Netflix and Covid reignite a childhood passion for chess 00:00

Sports in Society The indoor games people play

Netflix and Covid reignite a childhood passion for chess

Nathan Wells enjoyed chess — and even competed — during his youth, but that didn't carry over into his adult years until the pandemic and a binge-worthy Netflix show reminded him how it can bring people together.

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U.S. residents spent 13% more time at home from January through Feb. 12, 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. Source: Google’s Covid Community Mobility Report

Nathan Wells: When I go through chess, it’s like an always evolving puzzle. You try to think ahead on what the opponent’s moves are going to be. One move of the opponent can change your whole strategy. And it’s very exciting up to the last moments. 

My full name is Nathan Wells. As a child, I was first introduced to chess with my father. It was a way for us to bond. One of the best ways to get better at chess is to start to play people that are better than you. We would have the challenge on: who had won would get the other a milkshake. I really feel like he let me win every once in a while, just to give me a milkshake. 

I first started out on this little plastic chessboard. It was just something that we had gotten from the store. I really started getting into it so I got different ones, more novelty, even a glass-acrylic chess set. I thought that I was all that and decided to go to a chess tournament. That was one of the most humbling experiences I would say. It was pretty formal… We were probably about preteen, early teenagers. I got beaten pretty well. Towards the end, there was someone I was playing that was very skilled. It was a young lady. I actually gave her a run for her money. 

And then I kind of put it down. It took some years, but then recently picked it back up again. It definitely was inspired by the Queen’s Gambit.

Queen’s Gambit clip: “Chess isn’t always competitive. Chess can be…. beautiful.”

Nathan Wells: Chess is all about assigning moves or different designs to each piece. 

Queen’s Gambit clip:“I feel safe in an entire world of just 64 squares.” 

Nathan Wells: My favorite move is very unorthodox. Some people have a starting out position expecting someone to play a certain piece. The way that I play, they’re not able to predict any of my moves. It’s very similar to the show. The main character was able to play against other people very defensively, but yet not be able to see future moves.

Queen’s Gambit clip: “There’s no player in the world that’s gifted as you are.”

Chess board (Photo by Michael Hitoshi/Getty Images)

Nathan Wells: My wife and I had gotten inspired by the show and actually started playing each other. 

Nathan Wells: Much to my demise, my wife has actually learned how to beat me. 

This Christmas, we were both on the topic of chess. We had accidentally gotten each other a gift of a homemade chess set. And I can tell you that hers was much better. The chessboard is wood. The white spaces are white, but the black spaces are actually a black and white photo. And so with 64 squares, there are 32 pictures  of my wife and I and our little daughter. She was recently born just right before the Covid pandemic hit.

While my wife was making this gift, she had said how this would make a great business — making boards and giving it to other people. We’re just starting out on Etsy but we got orders within days of each other and so we’re really hopeful. We have one order — they have a friend who is getting them the board because they had actually played chess with their father, who had recently passed away. So they’re giving it to them just to help her remember. 

I plan on teaching my daughter chess. It’s a great family activity because it helps bring people face to face versus with our faces plastered to our phones. Chess isn’t so much about strategy or making the best moves or trying to get to checkmate. It’s just as important to be able to enjoy the game. And that is the theme of the Queen’s Gambit. We can be as official and trying to win as many games. But at the end of the day, it’s those two people sitting at the end of the table that matter.

Tarryn Mento: For iPondr, I’m Tarryn Mento.

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