Since the series, “The Queen’s Gambit” came out, there has been a surge of people playing chess across the U.S. It has often been referred to as a thinking person’s game, with strategies, moves, counter moves, and skill. Many people see it as a great way to improve themselves and stay mentally sharp.
Rhode Island is one of the many states that has seen a greater number of people, both young and young-at-heart, playing more chess. That is why events have been popping up to usher in the current wave of popularity.
Saturday, October 14th is National Chess Day. The state’s official chess organization, the Southeast New England Chess Association (SENECA), will host a youth chess tournament at Quest Montessori School in Narragansett RI. There is a full day’s worth of activities from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Kids range in skill from novice through seasoned tournament competitor, and vary in age from kindergarten through high school.
For those chess players who want a bigger challenge, the Rhode Island State Chess Championship will be held just two weeks later at the Hilton Garden Inn in Warwick. That is a one-day event open to players of all ages, but you must be a United States Chess Federation member to participate. For more information on the Federation, visit www.uschess.org.
Why is there such a big interest in chess lately? According to Bob Salvas, Chairman of SENECA:
“There were two time periods in recent history when the popularity of chess just seemed to explode in this country. The first was in the early 1970s. This was when we saw the meteoric rise of chess phenomenon Bobby Fischer. World chess had been dominated up to that point (for many years) by the Soviet Union. For American Bobby Fischer to beat Russian Boris Spassky for the world title was a true “David versus Goliath” story, set against the backdrop of the Cold War. Americans got caught up in the match and the game itself, and soon it seemed like everyone in the USA was playing chess.
“The second time is happening right now,” Salvas continued. “Chess took off again in the early 2020s. It began back during the lockdown from the pandemic that occurred in 2020. People looked for things to do from home, and many discovered websites like chess.com, where you could play chess with people from all over the world, right from your computer.”
Then, the Netflix limited-series drama about chess came out in October of that same year. A record 62 million households watched “The Queen’s Gambit” in the first month of its release. During that same month (according to CNN), chess set sales were up 87%; chess book sales were up 603%; and there were 3.2 million new subscribers to chess.com!
“Once again, it seemed like everyone in the USA was playing chess,” he said.
What surprises some experts is that chess is STILL booming. Many celebrities started playing chess publicly after 2020, and many chess experts jumped onto live streaming platforms. Social media has contributed to chess’ popularity. Even the national media, with a big controversy about cheating at the top levels in chess, drew a lot of attention. Chess has remained popular—even as many office workers leave work from home and return to work at their offices.
Today, there are many more organizations and clubs to support this popularity. They usually offer the chance to play chess, in person, rather than just online. SENECA is one of those organizations and is considered the official state affiliate of the national organization, which is the United States Chess Federation.
As such, they run many tournaments for both kids and adults, but more importantly, they determine who represents our state in certain national competitions.
Two of their biggest local events are the RI STATE CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP (October 28th) and the RI STATE SCHOLASTIC CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP, which will be held in March 2024.
While SENECA offers both adult and scholastic tournaments, they focus on kid-friendly events. That is because young people have the most to gain from playing chess, according to Salvas.
“Chess has been shown to improve their mental skills, as well as teaching them the importance of planning, adapting to changing situations, and recognizing consequences to their actions,” he said.
In addition to the scholastic tournaments, SENECA also coordinates the RI Scholastic League. Schools face off as chess teams against other schools. While SENECA gives kids the opportunity to play competitive chess, they don’t directly teach them HOW to play.
They do, however, support some wonderful chess-teaching programs that are right here in Rhode Island: the chess program at the OCYL (Office of Children Youth & Learning in Cumberland RI); The Rhode Island Chess School (in North Kingstown and Cranston RI); and Chess Master Connections (in Providence RI).
If you want to learn more about chess, or SENECA or if you want to compete in some of their upcoming chess events, go to www.senecachess.org for more information.
SENECA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Rhode Island.