The Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit received 62 million viewers in four weeks, Tech Crunch reported. The show is based on a 1983 novel that focuses on a young woman’s prodigious chess career. Real chess legends often live extraordinary lives.
According to Tech Crunch, Netflix has landed another smash hit with its new series The Queen’s Gambit. “In the case of The Queen’s Gambit, the number is 62 million households for the first 28 days of release, making it Netflix’s most popular scripted limited series ever,” the article said. “[It] beat out other limited series, but not Netflix’s biggest ongoing hits, such as The Witcher.
“The numbers are still pretty impressive for a series with what seems like a decidedly uncommercial premise—following a troubled young woman as she rises through the ranks of competitive chess, eventually challenging the Soviet Union’s world champion.”
However, the article said, the show has benefited from excellent reviews and “the fact that it’s very, very good.” .
The Gentleman from New Orleans
Maybe the greatest chess legend of all time is Paul Morphy. According to Jeremy Silman, International Master and world-class chess teacher, Morphy was born in 1837 to a wealthy New Orleans family. He learned to play chess at 8 years old and was a “strong master” by age 12.
“After gaining the highest possible honors in the University of Louisiana, he got his law degree at age 20,” Silman said. “However, he was too young to practice law; so he decided to play chess for a while. He went to New York and dominated everyone that was put in front of him. It didn’t take long for the chess masters to realize that he was the best player in the United States.”
Morphy toured Europe, besting the world’s finest players with ease. He was recognized as the best player who had ever lived by the time he was 21. He was invited to high society parties with royalty and world leaders who sought to meet him, because not only was he a chess prodigy, but, according to Silman, but he was also a true gentleman.
“Well-dressed, always polite, and when he was given prize money for victories in his various matches, he would often give it to future opponents to help them with travel costs or [he would] use the money to help a defeated opponent, in some other way,” Silman said. “The Loewenthal-Morphy match in 1858 had a £100 prize, which in those days was a very large sum. After Morphy won the match, he took the money and bought a set of high-quality furniture—which was worth far more than the £100 he won—for his opponent’s family.”
Two years later, Morphy returned home and gave up competitive chess entirely and without warning.
A Difficult Life
Moscow-born Alexander Alekhine entered the world in 1892, also to a wealthy family, though his personal life differed greatly from Morphy’s.
“Alekhine’s life wasn’t easy—in fact, revolutions and wars seem to appear in one wave after another,” Silman said. “Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 and 1905, the Russian Revolution of 1905, World War I, the dismantling of the Tsarist autocracy in 1917—after which he fled to Germany and France—and World War II.”
Alekhine learned chess as a small child, though he spent years studying books on the subject and losing many games, which he viewed as a learning tool. However, he was not an idle rich aristocrat watching Russian turmoil from a distance.
“Alekhine survived imprisonment by the Germans in 1914,” Silman said. “He again survived imprisonment and a death sentence in 1918 Russia; he survived two world wars and he survived the Nazis.”
And yet, his career as a world chess champion almost never happened. In 1922, Alekhine found himself depressed and lonely after failing to win an important tournament. Silman said that while Alekhine sat at the dinner table with one of his few friends, he grabbed a butter knife and tried to stab himself. He survived and went on to become one of the most legendary chess players of all time, dying in 1946 of alcoholism and becoming the world’s only chess champion to die with the title.
While not as flashy as more popular professional sports, chess isn’t without its action and drama. Netflix has bet on that—and seems to be winning.
Jeremy Silman contributed to this article. Silman is an International Master and a world-class chess teacher, writer, and player who has won the U.S. Open (1981), the National Open (1990), and the American Open (1992). Considered by many to be the game’s preeminent instructive writer, Mr. Silman is the author or coauthor of 39 books.