Checkmate: Queen’s Gambit inspires a new chess crowd in Calgary

The Netflix show, Queen’s Gambit is sparking renewed interest in the age-old game. CALGARY LIVE

When Crystal Lysyk, 40, finished watching Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit in just two days, the first thing she did was look for her first board.

She didn’t need to look far; her roommate bought her a set the day after the series ended together.

The seven-episode limited series based on a fictional character named Beth Harmon has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Harmon learns the game as a young girl, and the series chronicles her rise in the world of chess.

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Lysyk had never played chess before. Her roommate had to teach her the basics. Dozens of games later, it’s safe to say the traditional game has a new fan.

“I had never had time to learn the game before, but after watching the show, I was thrilled to finally be able to try,” she said, adding that it was easier to learn. the basics than she thought.

“I’m just learning the basics now, but I love it. I hope to continue to play and improve.

That’s not to say she plans to star competitively, but for now, the show has inspired a new hobby for Lysyk.

Chess chatter increases

Lysyk isn’t the only new player having fun in the game.

Calgary Chess Club President Steve Sklenka said the series has garnered a lot of attention in local and online chess circles. The Queen’s Gambit is even creating more buzz for the game than the 2014 film Pawn Sacrifice, he added.

Steve Sklenka, Calgary President of the chess club. CONTRIBUTED

“I know for a fact there’s been a lot of buzz about it. There are club people talking about it, online on chess websites – pretty much everyone has an article about it,” he said.

“You cannot escape it. It’s a very popular series and it must have a positive effect on chess. There’s just been too much talk about it not to.

And has this spotlight enticed new players into the game? You bet.

“Even if there is (a pandemic), there are new players signing up, which is good because the club hasn’t been open (due to COVID-19),” he said. he declares.

“I’ve had more inquiries and sales for chess sets recently too.”

He compared the current chess spotlight to 1956, when 13-year-old chess prodigy Bobby Fischer defeated a grandmaster in what has been dubbed the “Match of a Century.” Bobby Fischer became world chess champion in 1972.

“You couldn’t miss it back then; it was in the newspapers, the media. Even though there was no internet, it was a very big problem. It might not be as huge as it was in 1972, but it’s the biggest buzz I’ve seen in chess since then,” Sklenka said.

Still dominated by men

In Queen’s Gambit, Harmon engages in a male-dominated competition. Chess is still predominantly made up of male players, including most of the Calgary Chess Club’s 2,100 players. Still, some women are drawn to the game.

One of Calgary’s highest rated players (with a 1900 rating) is Elaine Cao, who recently moved to the city from St. Louis. This city is known to have one of the best clubs in the United States.

Although she hasn’t been able to play a competitive game in Calgary yet due to COVID-19, Cao is excited for her first game at the Calgary Chess Club when it reopens.

“I was looking at the top Canadian women’s rankings and they’re a bit different in Canada, but I’m pretty confident that I can break into the top 10, and that will be my goal when we can play again,” she said.

She initially avoided watching The Queen’s Gambit, thinking it would not properly reflect the game of chess. Cao eventually relented and said the tournament scenes were “pretty accurate” and that she was impressed with the series.

“I love how a lot of people got into chess because of the show. I think it’s really cool that there are a lot more people excited about the game,” she said .

Anything that grows the game of chess is positive, said Donna Bird. Bird is the first player to serve on the board of the Calgary Chess Club. Playing since she was a child, she said the best part about chess is that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like.

“It draws attention to the game of chess. If there’s a way to get people more interested, that’s wonderful.

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