‘Queen’s Gambit’ fueling a Bay Area chess renaissance

When I was about 10 and planning to be a chess champion — even though I barely knew my fianchettos from my fingerfehlers — I crafted my own chess set out of papier-mache, the flour-and-water-and-newspaper kind, forming it into little amorphous clumps of varying sizes then sending them into battle on a board made of cardboard squares held together with Elmer’s glue. In later years, I upgraded to a Pirates of the Caribbean set with knights and kings in a barnacled-green metal, as if they’d just surfaced from watery graves.

Both sets worked fine, and that’s the beauty of chess – it’s a game of the mind, so there’s no need for the $1,995 Ralph Lauren “Sutton” version unless you want it for coffee-table art. In fact, there’s no need for a physical version at all these days, thanks to online sites with chess puzzles, casual games, classes and even tournaments – a blessing during a never-ending lockdown where we’ve been so bored out of our minds, we’ve been forced to actually use them.

Indeed, chess is having a moment. Early in the pandemic, the 1,500-year-old game was already seeing a surge, along with home-based activities like baking sourdough or learning Swahili. Then in the fall, along came the Netflix miniseries, “The Queen’s Gambit” — a strategic move if ever there was one – which sent armies of rookies and grandmasters alike to online platforms like Chess.com, Lichess.org and chess-related Twitch channels. It also sent sales of physical chess sets soaring at the holidays. (If you didn’t get one from Santa, you were probably very, very naughty.)

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Anya Taylor Joy in The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) (Netflix)

While chess is currently crowned with popularity, especially for women and girls, there are so many ways to get involved — from online classes and tournaments to DIYing your own homemade sets.

We checked in with the experts at the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club in San Francisco, believed to be the oldest chess club in the country, where chess director Abel Talamantez says the club already had a vigorous online presence, making them really well-positioned to continue offering classes and games for every level of skill.

“We’d been really active this whole time (of the lockdown), running regular events and classes – I’ve been running mini youth tournaments daily,” he says. “But when ‘Queen’s Gambit’ came out, we doubled the number of participants in everything from our free Wednesday-night beginner classes to tournament play.”

If you haven’t caught it yet, “The Queen’s Gambit,” which is based on the Walter Tevis 1983 novel, is a fictional story about a female prodigy, Beth Harmon, who becomes a chess champion amid the male-dominated world of chess. Mechanics Institute CEO Kimberly Scrafano says there’s been a distinct spike of interest from women and girls in the ensuing weeks.

“Interesting thing was, we’d already received a grant from U.S. Chess earlier this year to expand our classes for women and girls,” she said. “It was all rather good timing.”

In pre-pandemic times, says Mechanics …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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