The Queen’s Gambit hit Netflix in a major way this fall, earning extraordinary critical praise for its story about a young chess prodigy who takes the chess world by storm while also wrestling with her own inner demons. It was a borderline masterpiece of storytelling and acting, somehow making chess into a true sport with all of the ups and downs that come with fierce competition. But while the show may have repopularized the game of chess, there has been a downside as well. Apparently, chess websites are seeing a surge of cheating in the game.
The popularity of The Queen’s Gambit helped websites like Chess.com to see massive spikes in the user account signups. Apparently folks wanted to follow in the footsteps of Elizabeth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) who runs roughshod over her opponents in the show. But because many people don’t share the character’s true genius in understanding the strategies and complexities of the game, they resorted to just cheating their way to victory. Chess.com reportedly closed more accounts for irregularities in the month of November than they ever had before.
The Queen’s Gambit was a massive hit for Netflix this fall. The streaming platform reported that 62 million people streamed the seven-episode run apparently making it the most viewed original show ever for the service. That’s remarkable considering using competitive chess as a high-stakes nailbiter *sport* really shouldn’t have worked. But it did thanks to a fantastic performance from its lead and the ability to play on the game’s vagaries and strategies.
Much like Rounders helped the poker world’s boon, The Queen’s Gambit apparently has had a similar effect on chess. It wasn’t just the online portion that has seen a spike in interest. Actual chess game board/ sets and online classes have had major surges in interest as well. It makes sense considering the strategy components as well as the low barrier for entry. Chess works well across all age ranges. But cheating face-to-face might be a bit harder than it is online. On the latter, one can use bots or other rule-bending programs for a leg up on the competition.
After The Queen’s Gambit first hit screens, Chess.com reportedly saw it’s largest annual, year-over-year growth since it first launched in 2007. In the last few months, it added more than 12 million new users with more than three million coming almost directly after Netflix first aired the show. That’s a lot of people wanting to move pieces around the board, mimicking the character’s ability to see every angle and countermove.
The Queen’s Gambit could help the continued popularity in chess going forward as well. There is reportedly interest in a second season, at least from the series star. She believes there is more story to tell here. Getting a follow up would be almost as improbable as the original show working in the first place. But like Beth Harmon, underdog stories often make for the best theater even if the strategy plays out on a chessboard. Learning the game of chess is a fantastic pursuit. But make sure you are keeping things on the up-and-up because sites like chess.com can definitely pick up on if you aren’t keeping things above board, so to speak.