When Bobby Fischer became World Champion in 1972, chess in the United States had a boom like never
before. The interest in chess exploded, newspapers across the country started having chess columns,
chess personalities became minor celebrities and the United States Chess Federation saw an
unprecedented growth in its membership, new members entered chess clubs across the country and, in
fact, across the western hemisphere.
However, as Fischer faded away from the headlines after not defending his title and not playing any
chess at all, the interest in chess among the general public also started to wane. In chess circles many
quietly and in some places not so quietly began to speculate how chess could recapture the world’s
fascination for chess and once more drive people to our ancient game. Obviously, it needed
propaganda, obviously, it needed stars, obviously, it needed to be broadcasted, but the general
consensus was that chess didn’t make for much of a spectator sport, especially in its current format. But
how to change this without changing the game? The introduction of rapid play and blitz tournament,
even when broadcasted online with expert commentary did not attract crowds and it certainly did not
grow the game, it only grew the wallets of a small group of players and experts.
Lock people up with nothing to do. That was apparently the first step in the perfect two-stage rocket.
The, more or less, worldwide COVID lock-down increased the interest in any kind of board game and chess
was certainly no exception, in part because of the Magnus Carlsen online tour events but also the
countless streamers and YouTubers who have pumped an enormous amount of material onto the
people at home’s computer screens.
That in itself was however not sufficient to truly make chess take off. The second stage in the rocket
turned out to be “The Queen’s Gambit” which was released on October 23, 2020. I recall that I saw an
uptick in the daily sales of my books on the 26th of October. At that point, I had not yet watched “The
Queen’s Gambit” myself and was therefore blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. After about
seven days of seriously increased sales, I wondered if there was a bug in their reporting system or if the
holiday spike had started early. But it was not a bug, nor a holiday spike, it was a new boom in chess.