Queen's Gambit has more Calgarians checking out chess than they have in decades, club says

·4 min read

The new Netflix series The Queen's Gambit, about a young female chess prodigy in the 1950s and 1960s, has generated the most buzz about the game that the Calgary Chess Club has seen in five decades.

"The last time I remember we had buzz like this was way back in 1972, when Bobby Fischer, an American chess player, ended up being the world champion. And then six years ago, we had another movie, The Pawn's Sacrifice … but nothing like this. Nothing like this since 1972," Steve Sklenka, president of the Calgary Chess Club, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

Sklenka said calls and emails have been flooding in from parents who want their kids to take up chess.

"They want to enrol kids into some chess lessons, tutors, and that sort of thing. So we get our inquiries on our websites and our emails," he said.

"We have more people asking if we provide lessons to the youngsters. We have, actually, people buying memberships, even though we're actually closed. The premises are closed. And inquiries are coming in, people buying chess sets," he said. "The activity [is] certainly a lot better than, you know, in the past years."

In the first 10 days after The Queen's Gambit was released, eBay reported a surge of over 270 per cent in searches for chess sets. Sklenka said that's good news for chess fans.

"It's a fun game. It's an educational game," he said. "And the good thing about it is, anybody can play all their lives. We have players from Grade 1 and right up to people into their 80s. So it's a very versatile game."

Sklenka said child prodigies are rare.

"There's two or three from India right now. They're not even teenagers, and they're world-class players," he said.

"There's a few around the world, but it just happens periodically that you have some real youngsters that are extremely good, and they will become top world-class players. Potentially one of them will be a world champion."

Sklenka said he hopes The Queen's Gambit is inspiring more girls and women to take up the male-dominated game.

"There's a lot of women playing chess, there's more and more. And, you know, we've got to be realistic. It's still a male-dominated game, but there's a lot of good female players from around the country and the world," he said.

Sklenka said there's a reason eastern European players, like the toughest opponents in The Queen's Gambit, do so well at chess.

"Russia, you know, the eastern European countries are supported by the government. And so it's easier for their talents to be developed," he said, adding that India, China and the United States, are coming up in the ranks.

"Whereas in the Western world, yeah, we don't have as much support, if you will. But yeah, that would be one reason why maybe Russia is — Russia is doing so well in chess, because they do get the support from the government."

Submitted by Steve Sklenka
Submitted by Steve Sklenka

Sklenka is originally from the Czech Republic and grew up playing chess. But he said he's not one of the players who can close his eyes and see the next moves.

"I certainly can't. And very, very, very few people can actually play chess blindfolded. But there are people that can … Timur Gareyev, whom I know, is a very good friend and a very good person. He's a world champion and he's played 48 games blindfolded, at the same time. And that's a world record, Guinness Book of World Records. So that's just totally unusual. The odd person can play maybe a game, perhaps two blindfolded."

Calgarians who are interested in learning more about chess, getting some lessons or joining the Calgary Chess Club, can find more information at Calgary Chess Club.

The club, at 3359 27th Street N.E., isn't operating regular hours because of COVID-19. However, it is open Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., with all COVID-19 measures in place.

Listen to the full interview on the Calgary Eyeopener here: