Why is Chess Popular Again? A Review of The Queen’s Gambit

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(Artwork/Helen Amon’23)

Arjun Ray, Online Staff Writer

During the week of October 18th-24th, Google Search Trend Analytics rated the search term “chess” a 32 on a scale of 100 in terms of popularity. Less than two weeks after that, however, the figure skyrocketed to a maximum popularity ranking of 100. This unusual surge can be attributed to the release of Netflix’s limited series overnight sensation, The Queen’s Gambit

Written and directed by Scott Frank, the show centers around an orphaned chess prodigy and her rise to stardom. The show is held in high regard among both general audiences and critics, with an 8.9/10 on IMDB and an impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Freshman Riley Welles caught the so-called “Gambit Bug,” reflecting, “I liked it, it was beautiful.” She interpreted the series to be representative of feminist themes, noting, “It was also really empowering for women, even though it was not set in the twenty-first century.” She also was impressed by the cast: “I loved that Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who played Newt in the Maze Runner, was featured. Although not a player herself, Welles enjoyed the show’s depictions of chess: “I liked that they showed the matches, even though it was a bit repetitive, but it showed the main character’s growth and improvement.”

Among its many incredible qualities, Princeton Day School seems to have a knack for cultivating and producing successful chess players. These include Eric Wu (Phillips Exeter Class of 2024) who competed on the international circuit, and Aadi Shankar, who dominated national tournaments during his playing career. Freshman Arun Patel, who grew up playing through PDS’ Lower School Program, has mixed feelings on the subject: “To be honest, I did not really like playing chess competitively. But, I do enjoy playing for fun against my friends. I think that it is a nice skill to maintain, and it’s great that Lower Schoolers are fluent in the game.” As a Lower Schooler, some of Patel’s accomplishments include winning a K-1 division tournament at PDS and ranking 5th place at a regional tournament. He also attributed the show’s success as being the reason for the Upper School’s newfound obsession with Chess.com, a popular online chess platform where players can compete both locally and with others from around the world.

Whether it be the outstanding acting performances or the contagious chess aspect, The Queen’s Gambit has managed to garner viral attention to honor a classic game.

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