hyper-cerebral activity. This is not false, but I have met many seven or eight year olds who play chess with great pleasure and who do not see the austerity that people want to attribute to this game,” says Laurent Lienart. But to progress, it requires, at some point, perseverance. This is what the series shows.


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Trends-tendances: le miracle du “chess business” 10-12-2020

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