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The Queen’s Gambit Has Everyone Buying Chess Boards

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Netflix isn’t the only one that’s reaped benefits from the word-of-mouth success of The Queen’s Gambit. Online marketplaces like eBay and game and toy companies are riding the show’s growing cultural impact to massive spikes in sales for chess sets and boards.

“Ever since The Queen’s Gambit launched, our chess sales have increased triple digits,” Elizabeth LoVecchio, a vice president of marketing at Spin Master toy company, told NPR. Another company, Goliath Games, estimated sales of its chess sets were up more than 1,000 percent. In a statement to the New York Times, a representative for eBay estimated sales of chess boards on the platform had increased by 215 percent since the debut of The Queen’s Gambit.

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“Six months ago, a year ago, these retailers weren’t saying, let’s load up on chess sets,” toy analyst Gerrick Johnson told NPR. “Good luck finding a chess set this holiday!”

The Queen’s Gambit debuted on Netflix before Halloween, but has turned into the kind of slow-burn hit that’s increasingly difficult to find in an era defined by what can often feel like unlimited content options. Yet despite an influx of high-profile material on the streaming service and elsewhere, The Queen’s Gambit remains firmly ensconced in the Netflix top-ten list of most-watched shows. Netflix famously does not release more detailed viewership data, but the streaming service has claimed more than 62 million households have watched the show in its first 28 days, a record for Netflix limited series.

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Co-created and written by Scott Frank, the show focuses on a young chess prodigy (Anya Taylor-Joy), who grapples with addiction in her quest to become the best chess player in a male-dominated arena.

“Chess is an equalizer when you play,” two-time women’s chess champion Jennifer Shahade told Vanity Fair in an interview about the show, which she praised for its verisimilitude. “You’re not as aware of traditional boundaries and hierarchies. I think that’s one of my favorite things about it. I remember as a kid, sometimes I’d play against littler kids, and sometimes I would play against grown-ups, [but] it was like we were all on the same playing field. And I think that’s such a valuable skill for people—to not be intimidated and also to not feel better than anyone else.”

“With the rise in social media use and mental health issues with teen girls, I also think that the idea that you can kind of completely lose yourself in chess [is beneficial],” she added. “You’re certainly not going to be worried about any social media accounts at that point because you’re totally absorbed in the game.”

Chess sales and streaming viewership had already grown this year, in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the fidelity The Queen’s Gambit exhibits toward the game has allowed it to become embraced by chess players of all skill levels.

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“The chess community fell in love with the series because it successfully portrays different aspects of chess in all its richness: It’s easy enough to be fun to play, but also complex enough to pose a challenge,” International Chess Federation spokesperson David Llada told the New York Times. “It is nerdy, but also cool and fashionable. It is intensively competitive, but full of interesting, creative, and colorful characters.” Checkmate?

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