Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit gives Christchurch chess club big boost

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen’s Gambit is credited with a spike in interest at the Canterbury...
Anya Taylor-Joy in The Queen’s Gambit is credited with a spike in interest at the Canterbury Chess Club. Photo: Netflix
Richard Christie realised a fictional seven-episode online drama was a game changer when a prospective member arrived at the Canterbury Chess Club with a sudden interest in 1.e4 as an opening move, and the Sicilian Defence.

And the inquisitive woman was not alone at the club’s Riccarton headquarters – interest in the board game has risen dramatically in Christchurch since Netflix gave chess the greatest boost since American Bobby Fischer and Russia’s Boris Spassky played for real in the 1972 world championships.

The Queen’s Gambit was released in October and already the club has had to add a social event on Thursdays to complement the usual game play on a Wednesday.

Richard Christie.
Richard Christie.
Christie, the club president since last year, said more than 20 people had expressed an interest in joining, which is significant as the current membership is around 40.

“One woman contacted us and said: ‘I’m keen to learn chess, I’ve never played before but I watched the series’,” Christie said.

“I’ve had year 3 kids through to three blokes who came along the other night who were 17-plus. There’s a total mix to be honest.

“The Queen’s Gambit has certainly got people talking about chess. It was the same in the 70s when Bobby Fischer played Spassky and chess was in the mainstream media. They called it ‘The Fischer Boom Years’. This is the biggest boom we’ve had since then.

“It’s not that chess is ever going to be cool, but it’s one of those things that if it gets into the mainstream it gets cooler for a bit,” he said.

The Canterbury Chess Club in Riccarton. Photo: Supplied
The Canterbury Chess Club in Riccarton. Photo: Supplied
A full-time chess coach and junior tournament organiser, the South African accepted renewed interest may be fleeting so the club is keen to capitalise as the year draws to a close.

“We usually start up again in February but we’ll probably start up mid-January. I don’t want to lose the momentum of what we’ve got now. The sooner we open again the better,” Christie said.

Meanwhile, although Covid-19 disrupted the national tournament schedule for schools this year, Christie said the global pandemic also benefited chess during lockdown.

“The lockdown drove people to play board games or play online,” he said.

“That may have translated into ‘Hey I play chess on my phone, but maybe it would be cooler to play it with some people’.”






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