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Mass Lockdowns, Netflix Show ‘Queen’s Gambit’ have added to the popularity of chess, says Viswanathan Anand

Viswanathan Anand further talked about how technology has changed the way one studied chess.

Queen’s Gambit

Viswanathan Anand has said that mass lockdowns and the Netflix show, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ have helped popularize chess. The Indian Grandmaster was also all praise for the show’s “accurate portrayal” of the game. Anand was stranded in Germany for three months waiting for a flight back to India due to the COVID-19 pandemic and he stated that chess has enjoyed a surprise boom during the pandemic, with millions more people playing and following games online.

The popularity of chess has also been helped by the new Netflix limited series, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’. It follows the rise of a troubled chess genius – based on America’s Bobby Fischer. It has set new viewing records for Netflix. Apart from that there has been a new spike in the sales of chess boards and chess books since the release of the show.

Vishwanathan Anand highlighted how ‘Queen’s Gambit’ helped popularize chess. “People sitting at home seem to have discovered the game of chess,” the five-time world champion said. “There are now 13 million people playing online. And then during the pandemic there was also a Netflix show about chess, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, and that is also a bit spectacular,” Vishwanathan Anand told AFP.

While many sports have suffered during the pandemic, chess has thrived. Online platform, Chess.com has said last month that it added 2.5 million new members on the site since the release of ‘Queen’s Gambit’.

Just like other sports have TV audiences, our audiences are principally online. So all that happened was that the chess players moved online to join the spectators,” Anand said during a phone interview from his home in Chennai. “That’s not to say there were no adjustments to be made. It was quite complicated and there was a learning curve, but yes chess has done very well,” he added.

‘You have a Roger Federer and Diego Maradona in your room’

Viswanathan Anand

Viswanathan Anand is acclaimed as the greatest player India has produced and the chess star said technology has brought deep changes to chess with the Internet providing the platform to take it to a mass audience.

Almost anyone, even someone who doesn’t know the rules of chess can follow online,” the 50-year old said. “A spectator-friendly experience is being created,” he added.

Anand won his first world title at the age of 30 in 2000. This was three years after super-computer Deep Blue’s epochal defeat of Russian world champion Garry Kasparov. “I was the crossover generation. I was 17 when the first chess database came along. I have pretty much worked with computers from that time onwards till today,” Anand said.

He added that computers have changed the way one studied the game. “I think computers have changed the way you study the game. Every person no matter how weak, how isolated, has the world’s strongest chess player sitting in the room with them always willing to answer any question,” he said. “Think of it, you have a Roger Federer and Diego Maradona in your room and saying, ‘Ask and I will give you any answer’. That’s been the impact of chess computers,” he added.

However, despite the advances in technology, he said it is impossible to replicate the tension and atmosphere of a live game. “If you want to play, you need that sense of being sitting there in the hall feeling that tension,” he said. “All those things, I think I need to remember again. It has been a very, very long break,” he added referencing to the pandemic.

‘We never had the world grind to a halt like this’

Viswanathan Anand

Viswanathan Anand became a Grandmaster at the age of 18 and remains in the World Top 20. He enjoyed great rivalries with the likes of Kasparov, Russian grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik and Soviet-born Israeli Boris Gelfand. He further talked about the current scenario in chess. He said that the Russian domination is being challenged by Chinese players like Ding Liren and Wang Hao.

China may have peaked recently in terms of having two really strong players stand out but they have had considerable depth for a while,” he said. “And the other thing is that they are very good in chess Olympiads, so they play well as a team. So we aren’t surprised by good Chinese results any more,” he added.

He added there are still muscular showdowns such as Magnus Carlsen against Fabiano Caruana — the current leading players — and tipped teenage sensation Alireza Firouzja, who was born in Iran but plays for France, for future stardom.

Anand was playing a chess league in Germany when most of the international travel came to a halt in February. He kept himself busy by following his favourite football team, Real Madrid. He did commentaries and led India in the Online Nations Cup before returning home in May.

Talking about the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, he said, “We never had the world grind to a halt like this,” he signed off.

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